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Olympic Procurement


It was a proud time for all of Britain when the International Olympic Committee agreed that London would hold the 2012 Olympic Games.  I, like many others, felt a great deal of excitement on that day in July 2005 and the London streets were abuzz with anticipatory chatter on what benefits the Olympics will bring to the nation.  Today, it appears that this buzz has almost entirely disappeared.

The Olympics has almost become a dirty word, conjuring up thoughts of mismanagement of public funds, escalating costs and increasingly unlikely completion targets. There have also been grumblings coming from the outsourcing community, especially when the subject of the Olympic Games IT programme is discussed. investigates what all the fuss is about.

The infrastructure needed for a successful Olympics is vast, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) aims to get every spectator to the events by either bike, foot or public transport and the IT systems needed to effectively implement the event are extensive.  These targets pile unprecedented pressure on public bodies to deliver the work needed for 2012 and of course, outsourcing (currently another dirty word) is playing a large part in the Olympic forge.

Focusing on IT, the 2012 games will need to have a system in place robust enough to handle information from 94 venues issuing 200,000 accreditations all across 900 servers.  That’s not to mention the 200,000 hours of testing that is planned before the Olympics even take place. 

So who is handling all of this?  Well surprisingly the IT service provider was chosen back in 2002 when the IOC decided that Atos Origin would provide IT services for future games.  This is either a mammoth display of forward thinking from the IOC or an utterly bizarre procurement process for arguably the biggest event in the world. spoke with Lee Ayling, Managing Director of IT and communications outsourcing at advisory firm, EquaTerra to find out what his opinion was on the procurement of services for the 2012 games. 

“The ODA has awarded a set of contracts aligned with the partnership network that has discrete amounts of Benefit In Kind to cover service provision.  There is some question as to whether these providers [Atos and BT within the UK] have the capability and performance track record in the UK to deliver the full IT services required as effectively as using niche/best of breed providers for certain activities.”

It appears that Mr Ayling is less than convinced that the procurement process for the Olympic Games is the most effective way of ensuring value for money and service quality.  Essentially the London ODA has a big pot of money allocated to service providers selected via a completely separate entity, the IOC.  How do the IOC know which service provider will work well for 2012?  Surely the homeland development committee would be in a better position to judge?

There is also the question of value.  Essentially Atos can charge £1m for a particular service, knowing full well there is money in the pot, where as an independent niche vendor may charge £500,000 for that same service. The problem is that the niche vendor does not have a chance to tender for the business because the service providers have already been chosen and the money already allocated.

However, Michèle Hyron, Chief Integrator for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games does point out that Atos’ prior experience is something that would make them an appealing partner, “Atos Origin has been the worldwide IT Partner for the Olympic Games since 2002 and involved in the Olympic Games since Barcelona in 1992. From each Olympic Games we learn valuable lessons for the next. From our experience, success of each Olympic Games relies and depends on knowledge and experience being transferred from previous Games. It also helps to be more efficient, keep costs down and to lower risk.”

The experience Atos has certainly cannot be ignored, however public spending is under the microscope now more than ever and it is essential that tax payer’s money is spent in the most efficient way.  Choosing the right partner for the right job is paramount in a venture as crucial as this.

Of course, we are yet to see Atos’ progress and we are all holding our breath to see whether BT come through with the goods.  MPs are due to report on the progress of the London Olympics IT programme in July and will be analysing the report for all our readers.  In the mean time, we can feel relatively comfortable that a service provider that has had nearly two decades of Olympic experience is handling our IT.  Let’s just hope that we are getting value out of every precious public penny.


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