How Olympics 2012 turned into an IT cautionary tale

A furor over NBC’s time-delayed coverage could be instructive for IT departments trying to control the flow of information via network services. Three takeaways from London so far


Most people in Toronto’s financial district probably have jam-packed schedules, but there they were on Monday, gathered around large viewing screens set up in the middle of an underground shopping path that was showing Michael Phelps swimming in the London 2012 Olympics. There are several such screens set up around Bay St. as part of a marketing strategy by furniture makers and other companies, not to mention the TVs running Games coverage in nearly every bar and restaurant. If watching sports amid white-collar work responsibilities were an Olympic event, the competition among enterprise employees would be particularly intense.

That’s what makes NBC’s decision to time-delay Olympic 2012 events so frustrating to viewers across North America, and so instructive for IT departments. With the increased ability to access information about the 2012 Olympics via YouTube, online publications, services like Twitter and Facebook – this is being called the Social Media Olympics – broadcasters like NBC are trying to remain in control. They probably know they can’t, and their efforts will only spur others to find workarounds wherever possible. This is, in fact, the exact same way many users respond to the attempts by CIOs and IT managers to block certain applications, avoid cloud-based services and push back against the influx of consumer devices into the office.

In fact, some IT departments may be seen as worse than NBC, by trying to make it impossible for employees to follow the multi-sport event in any way. There can be good reasons for doing this, and they go beyond productivity. Bandwidth in many organizations is finite, and the Olympic Games represent the kind of occasional event that could put a real squeeze on network capabilities. There is a growing array of technologies and techniques to deal with this, of course. Application visibility and control (AVC), for example, which is based on heuristics in the NBAR engine and integrated with the LAN controller, can allow IT staff to see what applications are running over a wireless network and prioritize business-specific applications like voice, video or WebEx and block YouTube, Facebook or BitTorrent.

As many IT leaders have learned, however, it’s often better to meet users at least half-way on their demands, because they are human beings first, and contributors to revenue (directly or otherwise) second. With that in mind, a few IT takeaways from the Summer Olympics so far:

  • People will stop at nothing to get information – the NBC outcry is typical of any delay in information services, and the damage to its brand and reputation will be discussed long after the games are over. Consider this in light of corporate retention strategies and workplace flexibility programs when services are limited or blocked.
  • The use of public IT services will shape expectations of the corporate network – already we’ve seen the BBC blame overuse of Twitter for not being able to receive data about an Olympic cycling event. There is an inherent belief among many people that the network should be able to handle anything and still provide answers in real-time. A tall order? Sure, but IT departments of the future will be mandated to provide a plan of how they will do it.
  • The end points change everything. There are way more smartphones in the market today which are calling upon the network to access Olympic information, but that’s nothing compared to what we’ll see at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. IT departments should start thinking more long-term about the growth in mobility and the implications for the services they provide.

The biggest difference between the Olympics and IT is that the games are all about one person or team winning the gold. Effective technology management, however, is about providing the tools and services that make all stakeholders successful. With the right network strategy in place, everyone gets to own the podium.

For more on preparing your long-term network strategy, download ‘The IP Imperative: The Time to Upgrade Your Network is Now,’ by Frost & Sullivan

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