by Prof Barry Dwolatzky
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?