The Olympics is like London buses – you don’t see anything about it for a while, and suddenly you get several opportunities at the same time.
On Monday I was very fortunate to meet with Alex Balfour, who was the Head of New Media at London 2012. If you haven’t seen Alex’s summary of London 2012 on slideshare yet, stop reading this and take a read straight away.
So I saw Alex on Monday, who for a man who has had one of the most stressful jobs in Digital Media for the last three years, didn’t look any worse for it (no grey hair or hair loss!); and this evening I was invited to an event hosted by Simon La Fosse where the guest speaker was Gerry Pennell, the CIO of London 2012.
Gerry spoke for around thirty minutes, which flew by quickly, and then there were literally dozens, dozens of questions from the audience. The thing that struck me was how each member of the audience was so polite and started off by congratulating Gerry and his team on such a successful event. This was refreshing because the IT community doesn’t congratulate one another – IT has such a high expectation that if it works, well, it’s expected to, and anything less is something to complain about.
Gerry described how important digital was such a key component of delivering the Games. Actually, he wanted to stick to ‘just’ the huge undertaking of delivering a live events service, but his presentation kept coming back to digital consumers. All wonderfully consumer focussed.
Some of the other key points he covered:
- Just under a quarter of LOCOG’s budget went to IT
- It was easy to motivate his team to get things done – everyone knew about the deadline, rather than many other IT organisations who have a degree of lethargy and motivation issues
- Gerry’s teams had to create their own requirements four years ago, because the rest of the organisation didn’t know what it would want back then
- Preparation was key. The team prepared via a large number of test events, scenario planning, disaster recovery planning, and so on
- LOCOG knew that they were going to have a rough time with the press. He told a story about the day that the BlackBerry Messaging service went down, and a journalist in his office blamed Gerry for the outage!
- The threat of cyber-attacks was taken extremely seriously, and some politicians were involved on this subject. There were six actual significant attacks during the Games which were dealt with, and Gerry was paid his compliments to their Content Delivery Network
- To resolve IT issues immediately, rather than the usual IT call-fix resolution timescales, they had to ‘saturate’ the stadia with support staff and equipment – they would replace desktops and equipment rather than problem solve
- Despite all the IT infrastructure, there is still a huge reliance on paper in the stadia – referees and other games staff wanted/ needed to have a sheet of paper. The last two Olympics have printed 50 million sheets of paper, and in London they produced 16 million. A full box of office printer paper has 2,500 sheets, so that’s still almost 6,500 boxes of paper!
- LOCOG were shocked at the amount of mobile traffic. And this traffic wanted live results. For the first time, London was able to provide point by point score updates (as opposed to game or match results) – and the peak traffic period was the Murray final, where mobile users wanted point by point updates about the match
- There were 40 university sandwich placements who worked for the LOCOG IT organisation. I had a sandwich placement in my third year at university, and I can only begin to imagine what an experience the Olympics must have been for these once-in-a-lifetime lucky students
Someone in the audience asked about the huge amount of data that LOCOG had collected during the summer, and whether there was a Big Data opportunity. Gerry answered that the team was disbanded straight after the Paralympics, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity or business desire (because the business was dismantled as well!)
We are seeing a world where the value of content is continually diminishing – there are so many sources of content that it’s easy to move to someone who’s giving it away for free as soon as one source starts charging. Technology also makes it easy to bypass traditional content funding models – such as the ability to fast forward during adverts on pre-recorded TV programmes.
Sport will continually increasing in value though. By its nature, it’s time sensitive, so it’s usually watched live. This makes the advertising much more valuable – for instance, think about the infamous Super Bowl ads.
This in turn makes the content more valuable – and one of the key reasons why the English Premiership’s rights rose 71% this year to over a billion pounds per season.
Sport – it’s only a game. Really???