Behind the Dashboard: Tour De France
Author: Joshua Moerman
No Matter Who Wins the Race, Safety Always Comes First
To some of you it is a well-known fact that I have spent the last three years working at the Proximus Towers in Brussels North. A little over two years of that time was in the company of a fellow Ordina colleague; Yoni Geerinck. Now, if I would have to describe my work at Proximus in a few lines I would say that my colleagues and I oversee monetizing the huge amount of mobile network data which Proximus captures. This means that daily billions of mobile network records are captured and sent through either a batch or real-time processing pipeline for us to work with. The three main components found in this mobile network data are: ‘who’ (unique device/sim card), ‘where’ (network location) and ‘when’ (timestamp). The actual business value that is being extracted from this data is entirely up to our team of Data Scientists in collaboration with our Solution Managers. A simple example is a report to some tourist organization on the amount of people seen at the Belgian Coast during the Summer holidays. More advanced use cases involve modelling live traffic, doing comparative location studies for retail, supporting smart city solutions, … or on the topic of this blog post: providing a (near) real-time dashboard for safety & security assessment during a live event.
Le Grand Départ - Tour de France, a Huge Affair:
The Tour de France is one of Europe’s biggest yearly sporting events. As the name clearly suggests most of the event takes place within the borders of France itself, but this year is special to us because the opening ceremony and the first few races all took place right here in little Belgium. Thursday 4th of July was the official opening of the Tour de France. This was celebrated in the city of Brussels with all of the participating teams doing a short bike trip through the city center starting from the Royal Palace, stopping for a traditional ceremony on the Grand Place and continuing on to the Brouckère which, for a few days, has been transformed in a full-fledged Fan Zone with screens, press and several side activities. Saturday and Sunday have set the scene for the first two races of the Tour de France. Both races have started and finished in the city of Brussels. However, while Sunday’s race was a short time trail entirely located in Brussels, Saturday’s race was closer to the size of our beloved ‘Ronde Van Vlaanderen’ with the participating teams having raced from Brussels to Geraardsbergen to Charleroi and all the way back to Brussels.
The Crisis Center, behind the scenes:
It comes to no surprise that an event of this scope also requires huge organizational efforts to keep everything on track (pun intended) and to provide a quick response in the event of emergencies. It takes hundreds if not thousands of people to help and make sure that along the entire route everything is under control and going according to plan. At the heart of this whole operation is the Crisis Center, which was temporarily set up in the Brussels Expo park, not too far from the finish zones of both races (Saturday and Sunday). The Center consists of no more than two adjacent rooms. One of the rooms is basically an official communication and meeting room where they could quickly set up a formal meeting or a long-distance call in case of need. The other room is where everything happens. Imagine a room filled to the brim with small desks and the walls full of screens. The people filling the desks are ranging from police chiefs and medical coordinators to media spokespersons and event organizers. There are even people from each of the public transport companies. The screens on the walls are showing live camera feeds from several spots in the city, even from a helicopter and several drones, multiple instances of the race on live television, a live map of the weather situation and, for the very first time, a live heatmap of the number of people in the city and around the route.
Real-Time Crowd Management, a lifesaver:
So, this is where my work at Proximus comes in. Real-Time Crowd Management is nothing new for our team at Proximus. Last year we launched an RTCM module on the MyAnalytics web portal (www.proximusanalytics.be). For those who do not know the portal: this is a self-service tool where clients can design and order their own location insights reports. This can be useful for understanding how many people visited certain events and locations, where they came from and to learn more about their mobility. When we got a specific request earlier this year to monitor the Ronde Van Vlaanderen we had to come up with a custom solution because the RTCM module of our portal was not designed for such a geographically large-scale event. At the time I connected some dots and realized that it was technically feasible for us to use the RTCM API, that was being developed internally by another team - and build something custom on top of it. I knew Gerdy Seynaeve, a colleague from the Proximus Innovation department, was already experimenting with the API in Azure, so I asked him to help. We put together a custom dashboard in only a matter of days (with a minimum of dashboarding or Azure experience) using Azure components (API manager, Logic apps, SQL) for the processing and a Cumul.io front-end. We used it during the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and it was a great success. When we got a similar request for the Tour de France we decided to replicate this setup because of its flexibility and scrum-like development cycle.
In the end, we provided the Crisis Center of Tour de France with real-time information on the presence and flow of people in the city of Brussels and around the routes. We did this in the form of three live dashboards, each dashboard focusing on a particular day of the event (Thursday, Saturday & Sunday). Each of them contained both a strong geographical and visual component and some functionality to explore the trends and evolution for different focus zones along the routes. I was also invited to join the Crisis Center on Thursday to provide some expert advice on the dashboards and the figures. The response we received there was very positive. Our figures were used as the primary reference for an estimation of the number of attendees over the whole event. The figures were also used as an important factor for taking the appropriate action in case of incidents or an overflow of people. It was a long day at the Crisis Center, but most importantly, it was a very interesting and eye-opening experience for me; it made me proud of my work at Proximus. Furthermore, I met a lot of interesting people from all kinds of federal & local organizations. It was interesting to hear about their pain points and the different initiatives to stimulate digitalization within their respective sectors. To top it all off, our work was even covered by the RTBF, who included our RTCM service for Tour de France as a subtopic in their TV news program (link below). Our work here with Proximus is an exciting example of how we can quickly mobilize our talent and resources to produce usable and valuable solutions. At Ordina, this is one of the ways we can help customers get Ahead of Change.
Journal item of the crisis center: http://rtv.auxipress.be/ExternalVideo/Alert?id=oKmnGEOfX7g%3D&lang=en&fbclid=IwAR3J2Dh_MB0ofYk46Oaz5mb_YveEv7j-qNu1WNQn2IsPwOJtukiMky1OyoQ