In this interview, Lauren chats with Christian Napier, a major events specialist. Have you ever wondered how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) transfers information between country to country, so those important decisions, the way of operating, how decisions were made are carried forward to enable the next country host to learn and implement the next Games?
Tune in to Part 2 of the interview with Christian Napier, where he talks about transfer knowledge and advice for host cities to combat the ever-changing technology innovation.
Would you like to read the interview? Check out below
Lauren: The world of technology, it’s literally changing within a 24-hour time period. Certainly, what we’ve seen over the last 10 or 5 years, technology is changing the way we operate, we communicate, we live, whether within a country or globally. What sort of advice would you give with host cities, considering that the bids are 7, 10 years out, and in their preparations, what would be your advice for how countries and cities are adapting and allowing for changes in technology?
Christian: I think the budgets need to be flexible, maybe not in terms of the total amount. Cities are spending 20-25% of their operating budgets on technology these days. If you know that, if you keep that in mind, you will find ways to save cost because of new technologies, but often times, those savings will be absorbed by adopting new technologies. In the article, we mentioned that London, when they won the bid, there was no such thing as an iPhone, there was no such thing as an iPad.
Smartphones and tablets didn’t even exist when they won. Those were transformative technologies. Similarly speaking, cities that are hosting now, for example, Tokyo 2020 when were bidding back in 2012 and 2013, hosting critical infrastructure in the cloud was not really foreseen.
Lauren: Sure, yes.
Christian: You had things that were done with large data centres dedicated for the Olympic Games that were built on site, the primary data centre, and then a secondary data centre. Now, the speed, the capability, and reliability of the cloud means that you may be able to off-load some of those responsibilities. In Tokyo, for example, they’re discussing whether they need a secondary data centre, or if they can be run in existing — Atos, for example, in their existing infrastructure in Europe, which would result in cost savings to the organising committee.
They wouldn’t have to build a secondary data centre. I think the overall budget needs to stay relatively where it is, but you need flexibility to move cost from one area of that budget to the other to accommodate the evolution of technology.
Lauren: Okay. Yes, it quite is, and understanding also with those leaders that there could be cost centre changes to develop or to adapt to the technology.
Obviously, you’ve worked on organising committees and in the bids. When a country is transitioning from the bid to a local OCOG transition period, you talk about the inefficiencies in the games workforce hiring process. Are you able to talk a bit further about this, and what advice would you give?
Christian: Sure. The organising of the Games has become more complex. In the IOC, speaking of Olympic Games specifically here, they’re taking measures. They’ve developed the Games Management 2020 initiative to try to simplify the management of the Games, but as it currently stands, there are a lot of milestones that need to be delivered early. Some of those milestones include the hiring of key staff.
Typically, these key staff are heads of functions or divisions, so you may hire a Head of Games Services six years out, and then you may hire Function Heads within Game Services where there’s accommodation or transfer for something a little bit later, but there are deliverables, like a Games Foundation Plan, Client Vision, and things like this that requires some work to be done. Often times, when you hire these leaders, they don’t actually do work that you see in documents.
These people will get hired and say, “Well, I can’t do this myself. I’m the director of this. It means I have to have a team. I need staff.” They start hiring managers, and the managers say, “Well, I need my team leaders.” What happens is there is a tendency at some not all, but some organising committees who don’t necessarily effectively manage their labour budgets to overstaff early, because they hire, they get top-heavy, and then they need to hire underlinks to actually do the work.
What do you do about this scenario? Well, I think there are a few options. Number one, I think that the organising committee has to have a laser focus on meeting its obligations. Their obligations and the host city contract, there are bid commitments that need to be satisfied. There are certain regulatory requirements that need to be met. That’s priority number one. Okay, we have to meet these commitments.
Anything else can potentially wait for later, but number one priority is meeting our commitments. Then staffing up accordingly with people that actually are willing to do the work in the early days. If that’s not possible, then fill the gaps with consultants or advisors, or secondees from the government that would come in and actually help do the work. I just think that it can be a lot leaner. I’ll just tell one story to emphasise this.
Back in — I think it was 2010, I was on a plane, on a flight from Paris to Salt Lake City. The former CFO of the Salt Lake Organising Committee happened to be on the same flight. I didn’t even notice until we got off the plane and I saw him. We struck up a conversation. He told me that he was coming back from Sochi. He was doing a budget review. Everybody in Sochi was complaining that they were understaffed and that they needed more people.
Christian: He told me, he said, “Christian, you’re not going to believe this, but I went there. They have already spent more money than Salt Lake did during its entire organisation in terms of their labor budget. In fact, if we instituted the hiring freeze right now in Sochi and didn’t hire another person, the labor budget will be three times what the budget was in Salt Lake City for labour.”
That’s because the process had evolved, they have more commitments early on to fulfill, and taking into the local context, there’s a lot more bureaucracy in Sochi than there was in Salt Lake City. They have many more management levels in Sochi than we did in Salt Lake City. They had a lot more people. Some of that cannot be done. You have to take the local context into consideration, but I think that the labor budget in these Games have gotten out of hand to a certain extent and organising committees need to really focus on their core deliverables and then hire accordingly.
Lauren: Yes, this is definitely taking into what the local impacts are. Sochi might be a different environment to Salt Lake, but then maybe just looking at the workforce planning, all those bringing in different consultants or areas to be able to deliver what the local organising committee need to deliver in terms of, to the IOC, just to save those budget costs.
Christian: Yes, that’s right.
Lauren: Yes, just a review. What other ways can they still achieve what they need to without being so top-heavy in number of staff way before actually required?
Well, at the moment, we just spoke that you were in Beijing working with the IOC on the Transfer of knowledge (TOK). How important do you see this transfer of knowledge and the ability to share information across host cities together with combating the challenges that local decisions may differ, depending on the different cultures, the bureaucracy, the politics, and the structure of a country? How valuable do you say the transfer of knowledge? How do you combat any challenges that that may also present when statistics and reports are produced?
Christian: Well, that’s a really great question. I would say that transfer of knowledge historically has taken a content-centered approach where we’re really focused on collecting the key documents and building a repository that’s searchable. Again, historically, the content of that repository and the timing of submission to that repository is agreed, speaking about Olympic Games specifically, by host city contracts and negotiations between the IOC and the organising committee.
The challenges with this approach, the historical approach, have been that the content typically represents the end product, but it’s missing a lot of context. You mention the local culture as well as the process that the organising committee went through to ultimately end up with the product that they delivered to the IOC. Often times, and I’ve seen this as I’ve interviewed people, they don’t know. “Okay, I have this content, but how do I apply this to my local situation? I’m not sure what to do.”
The knowledge that’s transferred by organising committees, it may vary in its completeness, its relevance, its timeliness, its accuracy. There are also some significant language and cultural barriers. For example, in Sochi, many of the documents were prepared in Russian. They were submitted in Russian, and so who’s going to sit there around and translate all of this documentation, for example? The Asian countries look at the repositories that are largely English and some French, and they’re like, “Okay, who’s going to translate all of this content?”
Those are some significant barriers. What do we do to overcome those? I think one, we transition from a content-based transfer of knowledge program to a people-based transfer of knowledge programme, where we rely on transferring knowledge from advisers to the future organising committees. We rely on one organising committee to interact directly with another organising committee.I think the IOC, excuse me, has done an excellent job with the job shadowing or secondment programs. They’ve been extremely effective. I’ve interviewed over 200 people in organising committees, and secondment and shadowing is often mentioned as one of the most valuable tools for people in future organising committees to learn what previous OCOGs are doing. Learning on the job–
Lauren: Learning on the job
Christian: I think in terms of content, visual transfer of knowledge is becoming more prevalent, so more pictures and less words. If you want to communicate the requirements of the athlete dining facility in the Olympic Village, if you want to look at the main dining hall and communicate those requirements, certainly you can do that through words but it can be supplemented with a lot of imagery or videos that show what dining halls look like in previous games editions.
Then I think the last thing that we can do is we can capture knowledge in a more timely manner rather than wait until the end of seven years to try to get it. We try to get it as it happens. That’s one of the objectives of the structured interviews that I’m doing right now, is going in through an organising committee five years out, or three years out, or two years out, or just after test events, and interviewing them about that specific time period so that knowledge doesn’t get lost. Those are some of the things that we can do to help overcome some of the challenges that are inherent in transferred knowledge.
Lauren: Beautiful. That sounds really interesting and so valuable definitely, to capture the knowledge as it happens rather than waiting until seven years out where most of that knowledge is probably forgotten.
Christian: Yes, and a lot of the people, they’re not even there anymore. We ask them about, “The foundation planning, how did that affect you or impact your operational planning?” “Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t even around when the foundation planning was done. I’ve only been here for a year.” They don’t know.
Lauren: Yes. How do those different phases come about, why were those decisions made three years before and so on, and by now, having the timely manner to capture that information that enables the future — Yes, that transfer of knowledge for the future games. That one must be a very interesting and satisfying work that you’re doing, Christian?
Christian: Yes, I really enjoy it. Even though I’m asking the same question 70 times in an organising committee, just hearing all the different responses, it’s really, really illuminating. Following that standard question format where I ask the same set of questions across functional areas, what are the big issues that are really impacting them, it’s really been a lot of fun.
Lauren: Yes, beautiful. Then how are you combating any language barriers? Do you have translators with you? How are you combating that challenge?
Christian: Well, with respect to the structured interviews in the Asian countries, we use simultaneous interpretation.
Christian: We allow people to answer in the language they are comfortable in. Also, because it’s conversational, it’s easier for them rather than preparing a written report to just get a question, they can prepare some bullets, and then answer in their own mother tongue, which we can then have the simultaneous interpretation to allow me to conduct an understandable interview. That’s been really good. Then for the larger TOKs I mentioned, focusing on a more visually-based TOK because images, they translate across cultures.
Lauren: Absolutely. I can only imagine, thinking of what a workforce check-in area looks like or the workforce breakout areas and such, and just seeing a floor plan — or just the numbers is totally different to actually saying that the vision of what it looked like, where were all the stands, the desks, and what it will actually look like. What it will look like with all the flows as well. That will be an easier way to understand how that actually does operate.
Christian: I think that’s exactly right. In Rio, I did a series of what the IOC calls photo essays which take a process or an operation and describe it through images. Some of those were client journeys or stakeholder journeys. From the time they left the Olympic Family Hotel or arrived at the airport and they took the T-3, they got on to the venue and they went through security and got to their seat and they went to the lounge, it is all illustrated through images. There are very few pieces of text, just a label describing what it is. It’s almost all entirely images. The IOC is definitely going in that direction, where they’re using a more visual approach.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the interview where we explore insights with Christian of workforce planning and addressing some of the misconceptions of the major events industry. Stay tuned!
If you would like to get in touch with Christian Napier you can reach him on;
Linkedln: Christian Napier
Till next time, take care. Lauren