Risk pays off for local technology innovators at Minsk 2019
Economical, local and faster than average world practices – the information technologies featured at the 2nd European Games were a perfect platform for showing that Belarus is ready to meet the technological needs of the world’s biggest sporting events, according to Minsk 2019 representatives and Belarusian technology suppliers.
Minsk 2019 boasted a comprehensive IT bloc, which was developed from scratch in an unprecedented amount of time by local specialists.
The Minsk-based IT company Synesis Sport signed the contract with the Minsk European Games Organising Committee (MEGOC) in May 2018. Skipping years worth of preparations that an event of such a scale usually requires, the company’s developers managed to create various service systems for spectators, athletes, organisers, volunteers and media – all in slightly over a year.
“This was probably one of the hardest years for our company,” said Nikolay Ptitsyn, managing partner of Synesis. “But we succeeded. Belarus showed that it is able to host the Games of such a scale and did this even more economically than other countries that have more sports experience. A prime example of this is the IT bloc that Synesis Sport managed.”
IT programs used at multi-sport events usually require a lot of time and resources to develop. The challenge to the Minsk 2019 organisers was to cut costs while still providing a high-quality service.
“We decided to collaborate with the company Synesis only a year ahead of the event and were almost completely dependent on the level of the system they would provide,” said Sergey Yevets, head of technology at MEGOC. “We believed that this system could be designed, developed and launched in our country, with the efforts of our people, and it is my personal opinion that we made the right bet.“
Embracing the challenge, Belarusian IT developers came up with LOOM – a vast network of systems that managed all the intricate and expansive details of the Games, including transport and accommodation for 3,656 athletes, 66,263 accreditations, 3,699 logistical requests for items such as food, venue supplies and garbage, and 9,585 taxi orders.
There was an element of risk to the endeavor, those involved admitted, but the risk proved worthwhile as a year of work yielded IT systems that were more economical and required minimal operational support once established.
About 95 percent of all requests for help were filed through technology chatbots, rather than the more traditional call lines, according to MEGOC’s Yevets. This minimised the number of people needed to physically answer phone calls from Games clients.
“To develop a system, especially a year before the start of the event was very risky,” Ptitsyn said. “Nonetheless, the Organising Committee refused to stick to the standard practises usually seen at such events, and it was correct in doing so. In this way, they managed to save the country hundreds of millions of dollars on the technological component alone. This was a big accomplishment. All this was created in our country, within a year, without previous experience.”
Acknowledging the shortage of local expertise a year ahead of the 2nd European Games, Synesis Sport recruited a large number of foreign consultants to help guide the team on the ground in preparation for the multi-sport celebration.
“We had the opportunity to compare ourselves with other systems, to conduct a kind of audit,” said Nailya Timerkhanova, head of the experts team at Synesis Sport. “We considered the best practises as well as introduced our own innovations, because the idea of holding multi-sport events is growing as are the systems for managing these games. These innovations from our side will surely leave a trace and will be a huge plus for future events to be held in Belarus.”
While crucial for smooth operations on the ground, the IT technologies were not all serious business. Among its flagship projects, Synesis Sport also developed the chatbot of the official Games mascot Lesik.
Available through Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Viber, the chatbot answered tourist queries on a wide array of topics – from Games venues and transport to tourist attractions and entertainment in Minsk. By the end of the Games, more than 6,000 people subscribed to the chatbot and sent more than 100,000 messages.
The successful operations of the IT systems at the Minsk 2019 European Games have made their Belarusian creators confident that they can provide services of equally high quality at other events in the future, either in Belarus or abroad.
“I understand all those who would like to see not only the European Games in the country, but also the events of a bigger scale, such as the Olympic Games or the football World Cup. However, it must be understood that nobody will entrust the hosting of such events to a country without relevant experience. Now we have this experience. We are not afraid of new challenges that others avoid, and so we will not have to wait long for victory.”