Olympian Efforts

Olympian Efforts

Finally, because the technology demands at the Olympic Games continue to dramatically increase, the network requirements have become more sophisticated, which elevates security concerns. One of the biggest challenges is making sure a virus or worm doesn't get through the firewall. This year, more than 21,500 members of the media tapped into the network using PCs and kiosks to get competition results, event information and background on competitors. We needed to make sure the best tools and technology were in place to protect this information. That's one reason there were two networks for the Games. One was the administration network and the other was the Games network, which had mission-critical applications running on it with significant security.

Bradley: It's not often you have so many technology end users in one place. How do the IT providers account for cultural differences/language barriers among support staff and actual users (for example, athletes using e-mail and fax) in the Olympic Village?

Schaffer: We start the process two years out. That gives us time to adjust and understand cultural, language and work barriers. Xerox had more than 200 service engineers working on our nearly 6000 pieces of equipment at the Games. Those engineers who supported the Games were from at least 20 countries. We had to take into account their own culture and how they would adjust to the new surroundings during the length of the Games. We did that by bringing them in early for some training on the people, processes, transportation and any other issues they face.

Supporting IT at the Olympics presents a unique opportunity for different companies and cultures to work together on an event designed to unite the world. We can be competitors in the outside world, but in the Olympic world, we have to work together to be successful. Each of the technologies we provide depends on technology provided by another vendor.

Information technology at the Olympics is just like a giant relay race: A swimmer hits the finish line. Swatch gives it a time, which goes through the Atos Origin network. A judge looks at it, says it's OK. Then it goes to PRD [print for distribution] and the file is sent through the Atos network to Xerox printers. A runner grabs it and delivers it to officials and reporters. If one goes down, we all go down. That's why the testing process is so crucial to event success. Knowing this, we've been preparing as a team since 1998. There is a constant interface with the sporting federations and with press and broadcasters. We are almost like some of the athletes performing at the Games: We must operate as a team to ensure we win "our" race.

Bradley: How was the IT profile different this year?

Schaffer: The scale of the Games has nearly doubled, growing the technology needs exponentially in a very tight space. The environment in Athens was more distributed and the division of labour more segmented, presenting logistical challenges such as transportation. The city has unwieldy traffic patterns that do not lend themselves to easy movement.

The elevated focus on security for the 2004 Summer Games extended to the network and the information residing on it. Xerox, along with other major IT providers, carefully designed and built the network with security top-of-mind. The Olympic Games network was isolated from the Internet to avoid risks from a worm or virus. However, we had several backup plans to quickly respond should they strike.

Bradley: How has the technology at the Games changed over the years?

Schaffer: Technology at the Olympics is no different than in business - it gets faster, better and more sophisticated each year. But sometimes the simplest innovations make the biggest difference. For instance, getting information to reporters and IOC officials. We generate the reports and a volunteer runner delivers them to a cubby-hole mailbox for the recipients to grab. In the past, this created a certain amount of chaos, as reporters and runners were always bumping into each other trying to access the cubby-holes. We realized that if you just take the back off the cubby-holes, so that the runners put the papers in one end, and the reporters pull the reports out from the other, the problem was solved. Not the most technological innovation - but we'll have a lot less collisions!

Ben Bradley is the founder of, a provider and facilitator of peer-driven intelligence, interactions and insight

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