Blame Rio


By Lou Vianna and Jim Johnson

The unfortunate 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta was the scene of a bombing that ultimately killed two people and wounded more than 100.  Those Olympic Games also proved to be more of a tumultuous experience than IBM anticipated. IBM performed poorly. Reporters around the world, who relied on IBM's technology for real-time scoring and information on athletes, were frustrated that certain information was inaccessible. The press began to lambaste IBM for producing late, sometimes erroneous, information. The outcome was a public relations catastrophe for IBM. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that there's a strong need to manage user expectations. If information is available and users cannot access it, prepare for conflict to occur. The strain was too much for IBM and the International Olympic Committee, and after the Sydney games in 2000 they parted ways.

Now with a less than brilliant FIFA World Cup experience, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is preparing to receive more than 10,000 athletes who will compete in 42 sports in the 2016 Summer Olympics. It will be the first Olympic Games in South America. Despite all the concerns by the rest of the world, the Cariocas (what the natives of Rio are called) are not that concerned with the delays in work. They seem to be used to delays and are usually good at improvising. This project is shaking the entire city. Traffic is complete chaos, and there are people working in every corner of the city. But will the city be ready by July 2016? Nobody knows.

Notwithstanding 1996, the IT services for 2016 may be a shining star compared to the projects to build the Olympic, Aquatic, or Equestrian Centers. These physical structures are due to be completed by March 2016, just a few months from opening ceremonies. On the other hand, IT services will be virtually virtual. Technology providers are building a data center in RIO in time for the games, but this data center is just one of the centers for all games of the future. The IT structure is moving to the cloud with a network of permanent data centers. In the past, software was created and modified for each venue. The cloud service will use a standard software environment with little to no modifications from venue to venue going forward.

So, as we from The Standish Group advise, “complex projects” need everyone to have keen environmental awareness as things change quickly, and we must pay attention to low-level signals and changing trends. In order to be keenly aware and manage complexity you need a strong executive sponsor, quality user involvement, a mature emotional project environment, and functional optimization. In 1996, IBM was using the Olympics to showcase its latest and greatest technology, such as  MQSeries, which acted as the communications piece transacting data between various systems. While having bleeding-edge technology was good for IBM, it was not good for such a dynamic event as the Olympics. The cloud service should prove to answer the IT stability problem.

As for Rio’s Olympic, Aquatic, or Equestrian Centers, there will be a lot of people working hard in the months before the games, a lot of details will not be ready, but the party will be wonderful, as Rio is gorgeous. If something important does not get completed on time, don’t blame IT. Blame it on Rio.

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Subject Matter

Project Management Expertise

About the Author:


Lou Vianna

Dr. Lou Vianna is the South American Research Director for The Standish Group. Lou is a project management professional and educator. He has trained more than seven thousand project managers through his affiliation with Fundação Getulio Vargas and other educational outlets. His background includes work at the Naval Research Institute in Brazil and service in the Brazilian Navy. Lou received his masters in project management from George Washington University, his masters in engineering from McGill and Ph.D in complexity from Fluminense Federal University.

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

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