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June 20, 2016updated 22 Sep 2016 1:31pm

How UEFA is giving fans Euro 2016 fixtures, games and scores with cloud, mobile and VR

C-level briefing: Daniel Marion, head of ICT at UEFA, talks to CBR about what it takes to make a major European sporting event IT resilient while keeping fans engaged.

By Joao Lima

The 2016 UEFA European Championship is at full speed across ten different cities in France, and until the grand final on July 10, the ICT systems keeping the largest sporting event of the year in Europe are running under huge amounts of pressure.

For the first time ever, 24 teams are competing in the group stages and the whole tournament itself will comprise up to 51 matches.

The IT needs are such that UEFA’s ICT team has been expanded from its normal 80 staff members to over 1,000 during the championship.

Speaking to CBR, Daniel Marion, head of ICT at UEFA, said: "UEFA is an association of associations and the core business is not really technology, it is football. We try to keep enough knowledge internally to pilot and actually drive the managed services, because we do not really want go to full-outsourcing, it is more about managed services.

"We keep the resources to drive design, and then the operations and the build will be done – even though supervised by us – by partners. That includes is infrastructure and the same goes for development."

To help the association keep up with the pressures of hosting a championship in an ever more digitalised world, UEFA has signed a contract with telco company and cloud provider Interoute.

Marion explained that Interoute’s networked cloud hosts most of the association’s IT services, including back office applications and digital media services.

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He said: "For a competition like the European Championship we are quite risk averse. And we had to take the decision some years ago to where and how we would operate the tournament from an infrastructure perspective."

In fact, Interoute is responsible for hosting 98% of UEFA’s ICT business applications and systems, including the UEFA.com website and its Football Administration Management Environment (FAME) application, used to manage all elements of tournaments like EURO 2016 including, players, sponsors, broadcasters and stadiums.

Marion said: "IT is quite resource intensive. UEFA is still a small business but has quite big IT needs. We cannot have people looking after servers and building racks and stuff like that, it is not really what UEFA’s core business is about"

Nevertheless, Marion claims that UEFA is more hands-on than other football associations and that is the reason why UEFA "does not outsource or out-task everything to third parties".

He said: "We keep control but we would source help to the different partners we have and that is why we also have partners for a long time because we also go through a quite extensive educational period, kind of both ways to ensure we get an operating model that fits our operating model and our challenges."

So what about the 2% not on Interoute’s cloud? Marion said these are the services where UEFA uses SaaS services. The reason why they are not sitting on Interoute’s data centres is because it does not make sense to have those services on premise if a SaaS solution is being used.

daniel uefa

Daniel Marion, head of ICT at UEFA

Mobile, VR and fan experience score high

Keeping the services running has never been so important as the way fans consume football today is changing due to new technologies that have become part of every spectator’s life.

When putting a tournament together like Euro 2016, Marion explained that UEFA has two main target groups: the fans going to the stadium and the fans watching the matches outside the venue.

"We built a set of solutions for the Euro 2016 that first of all take a lot more advantage of mobile devices. We removed a lot of papers or booklets that you would receive with your ticket, and we created a fan app for people travelling to the different cities giving them all the information they need.

"Secondly, for people staying at home we are delivering a tool kit with access to content including unseen angles, or the statistics figures for broadcasters to build a second screen app or a companion app to watch the European championship."

Being trialled for the first time at an European Championship is the ability to order food from inside the venue and have that food delivered to the right seat by a runner.

This is being trialled in Lyon, at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, and in Paris, at the Stade de France.

Marion said: "We are trying to leverage a bit what these consumer devices offer us today to enhance the experience of fans being at the stadium or at home."

Managing the operations of the championship itself is also being done via mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones.

For example, UEFA is managing volunteers through mobile, so they can help them perform their job and at the same time know where they are, when they arrive at the venue, how long they are going to stay, what kind of job are they doing, and so on.

UEFA is also carrying out VR trials during the Euro to understand how the technology would work in the future.

Marion said: "We are doing the trials to understand what product we can build with it and what are the costs and what does it mean to the equipment in the stadium, because we already have a lot of cameras in the stadium."

To prevent things from going wrong, backup and disaster recovery systems have also been put in place. Also speaking to CBR, Jonathan Brown, VP of marketing at Interoute explained that the company hosts UEFA’s services like FAME or UEFA.com in a data centre in Geneva.

Brown said: "We then have backup in our Amsterdam data centres, they are mirrored across there, so we can switch between the two."

 

Euro 2020 will require new operational model

And if the Euro 2016 is the largest UEFA European Championship to date, 2020 will be even bigger. For the second time there will be 24 competing nations, however, the tournament will be hosted in 13 different cities, across 13 different countries in Europe.

UEFA’s contract with Interoute is set to expire by 2018. Marion did not reveal if the football organisation will be renewing it, just saying that this is work in progress, and that "it is difficult to say what is going to happen in two years".

"[However] in 2020 we are definitely changing the operation model. We are going to change the way we actually work with staff. We do not have it fully defined yet, but we will rely a lot more on the people at the different venues and we will have a far more guiding role than an operating role.

"It is not really the number of venues [that is a challenge for us], it is more the distance between venues. If you are in Baku and you want to go to Glasgow that is naturally a bit more of a challenge."thgh

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