Interview with John Baekelmans The network behind the People's Games

With Cisco’s help, the Olympics in London turned out to be the most Connected Games as of yet. John Baekelmans, Cisco's CTO and co-lead of the 2012 Olympics, gave a talk at Cisco Systems in Hamburg to share Cisco’s experiences.

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John Baekelman's on how to deal with the challenge of a mega event

Britain’s premier David Cameron announced the 2012 Olympic Games in London as the People’s Games back in 2008. With Cisco’s help, the Olympics in London turned out to be the most connected Games as of yet. Athletes tweeted pictures from within the Olympic Stadium, spectators were provided with high-speed WiFi connections from subway stations to the stadiums, and the broadcast of the Games went around the world seamlessly and smoothly, spreading footage of the Olympics in real-time. “The IT systems for London 2012 processed 30% more information than any other Games in history and Cisco networking was at the heart of it!” says John Baekelmans, CTO and co-lead of the 2012 Olympics, representing Cisco. When he gave a talk at Cisco Systems in Hamburg to share Cisco’s experiences, we grasped the opportunity and asked him a few more questions on how to deal with the challenge of such a mega event. You can read and download John Baekelmans' presentation via PDF. Find out more about Cisco and their part in the most connected Games ever on www.cisco.com

What would you advise any city hosting the Olympic Games in the future?

What Cameron did in London was very clever. He motivated the people to participate at a very early stage. He made it clear, that without their help and support, such a mega event as the Olympics wouldn’t be possible. London has hosted three Olympic Games so far, and every time they also used the event to improve a different part of the city. Everything is much easier as soon as you have the people’s support, so you should convince the citizens of the Games’ advantages for their city.

How do you estimate Hamburg’s chances to host Olympic Games in 2024?

My careful prediction is that future Olympic Games will become a little smaller and more intimate, more ‘graspable’ than the gigantomania of previous Games. I am involved in Cisco’s Smart City project in Hamburg and I know that the world is looking at the technical innovations and the continuous improvements of infrastructure happening in the harbour. Plus: Many people are already excited for the Games to come to Hamburg. The public’s support is something you can and will have to count on.

Being at the heart of the digital and technological network behind the Olympic Games in London can’t always have been easy. Were there any major incidents? What was your secret superpower?

We’re proud to say that nothing serious happened. We were able to interconnect cities and stadiums, cameras and personal devices seamlessly. We provided secure WiFi areas for athletes, as well as public WiFi for the audiences. We managed to admit thousands of spectators to a venue within minutes using special scanners at the entrances. Even if a networking component went out of service, our redundancy schemes took over and nobody even noticed something was wrong. We relied on a mix of repeated and thorough testing and reenacting worst case scenarios as well as working only with well-known technology and reliable partners and providers. 

With the end of the Games their aftermath begins. Is there still a lot to be done to process the 2012 Olympics in London today?

Yes, processing the Games and their legacy still demands our attention. Most of the venues have been completely ‘ recycled’, some are still used as public parks or sports stadiums. What has started to blossom with the Games and the improved networking and digital infrastructure that came with them, is now part of London’s start-up scene. Our teams are still located in London, sharing our experiences, closely working with innovators and entrepreneurs that caught our attention during the course of the Games. Knowing that Hamburg’s start-up scene is already so vibrant today, I see great potential for the future.


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