SPLF 2012 Keynote: Dan Holme’s ‘Bringing Home the Gold: SharePoint in Action at the London Olympics’

Dan Holme delivering the keynote at SharePoint Leadership Forum 2012

If you'll indulge me with a paragraph for a brief anecdote before we dive into my coverage of Dan Holme's SPLF keynote, you may appreciate hearing a little bit of the historical context behind it.  As I said to him (to his surprise) on the morning of our SharePoint Leadership Forum last week, Dan Holme's keynote on SharePoint at the Olympics would kind of bring me full-circle with SharePoint event coverage.  You see, just a few weeks into my tenure at Bamboo, I covered my first conference, TechEd 2008, and among the sessions I blogged that week was an Ask the Experts session in which Dan participated.  As I blogged at the time, Dan mentioned during that session that he was just weeks away from providing SharePoint support for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, and that was by far the coolest use of SharePoint that I'd yet heard of.  So when we were planning SPLF (with Olympic fever fast approaching), as soon as we started discussing who we could get to deliver a "sexy" keynote with broad appeal, I immediately suggested Dan and SharePoint at the London Olympics.  Fortunately for us all, Dan was both available and amenable…

At the beginning of his session, Dan said that Torino at the 2006 Olympics "was where I fell in love with SharePoint."  It was there that he needed to create a troubleshooting application, and he needed to get it done overnight.  Thanks to SharePoint, the application was easily implemented by morning, and launched with robust issues-tracking features in place. 

Dan explained that it was SharePoint 2010 that they used at this summer's Games in London, but that looking ahead to the Games in Rio, they're planning on using SharePoint 2013.

Introducing a brief NBC-produced Olympics highlights video, Dan said with evident pride, "This is what I did this summer."  After the video, Dan began to outline the challenge he faced as the Microsoft Technologies Evangelist and Consultant for the Games, beginning with the fact that with over 10,000 on the scene there were "as many press as there were athletes."  Dan's role with NBC Universal involved supporting "over 300 hours a day of content … as much content every day as the entire Sydney games."  In addition to the TV broadcasts which, with 219 million unique viewers, was "the most watched event in television history," Dan noted that they also "streamed every competition live." 

Regarding those live streams, Dan said "this is where digital really took hold."  9.9 million devices accessing content led to two billion unique pageviews on nbc.com.  Of those viewers who were accessing the content via mobile devices, Dan said that fully "80% had never streamed live video on their mobile device" before.

Bringing some perspective to the undertaking, Dan allowed that "this is the Olympics, but it's just an enterprise needing to get a job done … it's not rocket science … we just delivered business solutions."  As a result, just as he would in any enterprise engagement, Dan's focus was on the business requirements.  Some of the specific challenges included supporting over 3,700 NBC team members (working both in London and New York), and "the shortest lifecycle of a large enterprise you can imagine," with London-based staff growing from just a couple hundred to 2,700 (and then shrinking back down) all within just five weeks.  Dan also mentioned that since there are unique challenges for each staging of the Games, there are "very few standards that can be relied on." 

Getting back to the business requirements, Dan shared that they included: everything had to be done quickly; everything had  to be easy for end users to use ("discoverable and usable without training"); the ability to bring your own device had to be supported; and the system had to be "very flexible and highly scalable."  As well, all of this had to be accomplished with limited resources that involved an IT team of just eight people (with Dan being the only SharePoint resource), and a support staff of ten. 

Consequently, solutions needed to be "quick and dirty."  Dan is a big proponent of the 80/20 rule, so he recognized that what was most important was to "give people what they really, truly needed."  As a result, Dan showed SPLF attendees via a screenshot that the SharePoint intranet home page for Olympics staff supported anonymous access (read-only), content editing, PDF viewing, and alternate access mappings.

Dan explained that for ease-of-use, "everything needed to be discoverable and navigable from the home page."  He employed a Page Viewer Web Part to expose the (already existing) NBC sports group phone directory in the SharePoint portal.  The same Web Part was also used to expose the calendar/schedule (which existed as straight HTML), and more in order to plug a variety of necessary tools and resources directly into SharePoint. 

Overall, Dan said of the portal experience, "my goal with the homepage was to keep it exceptionally clean."   As a "hook for Web Apps," he said that document publication was done with WebDAV. 

Dan also said that the team performed an "extreme makeover on team sites to keep it really simple."  Dan went on to say that they "added key functionality as we fleshed out team sites," including everything "normal users" needed (i.e., important links) being instantly navigable.  They embedded team mailboxes into the team sites (again using the Page Viewer Web Part), and Dan mentioned that these are built directly into SharePoint 2013 team sites. 

Addressing business process automation, Dan discussed using an InfoPath list form customization to make standard SharePoint list data "look pretty."  A "Runner Request Form" was used as part of a built-in "self-service help desk" to get quick jobs done by the lean IT staff.  The help desk form included common requests such as printer installation, app installation, FAQs, and more. 

Moving on to the topic of IT administration, Dan discussed provisioning, which was often accomplished by combining a SharePoint list with a workflow framework. These scheduled tasks were used for many things such as password reset, group membership, SharePoint site requests, and more.

The bottom line for SharePoint at the Olympic Games in London?  "Everything up to the point of someone on camera reading something was very heavily supported by SharePoint."

Dan is already looking forward to Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016, and all the more so given the release of the latest version of the platform.  New to SharePoint in the upcoming Games will be the heavy responsibility of medal tracking as well.  Of the new release, Dan says that "SharePoint 2013 takes SharePoint 2010 and makes it usable … this is really a user release."  He also said of the new release that "social will be a key component" and that the social features are now "ready for prime-time." 

In conclusion, Dan shared some of his lessons learned at the Olympics as being:  understand your users and build to their requirements ("If you give users what they want, they will adopt [SharePoint]"); "don't over-brand"; "communicate to users, and embed [communication] front-and-center"; automate processes; and "don't over-deliver or over-train."  Referencing Sadie Van Buren's preceding SPLF session on the SharePoint Maturity Model, Dan closed by saying that by heeding those lessons learned, "you can win the gold and get to the 3, 4, 500-level in the maturity level."

Complete coverage of SharePoint Leadership Forum 2012: