Making the London Olympics technology fit together
- 29 September 2011
- From the section Business
Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.
This week it is Michele Hyron of Atos, chief integrator for the Olympic Games in London. She is responsible for leading the consortium of IT partners to design, build and operate the massive IT infrastructure that will support the London 2012 Games.
Ms Hyron leads a team that include employees from Atos and technology partners LOCOG, as well as volunteers.
She already has nearly 10 years of Olympic Games experience, serving as operations manager at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, integration manager at Athens 2004 and quality manager at the winter Games in Salt Lake City 2002.
What's your biggest technology problem right now?
As the chief integrator for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I suppose that people would expect me to have a long list of problems. After all, if the IT doesn't work, then effectively the Games can't take place.
It is a huge responsibility, and one that everyone takes extremely seriously, but this is now my third Olympic Games and Atos's sixth.
While the technologies advance every time and we are faced with fresh problems as we integrate new applications, we have developed a robust process that ensures that we test everything in the lab over and over again.
By the time we get to the Games themselves, we have covered an extensive testing program.
In fact, our work is analogous to training pilots in aircraft simulators.
We throw every possible scenario at the IT teams - from the failure of the communications network to someone accidentally pulling out a plug - and ensure that we can recover from these without anyone at the Games or watching on TV noticing that a problem has even occurred.
The most challenging aspect of the job, though, is undoubtedly the massive increases in the amount of data which has to be organised and channelled with split-second timing.
It is estimated that between the dawn of civilisation - some four to five thousand years ago - and 2003, mankind had created about five exabyte's of data, which is 5bn gigabytes.
Across the world, we now create that amount of data every two days and the volume of business data is doubling every 18 months.
The Olympic Games is no exception. For Beijing, we produced 50% more data than we handled at the Athens Games.
The London 2012 Games will see us process significantly more information than we had at Beijing, as we meet the demands of sports fans worldwide for the latest information on their favourite events and sports stars, and deliver this information via broadcasters, internet and mobile.
What's the next big tech thing in your industry?
Atos is a global business with a presence in more than 42 countries and a workforce of 78,500 business technologists. In many respects our industry covers virtually every aspect of IT and every industry sector.
However, from my personal perspective it is the magic that we can now work with metadata to create a completely different TV experience for watching sport which is the most exciting.
We will have the ability to offer viewers the chance to choose exactly which competition, nation or athlete they want to follow, and enable them to follow more than one sporting event simultaneously.
This digital quality service will be offered over fixed and mobile devices, and is designed to allow sports fan to watch events that aren't even being broadcast on a regular programme.
So unlike the type of technologies people are used to today, with a personal video recorder (PVR) integrated into a set-top box allowing them to select when they view broadcasts, this new approach makes the viewer the director, selecting what they watch, when and from what angle.
Our approach incorporates face-recognition technologies, and this means that a viewer can either have automatic selection of the best shot or a recommendation that they can accept or reject.
The amount of data that has to been managed to offer this service is staggering, and by 2014 we estimate that more than 90% of all data traffic in the world will be video content.
It will be the equivalent of 32 million people streaming Avatar in 3D continuously every month.
What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?
As a complete beginner in software development, at the start of my career, I enjoyed developing a program in Assembler.
I made it as compact as possible, playing with the stack and using other tricks. It was great fun!
What I didn't appreciate at the time was that this piece of code was completely unmaintainable.
My colleagues were still blaming me for this work years after I moved on to other things.
It was a really good lesson so early on in my career, and taught me the importance of looking ahead and appreciating the impact of what I do, not just tomorrow but years into the future.
It also taught me that while playing with software is really fun - and it is - delivering programs that are robust and practical is what counts.