Project Management: No horsing around

IT challenges faced at the World Equestrian Games, the World Cup for horses.

How would you like to be responsible for an IT project in support of a world-famous sporting event? Much of the hardware and software will be chosen, supplied and installed by vendors that are also event sponsors (selected to meet long-term site needs, even when in conflict with the event requirements). The site covers 600 acres, and though major upgrades to the infrastructure are needed, you can't get access to the site until 19 days before going live. Oh, and the whole world will be watching. Want to sign up?

IT organisations are expected to complete projects on time, on budget and with high quality -- but often don't.

These challenges, and others, faced IT support for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), the World Cup for horses. The 2010 WEG was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. As the first WEG held outside Europe, it had to be flawless. But the IT challenges were monumental:

No playbook. The WEG has no formal procedures or process to share lessons learned from past events. (The Olympics, in contrast, have standardised IT operating procedures.) Unlike European WEGs, the 2010 games were held in a single location, necessitating versatile reuse of event sites, which added logistical complexity.

Limited infrastructure. Although power, cell coverage and Internet access were upgraded prior to the WEG, existing systems were still insufficient for an event of this size. WEG IT expanded the Horse Park's network to include most of the park. It was partitioned to support credit card transactions, large-photo transmission and broadcast television without interfering with the ground crew and security radio-frequency networks. Seventy generators provided additional power during the games.

Decentralised organisation. The WEG relied heavily on volunteers, contractors, vendors and sponsors. IT systems facilitated information-sharing across these semi-autonomous silos.

Unique requirements. Jumping events were held in one ring, requiring reconfiguration of physical jumps between events. Corresponding power and fiber-optic cables had to be physically relocated; new ditches were dug before each event, and cables laid and buried. For the first time, GPS devices were attached to saddles to track horses on the 100-mile cross-country endurance ride. If a horse stopped moving, help could be dispatched quickly. In addition, judges and spectators could monitor the progress and relative standings of the horses, even while they were out of sight.

Scheduling and tracking 5,000 volunteers was complicated because many worked only two or three days. All systems had to be highly intuitive, requiring virtually no training.

High security. Many owners, riders and visitors were royalty or wealthy people from Europe and the Middle East. Over 40 federal, state and local agencies worked together in a joint operations command center. WEG IT systems had to interface with command center protocols.

IT organisations are expected to complete projects on time, on budget and with high quality. But many fail to meet these expectations. IT support for the 2010 WEG was highly successful, demonstrating that IT projects can succeed even under extremely difficult circumstances.

Such projects can inspire IT organisations everywhere. So add a horse photo to your desktop, as a symbol of creativity, versatility, grace under pressure and teamwork. Let the can-do spirit of the World Equestrian Games inspire you and your organisation to achieve the nearly impossible.

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc., which helps organisations invest well in IT. Contact him at BartPerkins@LeveragePartners.com .

Read more about project management in Computerworld's Project Management Topic Center.

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Bart Perkins

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