Extreme tech: Atos sees Olympics exposure as a real-time showcase

Marc Sidwell
Follow Marc


Q What’s your brand’s primary reason for being involved with the Games?
A We’ve been involved since Barcelona in 1992. We became a worldwide IT partner in 2001, and we’re committed through to Rio in 2016. There’s two reasons why it works. I think the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to partner with Atos because we share the same values: fair value, teamwork, clean competition. When the IOC had a worldwide tender in 1999 to find its new worldwide IT partner, I think we won because of this match. Our partnership is pretty unique because you have to work together on a long-term basis, and technology changes. It’s not a commercial contract, it’s very intensive in people and technology. You must be prepared to take risks, to anticipate trends and to share the same ambition.

At the same time as using the Olympic brand, we help to make it stronger – it’s a give-and-take game. And it’s a fantastic showcase for Atos. For the Olympics, we use nearly all the services that exist in the IT industry, but in an extreme way. If you can do anything for the Olympics, you can do it for any other customer. If you can secure the Games, or deploy for something of this magnitude, you can do it for a bank or a telco or a manufacturing company. It’s a live showcase of everything we can do in a very mission critical environment.

Q How have you structured your business to maximise the opportunities?
A We have a group of business units doing the Olympics and other major events. We’ve done technology for about 60 events since the group’s creation in 1989 – all kinds of events, from the soccer World Cup to the Pan-American Games, and non-sporting events too. We try to limit our sponsorship to the Olympics, because it’s not just about sport but values. Sometimes that means we’re not visible. We did the IT for the Fifa World Cup in 2006, but nobody knows this because there was another sponsor. We’ve a specialised business unit and we maintain the knowledge in a given centre, with the same team – about 30 per cent were in Barcelona in 1992.

We transfer experience between events. We also transfer expertise from the Olympics to other businesses. Everything we do for the Olympics can be adapted. If you want to do the IT security of a bank, it’s very similar to what we do here. We can transpose many things, including people. Lots of Atos employees work on the Games to acquire experience. We also use the Olympics to attract talent at universities. We are launching an IT challenge, asking universities to compete on a given technology challenge. It allows us to explain to students what Atos does. It’s important because we’re a people company: our assets are our people.

Q How did the announcement that you were involved affect your business?
A It’s amazing to see that all the customers who are exposed to the Games learn something about Atos, including those customers that have been with us for 20 years.

In the industry, they know a company for a certain service. And then discover the breadth of what we can do, and that really is the magic of the Olympics. It’s an accelerator of the sales process.

If I talk to someone who doesn’t know Atos at all, after two hours of discussion using the Olympics, you are immediately credible to do anything. It could otherwise take years. If you can do it for the Olympics, you can do it for them.

Q Which are the most crucial commercial opportunities and how will you be using these for maximum return?
A We are a B2B company, so we use our involvement on a personalised basis. We activate our rights not through TV promotions, but by showing people what we do. One of our advantages is that we can take people to the Technology Operations Centre (TOC) in Canary Wharf. Very few can access the TOC, even in the Olympic committee. During the Games, it’s very powerful – you can see competition actually happening, problems being solved. It’s amazing. We talk to thousands of people. We have between 2,000 and 5,000 customers or prospects relevant to our business, and the idea is to bring some of them to see what we do.

QWhat has surprised you most about your involvement to date?
A After six Olympics, I’ve found that Games are both similar and different. Common elements allow us to learn and reproduce systems, so that we safely deploy our technology. But they are all different because each Olympic committee has its own objective. They want to use the Games to showcase their country. We must understand specific circumstances and adjust to what the committee wants.

London is very different from Beijing or Athens. London’s challenge is that it will be the most connected Games in history. There will be 8bn devices connected to the internet around the world by this summer. This changes how people view the Games – more real-time, more mobile, more social networks. TV will not be the only medium. That changes our role in terms of providing the right information at the right time.

Patrick Adiba is chief executive of the Iberian region and executive vice president of the Olympic Games and major events for Atos.