IBM bows out on a high note

A barefoot marathon runner and a 5cm-too-short gymnastics vault are not the sort of problems you'd expect the official Olympic Games technology provider, IBM, to encounter.

But according to Vickie Regan, vice president, IBM Sydney 2000 Olympics Technology, it's exactly those problems that kept IBM and its 6000-strong team busy during the Sydney Games.

Regan is responsible for IBM's Olympic operations from the performance of the software right down to the maintenance of hardware. She spent the Games weeks working at SOCOG's Olympic Technology Command Centre (TCC) in near-city Ultimo, monitoring the performance of IBM's various systems which integrate to create the Olympic technology system.

Located at SOCOG's headquarters, the TCC is the central point of contact for all of SOCOG's technology partners. The centre was designed to act as the support hub for technology staff located at Olympic venues throughout Sydney.

While most of the space houses IBM staff - 400 workstations to be exact - each technology partner, including Telstra, Samsung and Fuji Xerox, was represented in the centre. IBM and SOCOG staff monitored the official Web site, http://www.olym-pics.com, and were also located on the same site with Web site content provider Gadfly Media.

According to Regan, IBM staff monitored all its systems including the systems management tool, Tivoli, the Info 2000 intranet, the Commentator Information System (CIS), the Games Management System (GMS), and the results systems. Staff also handled help desk phone lines and monitored all IBM's systems for quality control.

Large monitors and television screens, showing network performance, the daily schedule and feeds from each Olympic venue, lined the walls of the centre which was manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

On my visit to the TCC, a screen showing the large network grid was dotted with green boxes indicating the performance of each section of the complex Olympic network. Staff enjoyed live coverage of the men's road cycling race from a big screen and the atmosphere was calm and relaxed.

Thankfully for IBM, green was the colour people wanted to see. According to Regan, green meant the networking was up and running, yellow indicated that a section had been taken down or shut down for a known reason and red indicated a problem.

IBM's hard work and preparation, in particular, the running of crucial test events for each sport during the lead up to the Games seems to have paid off.

But according to Regan, most staff, who were rostered around the clock on shifts of up to 12 hours, were not sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

Changes to competition processes and rules as well as weather-delayed schedules kept the technology giant on its toes with on-the-spot changes necessary for some of its systems.

Regan described a scenario where, during the women's marathon event, one competitor was momentarily lost on the system when she removed her joggers and continued the race barefoot.

Transponders developed by the Olympic timing partner, Swatch, had been fitted to each competitors' shoes for tracking and timing purposes and linked to IBM's results system. In order to provide accurate information on the race, the competitor had to be tracked manually for a period of time, Regan said.

On another occasion, part of the results system for women's gymnastics had to be changed when several competitors were given the opportunity to redo the vault apparatus after it was discovered it had been set five centimetres too short.

"We developed the results system according to rules (from sporting federations). When the rules changed we had to manage that," Regan said.

The issue, according to Regan, was making sure changes flowed through the entire system, including the Web site, Info 2000 intranet system for media and officials, and the Commentator Information System.

And now despite the minor hitches, IBM appears to have achieved the seemingly impossible - a technology trouble-free Games.

Regan said the task of clearing away IBM's equipment from the Olympic Technology Command Centre (TCC) in Ultimo will start after the completion of the Paralympic Games.

During the Paralympics, IBM and the other technology providers, which include Olympic partners Telstra and Fuji Xerox, will remain at the TCC in a scaled down mode.

For the Paralympics, IBM is providing systems including the results system, info and communications system, an accreditation system, and a medical system.

Part of the technology infrastructure developed for the Olympic Games will be used for the Paralympics, but IBM will only have to support 15 competition venues and several non-competition venues. Big Blue supported 300 medal events in 37 sports competition across 39 venues during the Olympics.

As part of its contract with the International Olympic Committee IBM will, in December, hand over information and documentation of the back-end architecture implemented at the Olympic Games. The software and coding used to build Olympic systems including Info 2000 and the results system will be retained by IBM.

Regan said staff will start preparing documents for the IOC this month. "It is in our best interests to get it done," she said.

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