INTERVIEW: Lord of the Rings
- 31 August, 2000 12:01
With only days to go, Ian Reinecke, the CIO for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, waits with the rest of the world to see the ultimate success or failure of his work. Since 1997 Reinecke has worked hard to develop IT strategies and partnerships designed, in his words, "to provide the athletes and spectators with information services in the most timely fashion as possible with seamless results." Unfortunately, what the world saw in Atlanta four years ago was anything but seamless. Headlines worldwide told the story of massive transportation and communication system problems--many of them attributable to the Games' main IT vendor, IBM Corp. At one point, IBM's computer systems failed to report crucial scoring data; fans spent up to 45 minutes trying to get through metal detectors because there were too few to handle the crowds; and even the athletes had trouble arriving to their events on time because shuttle buses (which had been scheduled electronically) were late picking them up or took them to the wrong venues.
This year you can believe that Reinecke and his staff, along with IBM's people, will closely monitor three technological systems: the official website (www.olympics.com); the Games' results system, which will generate data from the events for scoreboards, the media and the website; and the Games' management system, which will provide administrative systems and specialized applications. We spoke with Reinecke about Sydney's IT preparations, project management coordination and what his team has done to ensure that these Games, as Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), traditionally says (but didn't in Atlanta), are the best Games ever.
CIO: HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH SYDNEY 2000?
Reinecke: In 1996 the New South Wales government asked me to undertake a review of information technology in preparation for the Olympic Games. At that time I was provost chancellor at the University of Queensland, [a position] that included responsibility for a very large IT operation as well as many other services at a big university. I also previously chaired a group that reviewed information technology across the Commonwealth government, so I had done a number of reviews. At the end of that review, I was invited by the Olympic Coordination Authority [OCA] to work with them for the following three years, overseeing the implementation of technology across the government agencies and Olympic organization.
CIO: WHAT WERE YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS?
Reinecke: The review revealed the need for greater coordination between the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games [SOCOG] and the 20 government agencies in the state of New South Wales that were providing support services, such as transport and security to the Games. As a result, two groups were established. The first was a CEO Steering Committee on IT, which included the heads of the [OCA], SOCOG, the police, the premier's department, and the Olympic Roads and Transport Authority. A second-level group, which I chair, was formed from the CIOs of all the relevant government agencies and SOCOG to resolve issues of coordination.
CIO: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE DIFFERENTLY FROM ATLANTA?
Reinecke: Everyone is very conscious of the risk of repeating mistakes that were made in Atlanta. There has been a great deal of thought and effort that has gone into that. In many respects, Atlanta was a learning experience, and I'm sure IBM and certainly future organizing committees, including Sydney, have also learned from Atlanta.
The first [lesson] was the importance of end-to-end testing as far out from the Games as possible. The second was that there was sufficient risk in developing complex software for the Games. It was more prudent [for us] to use only tried-and-true technology and minimize leading-edge innovation.
CIO: THERE WAS TALK LAST YEAR THAT YOU WERE CONSIDERING HAVING SPECTATORS USE SMART CARDS. IS THIS THE PLAN?
Reinecke: We were working on that proposal. [But] we are not going to use smart cards for the Olympic Games, really for a couple of reasons. The first is that the technology in terms of multiuse cards was not quite at the point where we felt absolutely confident. If I can add to that, one of the policies that has been adopted by the [SOCOG] is that its technology rollout be very conservative, so any technology that hadn't been tried and tested in the market by the end of  would not be used in the Olympic Games.
The second [reason] is that the coordination issues required to bring together the four major transport agencies didn't fit the timetable for the Olympic Games. The transport agencies will move to smart cards, but they will not move to smart cards on a timetable that would comfortably fit with the Games. That implementation will occur post-Games.
CIO: ARE YOU GOING TO BE WORKING RIGHT UP UNTIL SEPT. 15, WHEN THE GAMES START?
Reinecke: No, not at all. There have been--and this is one of the unique features of Sydney's preparations--a number of major test events of sports that have been held progressively over the past 12 months. There [were] two other major milestones. One [was] a full end-to-end test 100 days out and a second level, more complex test 50 days out. We will have tested everything fully by that stage.
CIO: WHAT SERVICES IS IBM PROVIDING TO THE GAMES?
Reinecke: IBM is actually providing service in two parts. The first is all the software associated with the result system, which is really the key piece of software in the Olympic Games. That is the software that generates the results and allows the results to be displayed on scoreboards, on the Internet and for television broadcasters. The other part is supporting the Internet side. The Internet side is being put together by contractors, and the lead provider of the infrastructure and in many respects a partner in the exercise is IBM.
CIO: CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW YOUR COMMITTEE HAS OVERSEEN IBM'S WORK?
Reinecke: The project management for the built infrastructure, which is a collection of venues around Sydney, has been supervised by the Olympic Coordination Authority. They have managed the major construction projects. I think everyone has acknowledged, including the IOC, that Sydney has been better prepared than any previous Games in terms of the built infrastructure. There are two layers to the infrastructure. One is the embedded infrastructure, which is part of the construction project and part of the responsibility of OCA. So, for example, Sydney Olympic Park is completely connected by fiber; it has its own closed-circuit television network and supports its own WAN.
In the case of the Games, this process is more complex. There is a second level of infrastructure referred to as the overlay. The overlay is all the cabling necessary to accommodate the positions to go to broadcast points and to areas where officials are overseeing competition. That overlaying infrastructure includes a provision of radio systems. For example, there are about 9,000 radio headsets that will be used at game times alone for internal communication across the workforce. In addition, many thousands of other radio headsets [are used] in other areas, such as security and in transport. The basic infrastructure is overlaid with a very complex network of technology that is then removed at the end of the Olympic Games.
CIO: HOW LARGE IS YOUR IT STAFF?
Reinecke: The technology staff within the government agency is very substantial but they report to their line management. On the vendor side, the vast majority are staff members, for example, of IBM, or of the other technology sponsors, and there is also a technology staff within SOCOG. I chair a coordinating committee that brings the senior line managers from government and from SOCOG together, and that's where we thrash out any interface problems.
CIO: ARE YOU GOING TO BE IN THE BACK WATCHING EVERYTHING, OR ARE YOU GOING TO BE IN THE STANDS WATCHING THE TORCH LIGHT UP WITH EVERYBODY ELSE?
Reinecke: I will be in one of two places: One is the technology control center, where all the technology centers are monitored through a commanded control structure, or I will be in the Internet control center, where, essentially, content is being produced for the Internet sites. That's where I expect to be most of the time during the 17 days.
CIO: DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS AFTER THE GAMES ARE OVER?
Reinecke: I haven't really thought very carefully [about that] because we are working at great pressure and a great pace, but I expect that I will continue my [independent] consulting role that I had before the Olympic Games in looking at complex systems in large organizations.
Research Manager Lynne Z. Rigolini can be reached at email@example.com.
SNAPSHOT Name: Ian Reinecke
Title: CIO for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Age: 55 Experience: Provost chancellor at the University of Queensland in Australia Olympics Challenge: Oversee IT personnel within the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) and 20 government agency CIOs within New South Wales; manage relationships with major IT vendors, including Fuji Xerox in Auckland, New Zealand, IBM in Armonk, N.Y., Panasonic in Secaucus, N.J., Samsung Electronics Co. in Seoul, Korea, Sema Group in Montrouge, France, The Swatch Group in Biel, Switzerland, and Telstra Corp. in Australia Term of Employment: Started Olympics work in 1997, expects to finish in December 2000