Better Luck Next Time

While the 1996 Summer Olympics were terror-filled for some and simply disappointing to others, IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., was arguably the biggest corporate loser.

"We didn't meet expectations," said Fred McNeese, a spokesman for IBM who talked to WT from Atlanta where he had been stationed throughout the Games. "We've apologized."

Its much-hyped computer system failed so badly that it became a source of humor during the Games. It listed one athlete as over 90 years old and another at 2 feet tall. McNeese said the problems were a result of glitches in customized IBM software.

In addition, IBM, for some reason, did not prioritize information that was sent to reporters. That meant an inconsequential report confirming participants would be sent before news about a gold medal win or a world record. "We didn't understand customer requirements," admitted McNeese, who said the system had to be retooled to give hot news priority.

To be fair, the glitches mostly occurred in one computer system -- the World News Press Agency network -- which gave statistics to the press. "Our problem happened where customers buy ink by the barrel," McNeese said. The entire project was one of the largest and most complicated systems integration efforts ever, and much of it was successful.

Next time -- IBM already is slated to integrate the next Winter and Summer Games -- the company will take a better look at the press computer system, said McNeese. He bristled at the thought of bringing in help, such as other integrators, when things weren't going well. "We had our top people here. We didn't have time to bring somebody in for a fix."

While all of these problems were going on, Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM, was shuttling around top-level potential customers to Game events, showing off a system that will be remembered for the good and the bad.

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