Organization Tools, Software Keep NBC Olympics on Track

This weekend will mark the end of the 2010 Winter Games and for many staffers at NBC Olympics it marks the end of a two-year planning process that will soon give way to the beginning of another two-year planning process: gearing up for the 2010 Summer Games in London, UK. For Errol Foremaster, NBC Olympics, vice president, engineering and coordination, the wheels are already turning as he begins thinking about London venues, staffing, and technical planning and operations for both the venues and the IBC.

“It takes that much planning, especially given how many sports we cover, working with the organizing committee and host broadcasters, designing facilities that need to be built, and having input on things like camera platforms at venues,” says Foremaster.

Foremaster is in many ways the ultimate Olympic traffic cop for NBC Olympics, making sure the wealth of departments and personnel involved in producing the games understand their roles in a production, upcoming assignments, production workflows, and even how the plant works.

“I put together an understanding of the big picture, what we have to do and how departments need to interface,” says Foremaster. “When do we need to get things done so we can come online when we need to? It’s about coordinating an understanding of the big picture.”

One of the most immediate tools for all staffers to understand the big picture is Scheduall software, a scheduling tool that NBC Olympics has been using since Athens.

“We can build desktops for each person so they can look at information that they need to know in various ways,” says Foremaster. The system also is in use at 30 Rock in New York so that personnel know what feeds from Vancouver are coming in when, what circuits will be in use, and more.

“It’s really great for scheduling story packages, venues, and outbound circuits,” says Foremaster.

While Scheduall keeps tabs on job responsibilities and projects NBC’s Venue Information System (VIS) keeps tabs on equipment at the venues, including everything from porta-johns to furniture and more.

“The software tools we’ve developed are very useful and many of the veterans know those tools,” says Foremaster. “It’s something we are always updateing and it is also helpful to end users.”

This year that system has been improved to ease the next step in the process: gathering documents and diagrams that lay out venue and IBC operations. A tool allows VIS data to be pushed into documents for publishing in both print manuals and also  to Microsoft SharePoint, a collection of products and software elements that NBC Sports uses to share documents and information.

“Using databases is so much better [than using something like an Excel spreadsheet],” says Foremaster “People can see information that applies to them as well as the broad view.”

Foremaster’s information gathering process often begins with sitting in on production meetings to understand what engineering and operations should expect. The challenge is then to soak up that information and communicate a plan to all in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

“Overall things have been very good and running smoothly for us in comparison to many games in the past,” says Foremaster. “We had some tighter deadlines but everything came together great.”

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