Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Interview with CIO of London Olympics

Big keynote session, an interview with the CIO of London Olympics, Gerry Pennell. Absolutely packed, about 3000 people watching.
Takes stage to Queen's Don't Stop Me Now playing and a film of Olympic sports.
Introduced by Gartner analysts who asked  does anyone have a difficult and challenging set of customers, complex clients and vendors to manage, punishing and uncompromising deadlines?
Gerry has an operation which will feature 4500 km of cable, 80k voice and data outlets. There's a very hard deadline of  260 days to go. 
Real time information will be needed 24 hours a day for 17 days. He has a team of 5000 to build from scratch and then disband.
This is a challenge on steroids!

So, some questions and answers :
This role is different to normal CIO role, more operational than strategy. Have to deliver!

Single biggest technical challenge is the amount of data,  from measuring the athletic performance in all sports. Take data from different sports and integrate, and make available to different audiences including: 
Venue, scoreboards,  commentator information systems, TV graphics, results, athlete biographies, journalists, press agencies, own web site, broadcasters web sites, international federations.
Has to be timely and accurate. For commentator systems, measured in sub seconds.  Has to enable effective reporting.

Technology operations centre being set up in London, has been used in test events. At games will have 180 staff,  and run 24/7. Looks like Houston mission control. TV feeds, rows of desks facing same way, keeping everyone informed. 

 What most proud of? A bit early to ask, but still operating to same plan they put together in 2008/9, where they want to be. Also of team itself. 

How do you deal with hard deadlines, very public?  Get most of core deliverables done early, then spend a lot on testing. 
Change management very important, very strict. All equipment standard and locked down.  Nothing will be changed once it's been tested and shown to work, not even the PC.

Anything being reused from previous games? Some applications, but many of core systems are brand new for London. Big focus on integration and testing. Network purpose built by BT and CISCO. 

Results will be delivered to smartphones. 

Complex vendor relationships. In total 200,000 people will be working for games, a variety of suppliers, partners, employees and vendors.
In IT there will be 300 paid staff, 2500 volunteers, 2500 contractors. 
Have to make sure everyone knows what they're doing, shared objectives, strong project governance, strong and clear reporting, relationship owners.  It helps that it's in everyone's interest to get it right. It's a one shot time for everyone, everyone's brand, reputation is on the line.

Leading a transformation? Take as read that you know where you're going, know what target looks like, have a plan. Then the trick is to maintain a sufficient detachment from your programme to be able to intervene and change it and not get too wedded to what original concept was. Need to be able to look at things  with your customers eyes. If too wedded to something, unable to look at things objectively and change them. Also don't try and do your teams job for them. Don't be the programme manager supreme. Have to be able to see and drive the big picture. Detachment, delegation and objectivity. Sometimes be collegiate, sometimes an autocrat. Just have to know which ones right for circumstances.

Most immediately significant technology for London Olympics is mobility and consumerisation. Ownership and capability of smartphones and tablets hugely increased since last Olympics. Very high on their agenda to get stuff delivered to devices via browsers. Important for public and journalists. 

What advice would he give to CIOs aspiring to do what he does?  Important to have a good sense of humour.  Get experience. A lot of it is judgement calls. Need experience to make correct calls. 
Also, work outside IT!  Get experience as a customer. That gives you a real sense of what good is.  

Fascinating interview, and what a cheerful and relaxed guy. Wonder if he wants an assistant?

1 comment:

Sollistone said...

Chris, that's a fantastic insight into the world of organising the Olympics. They must have and must be planning extensive testing. The thought of something going wrong when the Olympics is live is to much to contemplate! The London Olympics