It was only while packing my stuff that I realized I was leaving home for my fourth EURO tournament in a row. Through the years I was lucky enough to live the EURO experience from different perspectives.
My first time at EURO was in 2000. I was a TV Operator back then – a young man wearing huge headphones, sitting on a van, hundreds of miles away from home, right in the middle of a big event. It was awesome. It was an incredible experience, although not an easy one. Our job was to set up our equipment, calibrate our signals with the TV broadcasters’, verify data, and do anything to get ready for the match. During a live event, your thoughts run fast, your hands rush after them. Your perception of time is altered by the adrenaline flowing through your veins, everything happens faster than you are used to. You feel the pressure of millions of people watching what you are doing even if they don’t know it’s your work that’s behind the fancy statistics they see. Ninety minutes of rush and you are done, the match is over, and what’s left is the feeling of being part of something bigger than you, where you play your role, even though not from a pitch.
My second experience at a EURO tournament took place four years later. My position was completely different. In 2003, the team I was part of, worked to realize UEFA’s business vision to integrate all the tools to manage football, from the competitions to the television rights, into one software platform for football actors to work and interact.
Our first product called HELGA (Host Event Logistic and Global Application) was a clear, yet ambitious project. We had started with the idea of building a system that managed some of the core services needed in organizing a big event like a EURO Tournament. We worked hard to identify the services we wanted to focus on: person, accreditation, accommodation, and transportation. 2003 was a busy year and while working on this project, we were feeling we were creating something really special and unique.
During EURO 2004, I was feeling a mix of excitement and fear. I was excited because everything was new: my job, our new product and the transition from manual to automated business processes that came with it. We designed the system with the business owners but, just like for us, for most of them it was the first time they were involved in such a big event, taking place in two countries. On the other hand, I felt fearful because I knew that it didn’t really matter how long and extensively you had tested the event, simulated its scenarios, and anticipated its problems: a live event is a different story.
I must admit that it wasn’t easy but we did it, and we did it well. We were able to deliver over 40,000 accreditation passes and to manage 8,000 requests of accommodation for over 30,000 people. I thought EURO 2004 would be a milestone for me but surprisingly enough, it was just a stepping stone.
After EURO 2004, we felt confident and competent enough to meet UEFA’s expectations and to deliver more tournament-related services. We started working on the things we thought the existing infrastructure was lacking, but we also developed completely new and innovative processes. We added new services: Document Management, Staffing Plan, Volunteers, and Social Events to name a few. We incorporated football processes and implemented new functionalities for broadcasters and the media. We also enhanced overall performance and usability. We worked hard because we knew the time would come when we would have to manage an even bigger event. And as often happens, time went quickly and it was, once again, time to pack up and leave to EURO 2008.
I remember Euro 2008 especially because of the ITCC. ITCC stands for IT Command Centre and is the central cell of supervision and decision for all EURO ICT Services. Working at the ITCC was an incredible experience: over forty people from all over Europe, working for different companies providing and sharing information, knowledge, experience and one goal: taking the right decision at the right time. It was a new concept for UEFA and a completely new experience for me. Each service was under the most stringent control. We monitored not only live data, but also the status of service and of the application through dashboards displayed on large TV screens. It felt like watching a real-time radiography of the EURO 2008 body.
EURO 2008 was a milestone for me and for my career. Figures proved it: we managed roughly twice as many requests of services vs. EURO 2004 besides supporting new services for about a third of the existing ones. It was a huge amount of work that was fully compensated by succeeding at it.
After EURO 2008 I expected four years of consolidation and refinement of the existing processes. UEFA proved to me that I was wrong. The EURO 2008 experience in fact had convinced everyone, even the last few sceptical, that people working and interacting with UEFA were greatly benefiting from having a centralized tool.
Relying on the solid foundation that we had built through the years, from 2008 on, we have implemented, again, new services and functionalities. We have completely redesigned the graphical interface and fully transitioned to an Ajax user-interface. We have increasingly promoted interactions with external systems and devices, like tablets and mobile phones. We have also refactored some core elements that had been growing old from a business and technical perspective and we have developed rich user interfaces with new functionalities.
Today, after twelve years, sitting at the ITCC in Warsaw, I still see myself as a young man who is part of something big, where you play your role, even though not from a pitch.