Social Networks To Help BT At London 2012 As TOC Goes 24-7

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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With pictures: BT says social networks will help beat disruption at the London Olympic Games

The Technology Operations Centre (TOC) for this summer’s Olympic Games in London goes 24-7 today and will be the location where Games organiser LOCOG monitors the whole of the Olympics’ IT systems.

For the first time, all of the 12 Olympic technology partners will be on the same floor, something that BT, the official communications provider of the games, says is more efficient and saves valuable time when responding to incidents.

It is also using social networks to give it an extra tool to prevent disruption to what claims will be “the most connected games ever.”

Inside the TOC

There’s been an evolution over the last number of [Olympic] Games, where guys have decided they’d be in a similar proximity, then the same building, then the same floor and now we’re in the same TOC environment,” explained BT’s Gary Symes, service director of BT’s London 2012 team. “This is the first Games where we’ve had a significant footprint. I think Vancouver did the same, but because it was a Winter Games, it had a smaller number of people.”

At its full capacity, the TOC seats 180 people working on three shifts. Symes explains that his team will work two days, two nights and then two days off as the days are so busy that they need time to recuperate. He acknowledges that this rota is not something that is normally done for a longstanding contract and support model, but it works for the Olympics.

By bringing all of the teams together, the TOC can effectively function as a single unit. If the results and scoring teams have a problem, they can simply walk over to BT, who deals with the IP phones, firewalls, routers, LAN and WAN, to see if there’s a problem. This avoids the need to raise a ticket that would get placed into a queue.

The partners use a unified ticketing system and management platform, which means tickets aren’t passed around from one team to another.

Social Networks

Although social networks are not a “frontline” tool, Symes says they provide an “added layer of management” as they can identify earlier trends and problems, like if a wireless service isn’t working.

BT is using Synthesio, a system used by BT Retail to identify problems with its products, and contextual information such as venues, athletes, federations and high profile Twitter users has been pumped into the system. Information is scraped from various social networks and positive and negative feedback is produced.

During the London 2012 Prepares series of test events, people complained on social networks that the queues were getting big, something that hadn’t been identified otherwise. This anecdotal evidence is enough to convince BT that it will be a useful tool, adding that it can see certain trends already.

Healthy Competition

Symes likens the TOC to an aircraft carrier and points to the signs on the ceiling which say who does what. Each team will wear different coloured uniforms, he says. BT, which has the second largest presence in the TOC, will have the best uniforms, he claims.

However despite this “healthy competition”, he says they have a practical purpose as although the teams have been working together for a long time, with 180 people and various shift rotations, it can be difficult to remember everyone’s name.

Incidents are displayed on a screen at the front of the office and are given a severity rating of one, two, three or four. A severity four incident could be one person who is unable to access a service they have ordered, while a severity three could be a small group affected by a wireless access point being down. Severity two incidents could mean a site-wide problem, while a severity one could mean multiple sites.

According to BT, statistics from previous games suggests that there will be ten faults during the Olympics and “if you can tell where those faults are going to be, you’d have a job for life.”

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