Anglo-French group steps up as new IT sponsor for Olympics

Familiar with the name Sema Group? No? You will be one day. The Anglo-French computer services company has been awarded a contract to act as the leading technology sponsor of the Olympic Games. IBM has filled the role for 38 years, but opted out of the arrangement earlier this year. Sema will serve as technology systems integrator from 2001 to 2008, including the 2002 Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, Utah and the 2004 Games in Athens.

Sema Group PLC has been awarded a contract to act as the leading technology sponsor of the Olympic Games, the company announced yesterday. IBM was the previous sponsor of the Games, but opted out of the arrangement earlier this year.

The Anglo-French computer services company's contract with the International Olympic Committee is reportedly worth roughly $US220 million. The award is the largest sports-related IT contract ever, Sema said.

IBM announced in August that it will end its sponsorship of the Olympic Games with the Sydney games in 2000. The company, which has supplied technology to the Olympics for the 38 years, had been widely criticised for slow, bug-prone systems during the Atlanta Olympics in the summer of 1996.

Although its performance in Nagano, Japan, at the Winter Olympics earlier this year was better, IBM faced considerable losses, with the computer company saying it spent $200 million on the Games. IBM officials said the marketing benefit of sponsorship is not commensurate with the escalating costs of sponsoring the games.

Sema's contract says it will serve as technology systems integrator from 2001 to 2008, including the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah and the 2004 Games in Athens.

At least one observer finds the deal a good one for Sema. "This is a huge feather in their cap," said Marianne Kolding, an analyst at IDC in London. An undertaking of this size will give Sema a higher profile internationally, especially in the key US market, which the company has been hoping to enter for some time now, she said. In addition, having "taken over" the Olympic IT system from IBM will make people see little-known Sema in a different light, she added.

The contract makes Sema responsible for developing and running key information systems for the Olympics including accreditation, arrival/departure protocol, transportation, the diffusion of results data on an intranet, the Internet and to world media, management of central operations, coordination at venues and help desk services.

Although Sema is known mostly for its work in the defense arena, it has worked on other large sporting events including the 1992 Olympics, the 1993 and 1997 Mediterranean Games, World Cup 94, Euro96 (a European soccer competition) and the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Though the Olympic Committee will be a customer of Sema under a regular services contract, Sema could end up paying out of its own pocket for some parts of the implementation in its role as a sponsor. In addition to the contract, Sema said today it will become a partner in the International Olympic Committee sponsorship program.

In a statement, Sema CEO Pierre Bonelli called the win an "opportunity to demonstrate our skills and experience in the management of long-term complex projects." The company is focusing much more on the notoriety it will gain from the project, than on any money it will make from the contract.

Should the execution of the Olympic IT system go off without a hitch, it will be a big PR coup for Sema, said Kolding. "We all know what happened with IBM in Atlanta," she said. Getting the IT contract for the games is one thing, pulling it off is another, she pointed out.

An IBM spokesman in Paris said the company had no comment on Sema Group's success at grabbing the contract and moving into IBM's erstwhile position as Olympic sponsor.

Sema Group reported 1997 revenues of 1.13 billion pounds (US$1.85 billion) in February 1997 and has 16,500 employees worldwide.

Sema Group can be reached in Montrouge, France at +33-1-40-92-40-16, and on the World Wide Web at http://www.semagroup.com/.

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