Could the success of the FIFA World Cup event management system bring the 'all-singing, all-dancing' bespoke software solution back into fashion?
Although not one of the players treading the turf during this June's FIFA World Cup, Dilbagh Gill is nonetheless captaining a key IT element of the event's logistics. Gill is head of sport technology practice at Mahindra Satyam, the Indian IT consulting services company contracted by FIFA to run the contest's event management system (EMS).
Mahindra Satyam won the contract in 2007 despite having had limited experience in sport event management bespoke systems development. Gill, however, feels that this may have worked in its favour when the firm was invited to tender to become the official IT services provider for the 2010 tournament.
'It was a departure for us,' he admits, 'but we were confident we had the in-house expertise to put together a project team with the right skills.'
The EMS's remit is exceptionally broad for a Web-based on-demand management application. As well as providing front-end platforms for the competition's online multi-lingual ticketing (a first, Mahindra Satyam claims), and FIFA's marketing (engaging with social media channels), it will manage the World Cup back-office staff administration and logistics, and its entire personnel accreditation, processing some 260,000 individuals before and during the 31-day soccer classic, for the 10 South African stadia, FIFA headquarters and the event's international broadcast centre. By the closing ceremony the EMS will have generated around 6 Terabytes of data.
The EMS will be run from a dedicated Command Centre based in a secret facility in Johannesburg, located close to communications hubs and data centres where the critical EMS applications will be hosted. The system underwent its final integration phase in mid-May, although some of the core technology had already been deployed during the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa last year. Much of the final testing is to ensure successful integration of key technology and communications systems between the EMS and other partners providing the infrastructure; the EMS itself, however, will be wholly-managed by 150 Mahindra Satyam techies in situ. 'No aspects of the core management are outsourced,' Gill says. 'For an event of this magnitude you need complete ownership.'
Good liaison with the facilities staff at the respective venues is, of course, vitally important, Gill adds, much in the same way that the IT function and facilities management now liaise closely in the enterprise space: 'Many of the same issues arise, and can only be resolved working together'.
One of the EMS's key functions is personnel accreditation. Every individual involved with the event - from administration and support staff, to volunteers and officials, local organisers, delegates, sponsor guests, plus - of course - all members of the teams, are registered on a central management system that provides biometric security, identity assurance and role verification that determines venue access. The system will handle around 250,000 such accreditations during the tournament. Management of the volunteers is a particular challenge, Gill explains: it includes some 130,000 South Africans who have been accepted to serve as human interfaces for the games, and fulfil a variety of essential roles such as hosting and stewarding.
Transportation control is an important element of the EMS, both in terms of moving teams and their entourages between venues, as well as ensuring that people, resources and kit are available when needed. The EMS anticipates managing more that 1,000 vehicles of various types during the event, such as VIP limousines, team buses and goods transits. Another important component of the EMS is managing physical assets for the event - worth $1bn - and ensuring that as they move around there is secure space to store it. The system is also designed to facilitate the needs of the 15,000 sport media covering the World Cup.
The EMS command centre is capable of monitoring multiple games as they are played simultaneously. 'The command centre has 11 help desks and will take care of inter-partner system integration, plus first- and second -level application and equipment support,' Mahindra Satyam's Dilbagh Gill explains, 'and the centre will be managing the event's IT assets, so its approach is truly integrated'.