Online accreditation an Olympian task

Building an Olympic-sized accreditation system – involving participants from around the world who require security checks and visas – is an Olympic-sized task.

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But for the first time, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games will run its accreditation system entirely online for all groups, including athletes, press and volunteers. This will include about 90,000 people, but some 130,000 will apply (the gap is due to over-submitting, rather than rejections). It will also be the first Olympic Winter Games to offer a remote commentator information system, all part of its goal to make this the greenest Games ever.

This is the job of systems integrator Atos Origin Inc., which has a long-term contract to provide its accreditation system and all integration services for the Games, from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City through to the 2016 Summer Games in London. While it provides a specialized accreditation system for the Games, the technology has also been used in other sporting events such as the World Cup and Pan American Games.

“What we’ve done here for the first time is allow all organizations to register online,” said Peter Hamilton, integration manager with Atos Origin. An individual doesn’t apply for accreditation; the Canadian Olympic Committee or CTV would apply on behalf of their athletes or journalists. But only a few years ago, this was done by mailing out forms to the various committees and news agencies, which would be mailed back and keyed in. The forms could not be photocopied because they were pre-printed with ID numbers.

The online system allows them to import data from an Excel spreadsheet or human resources database, with a few minor modifications, so they don’t have to enter each person one by one. They can also re-import data using their ID to keep the data up-to-date. “We negotiate with immigration agencies and law enforcement,” said Hamilton. “Each person goes through background checks to get their visas approved.”

This process also extends to volunteers. In the past, volunteers could apply online, but after that, everything was done by phone or snail mail – a tedious process. Vancouver 2010 marks the first time volunteers will have their own portal, where they can see their schedule, get online training and receive messages about meetings.

“I don’t have any estimates on effort, but it’s significant for the various organizations,” said Ward Chapin, CIO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC). “The RCMP has to do background checks, so there’s a lot of information that has to be on these forms and we can electronically check the various fields to make sure it’s all valid.”

Aside from improving communications, it’s dramatically reducing the use of paper for the Games. “We did it in Beijing, but for the first time at the Olympic Winter Games, we’ll have our commentator information system working remotely,” said Hamilton. “For commentators sitting in the stands, they’re getting the latest statistics, but now that’s available remotely so they can connect in New York or Helsinki. We’ve got eight broadcasters who will be commentating live from home rather than flying people in for the Games.”

If a particular country sees a particular sport as less important for their market – Continental Europe isn’t so interested in curling, for example – they don’t have to fly their commentators to Vancouver for three weeks. “It’s not just paper and electricity,” said Hamilton. “We’re reducing the number of people who actually come to the Games.”

This will help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the Games. “In the old days, if you walked into a media centre, there were thousands and thousands of pages printed and they keyed all the results in,” said Chapin. “Now they can cut and paste results online, so there are significant savings.”

The biggest challenge, however, is not the technology itself, but bringing all the sponsors together and integrating their products into an end-to-end solution. “Our goal from Day 1 is that you can’t tell who works for Bell and who works for Atos,” said Chapin. “We really try to function as a technology team.”

Atos Origin isn’t only responsible for the applications; it’s also the integrator for all of the IT partners. “We’re as much about integrating a large number of partners and hiring a lot of local skilled people and using experience from past Games, applying the same processes to get things delivered on time,” said Hamilton. “Compared to normal business, we can’t be late. If we make a mistake, only four billion people know about it.”



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