CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on keeping the IT on course
CIO Profile: PGA European Tour's Mark Lichtenhein on sponsor relationships
In Pictures: The IT demands of the PGA European Tour
As well as overseeing the core IT systems that support the PGA European Tour's core opperations at its Surrey headquarters, one of CIO Mark Lichtenhein’s other responsibilities is managing the company’s in-house TV production department, which produces all the video that is piped to viewers around the world.
This department has a number of mobile units, including a satellite uplink vehicle which provides connectivity to the Tour’s operations anywhere in the world. This means it is able to rely less and less on supplier communications services.
“There is a bit of a latency issue, but at least you are a master of your own destiny,” says Lichtenhein.
In the field, he also sets up his own wifi network with around two dozen access points to be used exclusively as an internal network to channel competition data from remote mobile score recorders into the central system. This network may require a battery power source and some retro-ruggedisation to suit the Tour’s needs.
“Ten years ago, we worked with Symbol Technologies to set this up. We were pioneering the use of 802.11 technologies, but the equipment we used was designed for use in offices,” he explains.
Lichtenhein has toyed with the idea of relying more on national mobile networks now that mobile broadband services are on offer, but he still doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else’s outages.
“The golf course is a hostile environment, so you want to use lowest-common denominator tech. You can use all the sophistication you like when you’ve got the data back to wherever it’s going,” he says.
Given the split personality of the environment Lichtenhein’s department has to work in, it’s natural that it is also split into three specific teams — a field team, a back office team and a media production team.
The media production unit, which is jointly managed by Lichtenhein and a third-party media specialist company, has a staff of around 50 specialists, although that expands significantly on match days.
Lichtenhein has a small technical team that overseas tournament infrastructure planning from the head office. He also has a small data management team that deals with the player management systems and makes sure the flow of match data is available to fans.
Related to both these teams is a third small team that is dedicated to running the europeantour.com website.
“A lot of the data we manage corporately is also a product. There’s no point in these guys playing golf in a green field with no one knowing what’s going on. Timely delivery of that data is comparable to stock market data: the value tails off dramatically the older it is,” he says.
There is an army of temporary data collectors out on each tournament. These are mainly volunteers who are trained by a core cadre of permanent staff in how to use the mobile devices used to log the scoring information out on the course.
Given the specialist nature of the work carried out by Lichtenhein’s team, is it difficult to recruit staff? There is no shortage of people who want to be involved, he says, but he needs people who can focus on the work and not get caught up in the excitement of the events. It’s not a life every techie would want anyway, he says: the engineers in the field live on tour for half the year and it can be a very rootless existence.
“Once people join, we have good staff retention, but it’s a lifestyle choice that isn’t for everybody. If you want your weekends off, it’s probably not for you,” he says.
There are certain frustrations too, not least from the building of networks that are ripped up a few days later. Often what is planned for is not feasible on the site, so work-arounds have to be devised. Lichtenhein’s staff are expected to think on their feet and so the management structure is looser than in static environments.
“We may have more than one tournament on at one time, so it could be that quite junior staff are there to manage the IT. If anything goes wrong, there’s no one there to help them. But they’ve come up with some quite stunning solutions to keep things working,” Lichtenhein says.