After stumbling out of the blocks while providing the computer systems at this US summer's Olympic Games, IBM was claiming to have steadied itself as the games came to a close.
IBM officials maintained that the overall games management and operations systems performed to specifications, even though it was working to iron out wrinkles up to the end of the Olympics.
Apart from some routine system fixes needed in the first stages of the games, the most visible problems occurred with IBM's World News Press Agency (WNPA) system, which was designed to provide 11 major international news agencies with formatted results, the broadcast media information system, and touch-screen information kiosks.
The event-reporting system fed data collected mostly through IBM ThinkPads, some with touch-screen or pen-based interfaces, to PC servers and AS/400s running DB2 databases at event locations, then to a central System/390 mainframe also running DB2 over a frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode network. The mainframe-based database served as the central source of results for the WNPA, the IBM Commentator Information System, and Info '96.
According to Armondo Biarldi, publisher of Magazine de Portivo, a Mexican sports weekly, the system got better as the games progressed, but it didn't measure up to the system at the 1992 Barcelona games . "As soon as the event was done at the 1992 Games, we got the results. We had to wait as long as three hours to get results on some events here. We had to call Mexico to get tennis results last Friday."
The system churned out incomplete, unsorted, and sometimes inaccurate information. Although IBM bore the bulk of the criticism, dodgy news-agency systems and slow line links were to blame in some cases, as was the generally poor pre-games communication between IBM and the agencies.
Along with some reusable code, IBM hopes to use the project planning and management lessons it has learned in Atlanta to smooth operations at the two remaining games on IBM's Olympic contract. "We now know the questions to ask our partners and how to better simulate and test systems," says Ron Palmich, director of the 1996 Olympic Games Project Office.
IBM has also been faulted for designing unnecessarily complex systems to showcase its strategic products, such as imposing a three-tier client/server model on the systems. Moreover, IBM's Web Object Management software, Web-based streaming video and Internet commerce applications were exceptions to the rule of using technology that had been on the market for 18 months.
"You don't want to be fooling around with untried technology and learning things on the fly with this kind of exposure," says Lynn Berg, an analyst at Gartner Group, in Stamford, Connecticut. "It's not good project management."