Chief intelligence officer champions data for good

“This is something all of us, whether in the private or public sector, can work on,” says Dr. Youssef Alhammadi of the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

Special Olympics Abu Dhabi
Divina Paredes / IDG

"We hear a lot of negative use of analytics and data,” says Dr. Youssef Alhammadi, chief intelligence officer at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Nonetheless, for him, the latest Special Olympics only magnified the “importance and vital role data can play in people’s lives and putting people’s interest first, and making sure we are living in a more inclusive and more diverse society”.

Speaking to CIO New Zealand during the recent Analytics Experience in Milan, Alhammadi shares how the games were primarily a success story on using data for good.

"The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 was the largest sports and humanitarian event on the planet in 2019,” explains Alhammadi, who is an advisor to the Executive Office of the government of Abu Dhabi.

The Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is an international programme to provide individuals with intellectual disabilities with year-round sports training and athletic competition. 

The one-week event in Abu Dhabi had over 7,500 athletes from more than 190 nations participating in 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports. 

“We had the most female athletes participating in the history of the games,” says Alhammadi.

“There were also around 20,000 volunteers, and more than half of them were women,” he adds. 

They ranged in age, he says, and included students, employees, and retirees. 

He states: “They showed how we can work together to champion diversity and inclusion for ‘people of determination’,” the phrase used in the United Arab Emirates to describe people with disabilities.

We came together to represent one objective, says Alhammadi. “What can we do for this special segment of the population?”

“We wanted not just to bring athletes to the game, but to ensure the sustainability and legacy of the game,” he explains.

Special Olympics Abu Dhabi Supplied

Alhammadi says the Special Olympics committee worked with volunteers from SAS, the official analytics supplier for the game. 

SAS volunteers supported the organising committee to analyse traditional and non-traditional data sources, such as geospatial and health data, social media content, or other kinds of information regarding athletes, spectators, and volunteers.

“The range of analytical applications for the Special Olympics was vast, and the volunteers worked on a raft of projects to analyse both event and athlete data,” he shares.

These included management of the venues, profiling of athletes, health and safety, social media analysis, and efficient ways to manage volunteers, guests, and accommodation.

“From day one, our top management was thinking how analytics and data could be key differentiators for the Special Olympics,” says Alhammadi.

“We took that message seriously,” he stresses. “We worked with partners in spreading the word of inclusion.”

Analytics was leveraged as a key operational insight, he notes. “How will this impact the experience of athletes?”

“We wanted to make sure our athletes were healthy and safe,” he states.

Alhammadi cites that each athlete received a smartwatch. The device gathered data on the athlete’s location, and monitored vital health symptoms, such as heartbeat and the conditions around them.

He further shares that, “We had data on transportation, flight status, hotel occupancy, bus schedules, and even on consumption of food and meals.”

“We understand where the athletes are, how safe they are, and in case of any incidents, we are able to respond to that,” he says.

“We used analytics, AI and machine learning to make sure our athletes got personalised support.”

“We had a full picture of them; we integrated this with our medical incidents system,” states Alhammadi.

“We were able to predict events that might have happened,” he adds. “We had ready medical and transportation teams for any incidents.”

One of the athletes, for instance, missed the opening ceremony because he took the wrong bus.

According to Alhammadi, this athlete had to take medication for a life-threatening condition. “Within half an hour we were able to find him.” 

He points out that every athlete underwent health check-ups. Following these, those who required them were given eyeglasses or hearing aids.

In one case, an athlete was given a hearing aid after a check-up. “For the first time, he heard his team members speak.”

He says they also used analytics to make sure the families and fans of the athletes were enjoying the games.

“We were able to tell them which events were popular, how long it took to get to a certain game,” he says.

“The system told us how many seats we had, and how many tickets were bought.”

The volunteers, meanwhile, worked in different streams including technology, venues, transportation, and delegation and guest management. 

“We had virtual training on general aspects of volunteering, and also during the game when they came to Abu Dhabi and across the venues,” says Alhammadi.

“There was specific training for each aspect of the game.”

The volunteers were provided an app, so each of them could access their shift time and communicate with their manager. “We made it easy for them to be part of this.”

Special Olympics Abu Dhabi Divina Paredes

Dr. Youssef Alhammadi, chief intelligence officer at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, with Thomas Maier of SAS Germany. Berlin will host the Special Olympics in 2023

The making of a chief intelligence officer

Alhammadi has a masters and a doctorate in applied statistics from the University of Alabama, and was executive director of the Statistics Center in Abu Dhabi.

“It is beyond information, beyond data, it is also innovation,” Alhammadi explains on his role at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.

Prior to the games, for instance, his team organised an “open innovation challenge”.

This consisted of design thinking sessions to understand potential issues while working on the systems. They then invited start-ups to help solve these issues.

“We had people of determination and their families participating in co-designing the systems,” he says.

He shares that one of the participants who was working on a research for a university eventually co-founded a startup that deals with ‘people of determination’.

Alhammadi notes that the next Special Olympics will be held in Berlin in 2023.

He says his team has already met with their counterparts in Germany. 

Their work is already influencing groups outside the Special Olympics community.

“We are building an open data platform with anonymised data, and people can use it to develop policies, products, and services for ‘people of determination’.” 

“Inclusion is a big thing,” he says, on a major lesson from his experiences at the Special Olympics. “We need to be thinking about all aspects of the population or a system.”

“When we design, we design for everybody,” he stresses.

“This is something all of us, whether in the private or public sector, can work on - to be more inclusive.”

Special Olympics Abu Dhabi Supplied

Dr. Youssef Alhammadi, chief intelligence officer at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 at the Analytics Experience in Milan

Divina Paredes travelled to Analytics Experience as a guest of SAS.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 secrets of successful remote IT teams