Wednesday, 20 November 2013

IT at the Olympics

The opening keynote at CISG was from Gerry Pennell, former CIO for the London Olympics, and now Director of IT at Manchester University. Unfortunately I missed the first few minutes as I was at an organising meeting for next years UCISA conference - apparently he started with a video of the highlights of the olympics which I would have liked to have seen.  He went through some of his experiences, and pulled out some learning outcomes for HE.

Some notes I took of the key points:

We only had one shot at it. Getting it right was key - Atlanta suffered reputation damage by not being able to deliver the results needed. 
Embrace deadlines  - they are your ally. This was an IT project you can't be late on.
 Olympics is a fantastic example of real time data distributed to different channels and audiences.
Real time data & provision of mobile meant that the way people engaged  digitally was different to any other Games. In previous Games, people had checked results about 3 times a day.
60% of traffic during peak web activity during Andy Murray tennis final  came through mobile device
Consumer behaviour has changed. They had put lots of infrastructure in people were checking the real time data much more frequently -  checking results on a blow by blow basis and in the Andy Murray example, point by point
This lead to lots of requests to central servers which were running 88% utilisation when they had planned for  25%

Learning point:  get your plans right, but build in flexibility

Lot of testing took place. 1000s of hours including set piece technology rehearsals.
There were also 42 test events between May 2011 and games (eg the London marathon)
They learned things from the subtle to the blindingly obvious.
Good example of the blindingly obvious - everything depends on the delivery of cabins which have to be connected to the radio network.
At the first test events the cabins were made of metal. A faraday cage! They then discovered that they had been procured in a bulk deal for of all test events,  and the Games!

Learning point: Don't test technology in isolation. Have to test with processes and people for real learning

Cyber security was critical. They knew games would be cyber attacked and were advised that it would be from anonymous hacktivist groups.
There were 6 fairly serious cyber incidents. Some a surprising including:
A probing attack from semi professional hackers in Central European who have form for looking at web sites and publicising vulnerabilities. A DDOS attack from 90 IP addresses for 20 mins. Very sophisticated. A carefully timed and synchronised Botnet. Still don't know who or what they wanted
Another DDOS attack causing them to  fail over.
And a state sponsored attack.

Learning point: Build your cyber defences around people, processes and technology. Its about how fast you can respond.

Dealing with operational challenges was interesting! A really good example was the photo finish cameras in the main stadium which have to be at a steep angle, and subject to no vibration or movement.  The best position for the angle was the top of the stadium, but this was subject to vibration. So, they constructed a steel cage, connectect it to the bedrock, put a vibration dampening platform on it, tested it by getting hundreds of people jumping up and down to look for jitter.  However, after when Jessica Ennis had won her final race, the photo at the finish line was blurred. They concluded that the incredibly loud roar in the stadium had travelled up the steel cage which had acted like a tuning fork and vibrated!

Learning point:  Life is not always what you think its going to be. Expect the unexpected.

A question from the audience about how to motivate staff when they are engaged on a limited contract, with no real sanctions such as performance management or financial rewards got a good answer.   Get them engaged with the vision. A shared vision aand one that everyone is committed to is the oly way to do it.
Another good lesson for HE.

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