CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on keeping the IT on course
CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on hostile environments
In Pictures: The IT demands of the PGA European Tour
Supplier management is always a core concern for any CIO, but for PGA European Tour's CIO Mark Lichtenhein, the matter may be more complex as main IT partners could also be main sponsors of the golfing events the organisation holds. He is confident those relationships ensure a high class of service from sponsor-suppliers.
On the other side, is there a danger that Lichtenhein's supplier choices are hobbled by vendors buying his custom with a sponsorship deal, regardless of their suitability?
This is why the organisation can't afford to rely too heavily on any one supplier's technology.
For instance, the Tour used to use Unisys' digital scoring system because it was state-of-the-art, but now it has its own electronic scoring system.
It's a question of keeping business-critical systems in-house and using third parties for standard technology, so much of the bought-in integration work starts with in-house development and the supplier is an add-on.
Most of these business-critical systems are Microsoft-based. The back-office is heavily reliant on SQL database applications, but these have been heavily modified to suit the Tour's own business requirements.
One of the central systems is for player management and deals with competition entries and player details, right down to each one's performance in the tournament. This is integrated with the company's accounting system so that players' payments are processed.
"These are bespoke systems that we've developed primarily with Unisys over the years," says Lichtenhein.
In the field, his biggest requirement is robust, high-bandwidth, symmetric connectivity. This is because the Tour uploads at least as much data as it pulls in. Such connectivity is not always a simple thing to acquire, notes Lichtenhein, and depends a great deal on where a competition is being held.
Simply getting a leased line for one week isn't a viable business model for most telcos, especially when the Tour is operating within the sphere of maybe 20 different telcos every year.
In 2010, the Ryder Cup was held at the Celtic Manor golf course in South Wales. On that occasion Lichtenhein had the benefit of 100mbps symmetric connectivity, backed up by another 100mbps line, to support a media centre of 1000 journalists and 300 photographers.
Normal PGA European Tour competitions demand just a tenth of that support, but even that is not always readily to hand.
The Ryder Cup is Lichtenhein's perennial big project and in 2010, he was supported by BT and HP to provide a wireless and wireline network over 20km2, supporting internet connectivity in five hospitality areas and for four media production teams. HP provided 56 switches running 18 VLANs.
"It was certainly the most technically advanced and digitally converged set of technologies that have ever been used in golf. The real challenge though was defining the user requirement," he recalls.
Lichtenhein's team had been given eight years to plan their approach to the event but, he admits, too much time is almost as challenging as too little.
At the time of the 2002 Ryder Cup, broadband was barely available at all, so it was difficult to predict what technology would be available and what the user requirements would be in 2010.
Ten years ago, it would have been beyond the realms of imagination that fans and the media would need as much bandwidth as they do now.
Since 2002, the Ryder Cup's bandwidth requirement increased by a factor of 50, so it's reasonable for Lichtenhein to assume this will continue, but it's impossible to accurately assess what the requirement might be for the Ryder Cup he is planning for now, in 2018 (the plans for 2014, in Gleneagles, are already well advanced).
One thing's for sure, Lichtenhein will take the predicted rate of growth, and exceed it: in 2010, he deployed three times as much technology as was asked for by the user requirements. "Allow for maximum flexibility," he says.