In less than a month’s time one of the largest sporting events the world can witness literally kicks off, the 2010 Football World Cup, held this year in South Africa. Events of this magnitude have an amazing ability to captivate people, but to organise them is a herculean task. In recent years the Olympics of Sydney, Athens and Beijing have demonstrated that good event management is essential and contributes to the sporting achievements and enjoyment of global audience.

In order to eclipse all previous World Cups, FIFA, the organisers, decided it needed an event management technology to ensure that the first World Cup to be hosted in Africa was the success the continent deserves. Dilbagh Gill is head of sport for technology development specialists Mahindra Satyam, as the Indian company prepared to face its greatest challenge on the IT pitch, he told CIO about developing a World Cup event management system.

This year’s World Cup in South Africa and the following one in Brazil 2014 will be managed and organised using a bespoke football tournament event management web-based application developed for FIFA by Mahindra Satyam. FIFA, the world football governing body, required an event management system that would allow it to organise a mega event like the World Cup, but also scale down to more localised and smaller events.

“The most important thing was that the technology has to be simple to use, as most of the users will be volunteers,” Gill explains. And to be simple it needs to be localised, so for Brazil 2014 the event management application will also need to operate in Portuguese language. FIFA commissioned an event management system that would be the central hub for managing the world cup, so all ticketing is provided by the Mahindra Satyam system, as are  polls for the Golden Boot competition; and there are specialist sub-sites for the World Cup medical and referee teams who use a lot of video footage.

In South Africa there will be 130,000 volunteers working throughout the competition. The South African government is paying them a special stipend throughout the tournament, which requires the event management application to be able to provide time-sheet processing and payroll. Volunteers, officials and players will also have access to a thousand vehicles, all of which will be tracked.

FIFA has previously selected an event management system for each event it has organised, but decided that a bespoke system for all its tournaments and needs would reduce costs.

“It is a web based system that can be scaled from one-day to multi-day events. We have put 300 man years into developing the system and will provide 200 man years worth of support,” Gill says. “It is totally bespoke, there is not a line of code that has come from anywhere else,” he says with some pride.

Mahindra Satyam is already a major IT services provider to FIFA and the event management system is an extension of the existing relationship.

“FIFA wanted to own the IP to its event management technology, the tender was for a development team,” Gill says of this deal. Eight months after winning the contract the Indian company became one of the sponsors of the World Cup in South Africa.

Mahindra Satyam has 160 of its staff working on the FIFA event management project. Gill says the team is very motivated by being involved in the World Cup and the team plans to stay together for the 2014 World Cup event, work on which has already started.

“It is a showcase that we’ve been able to deliver cutting edge technology to the World Cup, despite the problems we had as a company last year,” Gill says. “There were three pillars as to why we wanted to be involved in this. Number one it de-risked our investments from the USA by helping us grow our stature in Europe and the rest of the world. Secondly we had to deliver on time and it had to be right first time and thirdly the 2014 world cup is in Latin America and that region will be a huge IT player, so it gives us an opportunity to be ready for that market.”

Gill says 230 South African graduates were hired to develop the event management system and received a year’s worth of training in India before returning to South Africa for the integration. Six Brazilians have already joined the company and will be working in South Africa delivering the event management system for 2010 and in doing so preparing for 2014.

As for everyone at every level, whether striker; goal keeper, defender, referee or systems integrator, there is a lot at stake at this World Cup. When the whistle blows for the kick-off, only then will everyone know how it will pan out the result.