When the Olympic Games are actually going on, the Atos Origin office here is a respite from the pressure, a place where problems can be solved methodically. The team of 150 employees here have developed software for the Olympics since the Summer Games were held in Barcelona in 1992. (They also work on other major sporting events such as soccer's World Cup, the Asian Games, and the Mediterranean Games.)
"By mid-July, about half of our people will disappear," says Santiago Codola, the projects area director for major events. "That's because they're moving to Athens to support the applications they've developed." The people who stay in Barcelona will be on call 24 hours a day to fix any bugs. There's also a backup of the Technical Operations Center here.
But even many of the ones who remain behind will have at least paid a visit to Athens. "We try to get our people to the local site at some point in the process of preparing for the Games so that they can meet the people there and understand their point of view," Codola says. "Otherwise, from a remote place, it's very easy to say, 'That's your problem.' And you certainly don't have the same sense of urgency to solve it as those who are on-site do."
Barcelona is home base for Atos's "Major Events" division. "It's where the project starts and disappears," says Patrick Adiba, vice president of the division. The facility feels like a self-contained universe, a Mission Control that has to adjust to the needs of several different orbiting spaceships. Teams here shift their work hours and teleconference times to suit their counterparts on-site. Turin is in the same time zone, and Athens is just one hour ahead, so they're easy. But Beijing is five hours ahead, and that will require developing a new work rhythm. But Codola says that will be "no wahala," a phrase his team picked up while working on the All Africa Games last year in Nigeria. "It's like, 'No problem,' " he says.
The Olympics aren't Atos Origin's major profit source. Although the company gets paid to set up the systems, it also pays to be a sponsor. But Atos gets a chance to buttress its presence in the host country, or set up a new office in a new place. "You try to take advantage of the visibility," says Adiba. "In Greece, we've won projects not related to the games, in telecommunications and finance." Atos is just beginning to promote itself to prospective customers in China, where it already had three offices of 600 people. In Vancouver, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which Atos may help support, "we have a limited presence right now," Adiba says. "We're discussing how we can build something that has lasting value."
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.