The UEFA 2016 Championships kick off in just under a month with the opening match between France and Romania in Paris.
And just as the coaches and players gear up for the big event, hoping that their tactics and training will lead them to glory, so do the teams behind the scenes, not least those in the IT function who play a vital role in delivering the event.
V3 spoke to Daniel Marion, head of ICT at UEFA, to find out more about how the organisation has prepared for the event and how much has changed since 2012.
“In 2012 we were just seeing the rise of tablets and mobile content. This has obviously grown massively in the last four years so we’ve upgraded lots of our apps for mobile devices,” he said.
“Four years ago people were accessing content on their phones but not for long periods of time. But that’s changed now as people can spend hours on their phone. So we design a lot of what we offer for the mobile first.”
Marion explained that this work is not just for fan services that provide information on matches and player stats, but for staff, such as for match day volunteers and event staff so they know their shift times and where they will be based.
He added that it has proved a lot easier to provide this information via apps on iOS and Android devices than on old desktop-based platforms.
“When you have a tablet or phone app it’s very easy for staff to get accustomed to using it, far easier than back-office software, so that’s a real change from last time ,” he explained.
UEFA is also set to trial a technological first for the UEFA Championships during the event by allowing fans in Lyon and the Stade de France in Paris to order food and drinks from outlets directly from their phones or tablets.
UEFA uses a private cloud environment to host these services, which is maintained by Interoute via data centres in Geneva backed up in Amsterdam.
“Working in this way gives us the flexibility we need. We are more comfortable with our own private cloud platform [than public] and we can still allocate resources as we need,” Marion said.
One development in the relationship between Interoute and UEFA since the last tournament has been the ability to ‘scale’ the service level agreements on certain aspects as and when required.
For instance, the SLA on its main website can be scaled to the top-level platinum on match days when maintaining availability is critical, before scaling it back to gold or silver during non-match days and the evenings.
However while UEFA prefers the use of a private cloud for its core systems, front- and back-end, it is experimenting with a public cloud for a new ticketing software-as-a-service platform run from a public environment.
Marion added that UEFA is not averse to using a public cloud in other ways in the future, although only when it is comfortable with integrating it into the organisation's operations.
“We don’t have the experience of running our core systems in that way, so it may be more for training and staging for development that we can use [public cloud] more," he said.
Another notable change in 2016 is that the tournament has been extended from 16 to 20 teams. This means using 10 rather than eight stadiums, adding more sites for the ICT team to maintain.
Marion said it has not proved too much harder in terms of time and effort, but has increased the need for skilled staff who are not always easy to find, a common problem for all organisations.
“Having two extra venues does make it more challenging because we need good people and they are scarce, so this was a challenge to find them because we have to be as resilient as possible,” he said.
However, everything is on track for the big launch, and when football fans turn to their TV, tablet or phone, or appear at the match itself, it'll be thanks in no small part to the efforts of the UEFA ICT team managed by Marion.