The Software Engineers at Mahindra Satyam – unsung heros of the 2010 World Cup

by Prof Barry Dwolatzky

Visit to ITCC

On Thursday last week – just hours before the reigning world champions, Italy, got eliminated in the group stages of the FIFA World Cup – I visited the “IT Control Centre” (ITCC) at Nasrec. I love control rooms – I always have!

They provide a high level abstraction – a neat and orderly view of a complex dynamic system. Control rooms always have a feeling of calm anticipation. I imagine that if all hell breaks loose the operators sitting at their workstations, looking up at projected displays on giant screens, will leap into action and solve problems quietly and efficiently. 

The ITCC is manned by a group of technical and support staff working in shifts. Each shift of about 20 people has experts from Match (FIFA’s event management company), Telkom, MTN and Mahindra Satyam.  Mahindra Satyam, one of India’s major IT companies, was responsible for developing the Event Management System (EMS). I was invited to visit the ITCC by Dilbagh Gill, Head of Mahindra Satyam’s Sport and FIFA Relationship. 

I was able to gain an insight into why the 2010 World Cup has run so smoothly. The unsung heroes who have ensured a hugely successful event are the software engineers responsible for building the “Event Management System” (EMS) that lies at the heart of this FIFA World Cup. 

Before my visit to the ITCC I had very little idea of what an “Event Management System” is. Dilbagh listed the broad range of event-related activities that are managed by the EMS developed for FIFA by Mahindra Satyam. 

Firstly there is the huge army of people responsible for supporting and running this, the biggest event – sporting or otherwise – in the world. Each person associated with the event wears an accreditation badge around his or her neck. There are more than 250,000 people, ranging from players and coaches to journalists, drivers, hotdog vendors and administrators who need to access stadiums and other facilities. The EMS issues and manages these accreditations. 

Then there are volunteers – almost 150,000 of them – who have to be managed through the process of submitting an application to become a volunteer to deployment in a specific role on a specific day. The EMS has a “volunteer management” module. 

There is also more than $1 billion worth of assets. These include laptops, printers, tables, chairs, cell phones and many others. Most of these are on loan from various sponsors and have to be allocated and returned. The EMS has an asset management and tracking function. 

Another part of the EMS, called the “Team Services Support System”, helps each of the 32 national teams arrange flights, ground transport, training venues, daily schedules and all of their other logistics. 

There is even a part of the EMS that supports online polling, like the “Golden Boot” award. 

The one thing that the EMS does not manage is ticketing for fans. This aspect is managed directly by FIFA’s event management partner Match. You will see elsewhere on this blog my thoughts about this aspect of the IT support for the World Cup! 

In 2007 FIFA went out on tender, inviting IT companies from around the world to develop a web-based EMS to be used in all of the events it runs, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Satyam (as it was then called) won this tender, and then agreed to become a FIFA World Cup Sponsor. 

The requirements for the first web-based EMS in the world were very dynamic. FIFA, Match and various other stakeholders did not have a clear idea up-front as to what the EMS would need to support. Mahindra Satyam therefore decided to build the EMS, from scratch, using an agile development approach. It was constructed in 2-week iterations and tested at various FIFA events, such as the Confederation Cup held in South Africa in 2009. 

The total effort required has been about 300 man years. For the technologically curious amongst you – the EMS was built on Microsoft .NET technology and uses the SQL Server database. 

My host at the ITCC, Dilbagh Gill, made the very interesting observation that the EMS is the “invisible hand” behind the World Cup. The developers of the system and the staff manning the ITCC are striving to ensure that no-one is aware of the IT systems. Their goal is that each of the hundreds of thousands of users of the EMS get what they need from the system as efficiently as possible. It is only when problems arise that people become of the IT systems and the people supporting them – the Mahindra Satyam team has worked hard to ensure that this will never happen. 

As a software engineer I’m hugely impressed with the EMS and Mahindra Satyam’s work. My only regret is that it was developed in India and can’t be held up as an example of what the South African software sector can achieve. 

Could a South African development partner done as well as Mahindra Satyam?

10 thoughts on “The Software Engineers at Mahindra Satyam – unsung heros of the 2010 World Cup

  1. Like Barry, I was hugely impressed with this “behind the scenes” look and will forever have enormous respect for the conceivers and implementers. Barry did not mention that the 300 person-years was prior to the event – an additional 200 person-years will be required during and after the event.

    And never mind the software, Barry (well just for now at least) – let’s applaud the South African network operators who have measured up to FIFA’s and the broadcasters exacting standards.

  2. Yes indeed Mahindra Satyam is a CMMI level 5 company. I guess this venture with FIFA would really help them bag some other huge projects in future. They have done a commendable job.

  3. I agree completely with Adrian that Mahindra Satyam’s South African partners in the delivery of the Event Management System, namely Telkom and MTN, are doing an amazing job.

    In response to Pablo’s comment – yes Mahindra Satyam is a CMMI maturity level 5 company. In fact in 2008 I led a study tour to India where we visited one of Mahindra Satyam’s delivery centres. We were extremely impressed by their high commitment to Process.

    The relationship between their high level of process maturity and the fact that the EMS was developed using an Agile approach is very interesting to me. I believe that the reason they were so successful using an agile approach is because they have CMMI Level 5 processes in place.

  4. All the new technology (IT, Constructions and all other areas) are very impressive indeed, but there is one thing that bothers me… The IT came from India and most of the structural architects came from Germany. There might be specialist from other countries as well – I just name those that I now know of. Also, from the documentaries I’ve seen on Discovery and other channels, it appears that most of the really juicy construction work was also done in other countries (like the Gautrain, certain parts of the stadiums etc.) and I assume that most of the systems development was also done in other countries.

    Was one of the objectives of the world cup not to create jobs/opportunities in SA? And I don’t mean temporary jobs for the thousands of hard working unschooled employees – but I’m asking more from a skilled worker perspective. Should we not have done more to get the skills and opportunities in SA rather than just give it to the International experts? I personally think we should have invested in local industries and trained professionals to allow all these amazing new things to be developed and manufactured locally.

    Perhaps that’s not realistic… I don’t know. I just think we missed a couple of good opportunities. What do you think?

  5. It would be quite interesting if some clever person could do a scan of technologies and capabilities used in World Cup and see which of those were South African. That could be used to measure and market our strengths.

  6. Kudos to MSat folks involved in making this engagement a success. Always good to see our (TechM’s) sister company rock-n-roll!

    Cheers!

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