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World Cup's sleight of hand

Projected screens at the IT Command Centre refresh every 15 seconds, highlighting any problem areas in the IT backing each time.

At the end of the World Cup's first week, all major hurdles have been crossed at the IT Command Centre (ITCC), where a fully Web-based system was used for the first time.

As Fifa's official IT services provider, Mahindra Satyam heads the ITCC. Head of sport business and Fifa executive relationship Dilbagh Gill says the ITCC is responsible for building and maintaining the backbone of the World Cup.

“We call ourselves the invisible hand here. The less you hear about us, the better we're doing our job.”

He says the first week of the World Cup is the most challenging since any glitches will usually surface in this period.

“The first week is usually the most telling, because we have the first games at the stadiums. Now, after the first week, it will calm down a lot,” says Gill. He explains that problem areas can be identified and rectified in the first few days and so the rest of the tournament runs smoothly.

Online World Cup

“We run the event management system for the World Cup. For the first time we did this as a total Web-based system,” says Gill.

He explains that the ITCC handles things like accreditations and volunteer registrations, as well as providing basic IT services. He says there have been nearly 250 000 accreditations so far and there were only 160 000 in total for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The ITCC also takes care of volunteer management. There are about 130 000 volunteer registrations and about 80 000 are working now, adds Gill.

“Registration, issuing of letters, everything happens online. Volunteers can track their applications at any point in time online. The system also matches people for positions, for example someone with a truck licence with a position that requires one.”

Gill says Mahindra Satyam's goals for the system are scalability, reusability and robustness. “The software is used by volunteers so it's got to be very simple, while still being robust, because they only get like a day's training.”

200 man years

Fifa is going to get tremendous return on the software, according to Gill, because it is extensible to Brazil 2014 and can be used for Fifa events in the meantime.

He explains that the software is being used for three Fifa events simultaneously, which are the 2010 World Cup and the U20 and U17 Women's World Cups, which are also being held now.

The system also takes care of things like the online polling for the Golden Boot award, for which the results will be instantaneously generated after the final match, according to Gill.

The Team Services Support System module is being used by all 32 teams, since before the World Cup started, he adds. It deals with training schedules, flights and the general daily scheduling of the teams.

“We've seen gaps from previous World Cups and can attempt to fill it now. Fifa was using third-party software before and now this is the first Web-based one,” says Gill.

He adds that Mahindra Satyam has put in 200 man years of support in SA so far for the 2010 World Cup.

Loaned equipment

Gill says there has been a lot of space and material planning done by the ITCC.

“There is nearly a billion dollars' worth of assets at the venues. We had to decide how to kit it out and what's required in each room according to the number of people. There are 33 000 pieces of assets, like laptops, cellphones and so on.”

The assets are loaned by sponsors and are handed back to them at the end of the event, explains Gill. “We don't have to bring any of the hard equipment with us.”

The ITCC also deals with Fifa's extranets, according to Gill. There are 12 extranets with about 40 000 users. “We have created a portal for Fifa via which they communicate with the media as well and send out information.”

Best experience

Gill says it usually takes years to organise an event of this magnitude.

“We have designed a system that ramps up a 30-year process in a year and then brings it all down again when the World Cup is over. So we have to decide how much to invest in assets and how much of shared assets we want to have. That is the challenge.”

The Web-based event management system put in place for the World Cup ramps up a 30-year process in one year, says Mahindra Satyam's Dilbagh Gill.

He says there have been other challenges, but many of these were before the Confederations Cup, held in SA last year. “Using facilities a year before is very helpful but also challenging, because a lot of the physical infrastructure wasn't ready yet. We had to set up at a stadium that wasn't ready.”

A mobility solution had to be used for a period of time, but those were just teething problems, according to Gill.

“Another challenge was that we had to work with new partners. MTN and Telkom were also first time sponsors so it's been interesting seeing how we all go about our sponsor obligations and work together.”

He adds that from a technical perspective, there have been no issues. The ticketing glitches that South Africans experienced when the systems crashed in the final sales phases were not related to Mahindra Satyam as it only deals with media ticketing and accreditation, according to Gill.

“Flexibility has been a huge issue. For conventional software you usually freeze it before the event, but now we had to turn it on its head and keep changing things as people needed them to be changed. We have to throw out the convention of best practices.”

He says in a sport environment it's not about best practices, but about best experience and this is why Mahindra Satyam has been appreciative of the presence of Fifa's official ticketing services provider, Match, at the ITCC.

“India is the world's worst sporting nation so we need all the experience we can get and Match has lent a lot of experience.”

Nerve centre

The live operational rooms at the ITCC hold four organisations: Match, Telkom, MTN and Mahindra Satyam.

“This is the nerve centre and we can monitor anything from here,” says Gill.

He explains that projected screens at the front of the room refresh every 15 seconds so that he would know how a printer in Nelspruit is doing and if anything is going wrong anywhere with any of the IT backing.

There is also a hotline in place so any officials or technical officers can call in with a malfunction or technology-related issue.


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