IBM claims to be improving Olympics form

IBM programmers and technicians are scrambling to fix a number of glitches that have plagued the company's IS operations responsible for automating the results from all venues of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

IBM programmers and technicians are scrambling to fix a number of glitches that have plagued the company's IS operations responsible for automating the results from all venues of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

There were grumblings here that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), so dissatisfied with the timelines of the results it was getting, was considering suing the Atlanta Committee for Olympic Games. The EBU, a consortium of 88 broadcasters, is reportedly looking to be reimbursed part or all of the US$250 million that it paid for rights to cover the Olympic Games.

"These people have paid a handsome amount to get these results quickly and they aren't getting them," says one journalist. "IBM had better fix the results problem, with track and field heats coming fast and furious."

IBM officials have admitted to most of the technical glitches, but on Tuesday said that they believed to have them all under control.

An input queue problem with IBM's mainframes was partially responsible for the inability of the system to provide journalists at the press centre with immediate results. But with some fast coding fixes, IBM programmers have fixed the problem, a company spokesman says.

IBM officials also noted that the results for each event must be cleared by that event's venue manager, a process that can exceed 15 minutes, before they can be transmitted. To speed the transmission of data to the press centre and the dozen or so international press agencies receiving the results and related information, IBM has switched from sequential transmissions to broadcast. The re-coding of IBM's mainframe queuing system accommodated this change.

The IBM officials also attribute some of the delays reported by international press agencies to the slow line speeds selected by some agencies. In an apparent effort to cut costs, some agencies have opted for line speeds as slow as 9600kbit/s.

But the problem still persisted as late as Tuesday, according to some. "It has been better getting results today, but we are still getting pretty incomplete results," said one veteran reporter on Tuesday. "They are trying to make these systems produce too much detail associated with these results and the systems can't carry it off."

One IBM official, who requested not to be identified, has pointed to the late physical completion of some of the venues as a contributing factor, noting that in some cases the computer systems giant and other technology providers were left with as little as two days to set up IT infrastructures before the games began. Systems of this complexity normally require 60 to 90 days to set-up and test, according to the IBM official.

In addition to the gremlins haunting the systems that are responsible for providing results to journalists, there have been widespread complaints about how slowly the 1996 Summer Olympic Games' Web site is updated. The site was designed to give up-to-the-minute information about availability of tickets, along with several other informational services.

Still others have complained about the reliability of IBM's Info `96 system, a touch-screen PC running IBM's OS/2 Warp Connect that makes a wide range of information available to users at the Games, including logistical information and biographical data on athletes.

"These Info `96 terminals are just crashing all the time. People here are beginning to call them Info `97 because that is probably when they will be ready to work," says one research assistant with a well-known independent production company.

IBM officials claimed yesterday morning that most of the problems affecting the approximately 1800 Info '96 kiosks had been addressed. Yet users continued to note difficulties, particularly with email and the legibility of printed results information generated from the kiosks.

An IBM spokesman conceded that insufficient planning by IBM and the event committees had led to a lack of standard formatting for results reports, which has caused problems for events with complex scoring such as gymnastics.

IBM has created four different applications for the Olympic Games, including the Results System, which tracks scores and statistics at 31 different venues; the Info `96 system, which is supposed to provide instant logistical and biographical data to a wide range of accredited guests at the Games; the Games Management System, a group of interconnected applications that manage the event; and the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games Web Server.

IBM is at http://www.ibm.com/.

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