Why Pan Am’s one-year countdown started early for its IT team

The event’s VP of information technology has a huge task before (and after) this weekend’s celebration, but he’s up for it

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There will be singing and dancing. There will be cheering. There will be some kind of souped-up clock from Cisco. But no matter what happens during the one-year countdown to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Games on Friday, Brian Cook is probably less focused on the everything we have to look forward to and more focused on everything that could go wrong.

Cook, vice-president of IT for the Pan Am Games, held a fireside chat of sorts alongside CEO Saad Rafi during a meeting of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) that was held at Allstream’s Toronto offices a few weeks ago. For him, the one-year countdown is just one of many different steps along a journey that will require him to ensure the seamless delivery of technology supports results services (timing and scoring), venues, telecom equipment, business apps and Internet services. His staff, which has grown from five to more than 35 people in just a few months, will have limited time to sit back and party alongside the Pan Am Games revelers this weekend.

“You need to get people into an operations mindset,” Cook told the ITAC gathering. “There can’t be a case where someone says, ‘It’s not my problem.’ When something happens, it’s everyone’s problem, and the focus should be on how we can resolve it.”

To make that task a bit easier, the Pan Am Games IT team will be conducting a series of tests over the next year where they will deliberately introduce faults into various parts of the network and fail over from one data centre to a backup. All told, Cook said there will be 4,500 scenarios the tech group will work through to ensure the worst doesn’t happen.

“We actually do make (the IT systems) break,” he said. This includes the all-important central reporting system, which has a service level of 200 milliseconds. “No matter how much you test, though, something will go wrong.”

Having that expectation up-front is clearly important to Cook, as is cultivating an internal team culture that reacts well to a challenge rather than throwing up their hands. When an IT need with a hard deadline arises, “It becomes a question of ‘How can we make it happen on that date?’” he said. “Thinking that way creates positive habits.”

Although the one-year countdown is an important milestone for the Pan Am Games, Cook shows how true IT leaders work with a timeline that’s even broader in scope. They look forward — far past July 7, 2015 — backwards to what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t, while also keeping laser-focused on what’s going on right now. As much as we all can’t wait to say “Let the Games begin,” experienced winners are in a constant state of play.


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