Olympic Effort

Quality assurance and testing often get short shrift, but deploying systems without putting them through their paces can result in embarrassing and costly failures. Ward Chapin, CIO of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, wants flawless performance when the Games begin on February 28.

He's confident that the systems and networks he's putting in place will run smoothly, thanks to rigorous testing and simulation procedures. "We're not only testing our infrastructure and systems, but we're also testing and training our people," Chapin says. This comprehensive approach enables the Vancouver IT team to execute perfectly, adds Magnus Alvarsson, chief integrator with Atos Origin, the information technology partner for the 2010 Olympic Games and the worldwide IT partner of the International Olympic Commitee (IOC) 2000.

Lack of time and funding make quality assurance difficult for businesses to prioritize, according to Forrester analyst Margo Visitacion. The secret to successful QA, Visitacion says, is "baking in quality" throughout a project's lifecycle, rather than leaving it as an extra step at the end. "If you think you're saving a few dollars today by cutting out the testing portion, it's going to wind up costing you more when you realize it needs to be fixed when you're in production," she says.

To read more on this topic, see: Quality Doesn't Just Happen and 2008 Olympics Are High-Tech, But So What.

Test, and Test Again

Prior to the games, Chapin's team performs two technical rehearsals. The first, completed in October, was designed to assess how technical failures are detected, analyzed and rectified by the staff, and to practice processes and procedures. "At this point, we're pretty sure that all the systems are working because we've spent a lot of time with systems and disaster recovery tests," Alvarsson says. Testing disaster recovery procedures as part of QA is not just a best practice, Chapin says, it's "an essential practice."

The technical rehearsals are held in the Technology Operations Center in Vancouver, a 5,000-square-foot facility that Chapin compares to a NASA command center, complete with "huge screens" and 130 desks. Ward's testing team--:which included 220 staff members from the Vancouver Organizing Committee, the IOC and the eight Olympic-sponsors and partners--:replicated three of the busiest days of the Olympic Winter Games.

During the test, Olympic races and events were simulated at four venues. Each venue was staffed to operate as they will when the games are live. The 300 scenarios tested included the timing and scoring systems as well as the systems used to send sporting results to the Internet, press agencies and broadcasters. They also tested the games management systems, including the accommodation system (for managing the Athletes Village) and the accreditation system (which tracks entrance credentials for over 100,000 media, workforce, volunteers and sponsors). Few problems were detected, which Chapin attributes to the "thousands of hours of testing" that they performed prior to the first technical rehearsal.

The second technical rehearsal is scheduled for this month, when the tests run in October will be repeated and many additional scenarios will be added, this time at most of the 15 venues, not just four. "These weeks can be stressful for the staff, but it allows them to practice their roles and gain confidence for the real thing," says Chapin. And to keep the focus of the games where it should be--:on the performance of athletes, not infrastructure.

CIO.com Staff Writer Kristin Burnham can be reached at kburnham@cio.com.

This story, "Olympic Effort" was originally published by CIO.

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