Documenting an Olympics

The London 2012 Olympic Games are less than a year away, and we recently came across some information about the IT systems that will be supporting the games.

According to Computer Weekly,

“Planning and implementing IT in any major project is challenging to say the least. Problems and delays can cost millions of pounds. The Olympic IT team cannot afford any delays and the reputation of an entire nation rests on its success in 2012.”

The Olympics IT system must meet the needs of athletes, the media and TV commentators, which means it must feed this data in real-time.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has defined a standard format for this data to which the relevant IT providers must conform; it’s called the Olympic Data Feed (ODF), and the IOC has created an Web site on the ODF that anyone can view.

According to the ODF Web site’s Help page, the idea of the Olympic Data Feed is to:

define a unified set of messages valid for all sports and several different systems, which can send sport information from the moment it is generated to a set of final customers.

It’s interesting to see these requirements and see how an Olympics, from an information perspective, is documented.

If you imagine being the person who has to read and understand this information, then you’d probably feel overwhelmed. The requirements are published as a series of Word and PDF documents, so you’d probably need to print them and lay them out on a table to check your system meets all the requirements in the different documents. It doesn’t look like the documents are produced using a single sourcing tool – as far as we can tell, they’ve been written in Word.

In the same way that the ODF data will benefit from being in a unified system, given the complexity of the Olympics, it’s likely the requirements documents would benefit from being in a unified system as well. For example: hyperlinks could be used to link related information contained in different documents, and common content could be shared across the Olympic and Paralympic games.

When you look at the sheer volume of information contained in the the ODF website, it’s clear running, informing and documenting an Olympics is a big challenge!



Larry Kunz

This reminds me of 1996, when the Olympics were in the U.S. and I was working for the company that was the major IT supplier for the games. I wasn’t directly involved, but I heard a good bit about the data reqirements. I imagine that the ODF is a direct descendant of those requirements.

I’m sure that in 1996 and in each succeeding Olympic year, a large amount of expertise was accumulated about how to set up IT systems and comply with the requirements. Unfortunately, based on a glace at the help page, I’m willing to bet that none of the expertise was preserved — leaving local Olympic organizations to learn everything from scratch every four years.

So, not only would the requirements documents benefit from being put into a unified system, they would also benefit from having a way to incorporate user feedback and thus preserve expertise for future users.

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