Five IT Lesson from the London 2012 Olympics, article in Forbes

October 15, 2012
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It was hard not to sense the presence, and importance, of technology in this year’s 2012 London Olympic Games. In the second article of his “Technovation” column for Forbes, Peter High captures five lessons from the leader that helped make it all happen.

by Peter High, published on


The London 2012 Olympics were generally thought to be extremely well executed.  As a casual or even an obsessive observer of the Games, it is easy to overlook how much technology has changed the Games, largely for the better.  Among other things, Gerry Pennell, the CIO of London 2012, was responsible for ensuring that the core mission of measuring athletic performance and providing data to the media and ultimately to spectators around the world was achieved.

At first glance, running IT for the Olympics would seem very different from doing so at a typical company, but I recently spoke with Pennell, and he brought up a variety of lessons that are universally applicable.

Lesson 1: People – Hire Technologists who can run at sprint and marathon speeds

Pennell had an advantage in that eight years earlier, prior to beginning preparation for the London Games, there was an Olympics in an English speaking country (Australia) with people who have some cultural similarities to the Brits, and he was able to recruit some of them to join his efforts. That said, prior experience only goes so far.  “New blood is essential so that people are not tempted to simply replay what was done in the past,” says Pennell.  It is important to have fresh thinking for each Olympics, but it is also important that there be a preponderance of people from the host country in IT so that the IT plan reflect the unique aspects of the technology landscape in that country.

In terms of characteristics to look for, finding people who are comfortable operating with a high degree of uncertainty, and who will not be frustrated by changes, even at the last minute, is essential.  At the beginning of Pennell’s journey with his colleagues, it was important to think of their jobs as a marathoner might, but at the end, there were a series of sprints.  Balancing the strategy of the marathon (a topic covered below) with the tactics of the sprints is essential.

Increasingly, this is a lesson that CIOs in most companies must contemplate.  The pace of change in IT is growing, and there are no signs of slowing down.  Hiring people who are comfortable with change, and bring an R&D mentality to new technology is essential.  As in many conventional business situations, it is also the case that projects move swiftly through different phases; its important to find people who are versatile enough to deal with strategy at one end of the process, and deployment or operations at the other.  The more versatile the team the easier it is to respond correctly to changing situations.

Lesson 2: Strategy – In the absence of solid plans from others, understand where the finish line is, and work backwards

Lesson 3: Infrastructure – in four years, speed records are substantially different

Lesson 4: Governance – Develop detailed plans as to how much gold and silver will be necessary

Lesson 5: External Partnerships – Choose your relay partners wisely

To read the entire article, please visit

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