Rugby World Cup ICT manager reveals his most 'nervous moment'

Chris Hope acknowledges team effort in delivering ICT for tournament

Asked what was his most nervous moment during the Rugby World Cup, ICT manager Chris Hope replied: “the opening ceremony”.

That was the first opportunity to run the whole system live under a full workload – no dress rehearsals were possible. Once the infrastructure proved itself under the immense load of data, pictures and video coming out of that first event, he could feel more confident.

“You can plan all you like but you have to deliver; and that has to be done using people. It’s fair to say we had exceptionally good people,” he said.

Hope, who was speaking at the recent ITEX conference in Auckland, said the RWC was a project years in the planning. Of 13 stadiums originally scheduled to participate in the tournament, only five were served by fibre networks – essential for the huge information demand, particularly to serve the world’s media. Most of them had “very lean” ICT setups with the emphasis on saving cost. Only one had a dedicated ICT team.

Three stadiums had to do major upgrades to handle the tournament and Dunedin was building a completely new stadium.

Hope and his team decided not to use much of the existing technology but to renew all networks to a uniform standard. One vendor would be selected to provide a turnkey system for each of 10 major divisions of the project (10 “towers of service delivery”), for example, telephony or data network. Vendors were free to choose to bid for one “tower” or several.

“When we went to market we didn’t know which venues we were going to use,” Hope said and there was some adjustment to the scope and detail of the arrangements as negotiations went on.

There was a deliberate decision to “keep it simple”, to use tried and proven technology and to stay away from the bleeding edge.

The developers wanted local vendors involved as much as possible, so there was ready support for the long-term legacy use of the infrastructure.

Applications had to be provided for everything from the accumulation of statistics – counting the tackles and the knock-ons – through standard business software to a web portal for the 39,771 accredited media representatives, as well as the public websites for the tournament. Facilities had to be available for visiting stakeholders to rent technology and related services according to their needs.

As a result of as tendering process in 2008-9, Gen-i was awarded six out of the 10 “towers”. Other winners included TeamTalk for radio communications and international sports media specialist Deltatre for the public websites. Some area such as spectrum management (awarded to Lambda Communications and the Ministry of Economic Development), required highly specialist providers. The tournament management system was a fixture – owned by the International Rugby Board, it had been used in the last three World Cup tournaments.

The target was to deliver 48 matches faultlessly at the 12 match venues eventually selected and to make as many New Zealanders as possible feel connected with the tournament, fulfilling the chief message used to market New Zealand to the IRB – “a stadium of four million”.

Although there is a legacy element to the core infrastructure, much of the equipment and software was developed for seven weeks’ use – a profile quite unlike a typical commercial ICT operation, he said.

“Good ICT is ICT you don’t know is there,” Hope said. “It doesn’t get in the way of your doing your job. On that measure we were successful.

“If you’d asked me three months ago, would I do it again, I’d have said ‘no way; it’s too hard’ but today I’m thinking ‘when’s the next one going to be?’”

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