Lessons from Nagano and Atlanta

As IBM gears up for its technology marathon at the Sydney games, it will draw on lessons learnt since it first wired the games -- at the 1960 Winter Olympics, held at Squaw Valley, California.

In particular the company will use the benefit of its experience in the two most recent Olympics -- the Atlanta Games in 1996 and Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 -- as it prepares for Sydney 2000.

At both, IBM encountered difficulties which it had to solve while the world looked on.

In Atlanta it faced serious flaws in the computerised results system, which led to inaccuracies and delays in the delivery of information to worldwide news agencies, over the IBM Olympic information network. Whilst scrambling to fix the system, IBM resorted to faxing results to the Atlanta Games press centre.

Another glitch IBM encountered in Atlanta concerned the Info '96 intranet designed to deliver information and e-mail to athletes, coaches and reporters, which repeatedly crashed. Info '96 was an AS/400-based system that ran IBM's Network Architecture protocol suite.

For Info '96 IBM had developed its own Web browser and used its own VisualAge development tool set.

Officials later acknowledged that many of the problems experienced in Atlanta were the fault of project management. Some of the systems were not adequately tested until after the 1996 torch was lit.

The Info '96 intranet for one was still being tested during the games so IBM could not run data for some events until competition time, officials said.

"In certain cases, the real data was the test data," admits one official involved in the Atlanta project, who asked not to be named.

Things went more smoothly in Nagano, with IBM staff and officials reporting their system had no mishaps visible to the public.

The Info '98 intranet for athletes, officials and the press worked well. Info '96 had been scrapped, and Info '98 was a TCP/IP network running on RS/6000 SP servers and IBM's AIX Unix operating system.

Info '98 pages were written in HTML, while the system's clients used a modified version of Netscape's Navigator browser.

Jack Overacre, director of worldwide Olympic Technology Operations, IBM, said the company had learnt a number of lessons in Atlanta which it implemented at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

It resolved to test its full system early. And it actively used "change management boards" that tapped up to 10 representatives from across the project to review all potential changes. The boards would assess the impact the changes would make on the entire system and decide whether the change was warranted.

IBM had staff at Nagano venues who not only understood technology and sport, but also spoke the languages of the judges.

"One of the things that we learnt from Atlanta was the need to have those kinds of language skills, because at times there was some confusion," Overacre said. "Communication is the key when you are doing a global solution. That's one thing we keep working on."

However, IBM was embarrassed by a Web site oversight in Nagano.

Just weeks before the games were due to begin, IBM learned that pro-Pyongyang groups in Japan took offence at a reference to the Korean War written on the Nagano Olympic Organising Committee's (NOOC) official Web site.

In the site's descriptions North Korea was depicted as having invaded South Korea in 1950. However, North Korea views the southern part of the Korean peninsula as the aggressor in the three-year Korean war.

NOOC suddenly yanked the reference, along with all country descriptions, and soon issued an apology. IBM had obtained the material by licence from the World Book Encyclopedia.

"Things that are perceived as not offensive to a large population are offensive to someone. When you get into these things you never think about it. It never crossed my mind," said Overacre.

"Next time we're going to do a tonne of research first vs just do it and find out the hard way."

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