500-day countdown – prepping the IT for the Beijing Olympics


With the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, being much larger in size and scope than its predecessor in Torino, Italy, the challenges confronting Lenovo – the event’s exclusive computing equipment provider – are also expected to be far greater.

“Everything from athlete participation to the [size of the] venue has increased by nearly four times,” says Alice Li, vice-president, Olympic marketing with Raleigh, NC-based Lenovo.

Li joined other Lenovo executives on a teleconference Monday to discuss preparations thus far, and challenges to building an information technology (IT) infrastructure for next year’s Olympic Games. The conference comes on the eve of the company’s “500-day countdown” to the much-anticipated event. Headquartered in New York, the provider of PCs is a sponsor for the upcoming Olympic Games, as it was for the Torino Games in 2006.

The event is expected to draw 201 participating nations and 10,500 athletes, and host 302 sporting events across 39 competition sites. “Equipment and services provided during two weeks of games are equivalent to what would be needed for any Fortune 500 company to run its daily operations. It’s a huge undertaking,” says Li.

Having a large number of sporting events spread across seven cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao, Tianjin, Qingdao, and Hong Kong – also means each geographical location will require its own IT infrastructure, equipment and staff. “And connectivity across venues [within these cities] must be seamless,” says Li.

Besides the sheer scale of the event, she says environmental challenges such as heat and dust contribute to the many hurdles facing Lenovo.

The company just completed the second of three hardware deliveries of 700 pieces of equipment – including notebooks, desktops, desktop monitors and servers – to the Integration Test Center in Beijing.

There, around 30 Lenovo staff are working full time, in tandem with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), to configure equipment for the 42 test events scheduled to begin this summer and end a couple of weeks before the Games kick off.

In particular, says Li, the barrage of tests is designed to ensure synergy between hardware and software, and the ability to meet the specific needs of commentators at different sporting events.

Non-competition venues will also be tested for durability, she adds. “We must also make sure everything is in place behind the scenes, in particular, current operations ongoing in BOCOG offices.”

At game time, Lenovo will have provided around 14,400 pieces of computing equipment, as compared to a mere 6,400 in Torino, and the staff count will rise to nearly 400. “There will be so much staff that we will need a dedicated human resources manager,” says Li.

While the underlying technology will keep vital processes up and running, such as game management systems, staffing and scheduling, transportation, and ticketing, the goal is also to keep athletes and media connected, she says.

To that end, there will be a media centre in Beijing, and help desk support for reporters working remotely; and seven Internet lounges for athletes, coaches and trainers.

The Games will serve as an exceptional publicity vehicle for Lenovo’s line of computing products, says Deepak Advani, chief marketing officer and senior vice-president of e-commerce at Lenovo.

A sporting event, such as the Olympic Games, is the ideal platform to spotlight a company’s wares given the emotional nature of sports, he says. “Brand is all about emotion. Sports catch the passion and emotions in everyone.”

He adds the company will launch a brand marketing campaign starting from the first day of the 500-day countdown.

Lenovo says it will unveil a new security feature at the Games, one that’s akin to using a security key to access and customize secured areas of a computer system.

Without the security key, users can still work on documents and access the Internet, for instance, but will be unable to enter restricted areas, says Leon Xie, director of Olympic sponsorship and technology at Lenovo.

Part of Lenovo’s marketing campaign will include a 1,000-town road show across China, designed to bring the Games to small towns with average populations of around 250,000, says Li. “Through this, we will continue to try to close the digital divide in China.”

The next phase in Lenovo’s preparation for the Olympics is to build hardware infrastructure to support behind-the-scenes core business functions, such as human resources, IT staff training, services support, e-mail, and office archive, the Lenovo executive says.


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