The final countdown is underway as over 10,000 athletes arrive in London for the Olympics. With an estimated four million extra visitors to the Capital, some businesses will have exciting opportunities to raise profiles and drive sales, while others will be adopting a decidedly ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach to affairs.

Nick Barton, Managing Director of Stansted Airport, says: “For us, the issue is that we recognise our responsibility as the first and last impression on any visitor, especially for the Olympics, where people’s views of the country will be formed at the moment they step off the plane. That is an extra responsibility: that we don’t mess it up on behalf of everybody, let alone ourselves.”

In the construction and delivery for both the Olympics and Paralympic Games, UK businesses have secured £7.5 billion worth of contracts, and the eyes of the world will be judging the finished article. Phil Smith, UK & Ireland CEO for Cisco Systems, an Olympics technology support partner, says: “The Games only come once in a lifetime, so we want to be part of that and be seen to be part of it, but as part of the UK, and not some random company that just happens to be selling stuff into the country…

“[The Games] reinforces the point as to why companies invest in the country, so that businesses can see that the UK is well organised, speaks the world’s most widely spoken language, is in a very good time zone and embraces innovation. I think the Olympics will show that and we’ll do a brilliant job.”

Each business faces different hurdles. David Bingham, Public Sector Senior Vice-President at DHL, adds: “Although DHL has been planning for the Games since they were first announced, there is a need for flexible solutions because the logistics challenges are unprecedented in our generation…

“However, despite increased congestion, heightened security in certain areas and limited delivery times, most retailers DHL works with are optimistic about the revenue opportunity. Consumer spending over the summer period is predicted to increase by over £630 million; planning ahead has been key to both mitigate any disruption and to make the most of the opportunity.”

From Start to Finish

To navigate the frenzy, slightly leftfield solutions may be needed, such as DHL claiming to have recruited ‘jogging couriers’ as one method to avoid congested roads. David says: “We have been developing delivery plans on a site-by-site basis… planning different resourcing in supply chains, rerouting, reducing and retiming deliveries, and finding alternative delivery or collection methods.

“Our customers have taken a prudent approach to planning for perhaps the last two years, but with 25 per cent of central London’s road transport made up of freight deliveries, the impact on supply chains and deliveries will be significant.”

Contingency planning is the order of the day. Sally Fuller, Director of Leadership Practices at telecommunications provider K-com, says: “Some of our retail customers are planning to be open 24 hours-a-day, and needed to establish how to ensure their technology could support the inconsistent buying patterns that we are likely to see between events.”

John Lewis, Chief Operating Officer at Airwave, which provides the radio communications network  for the emergency services, says: “Britain’s critical communications infrastructure is already the largest in the world, but to prepare for the Games, and to enable more users to access the service, we have added a further 2,188 traffic channels.”

Operationally, it’s always tough to maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach during the major sporting events. Martin Balaam, Director of specialist IT supplier Jigsaw 24, says: “Although we had a positive impact from equipment orders during the construction of the games, we believe there will be a negative impact in our productivity, both as staff want to watch the Games and, as we are a B2B-focused business, from other companies scaling down their operations during the period.”

Alan Bannatyne, Finance Director at search consultancy Robert Walters, is confident that focus will be maintained: “We’re expecting everyone to be at their desks on the first day. The venues are big, but the tube infrastructure is so significant that people won’t tend to leave stadiums through just one station.

“If staff come in at their normal hours they should miss the disruption. It is so productive to have people just looking each other in the eye that we don’t allow flexible working anyway, but all 500 of our London employees can log on from home, if for any reason there is a problem… We’re not worried; what we are basically saying is: ‘If the transport is terrible, we’ve got a plan.’”

For other businesses, flexible working makes more sense. Jim Herbert, CEO at Aon Risk Solutions UK, explains: “Aon has a number of offices around the periphery of London that we have reequipped with overflow capacity. We anticipate about third of London staff will be either working from home or be at these other sites at any given time.

“We’ve also identified key people who need to be in certain places in the event anything becomes more difficult in terms of IT connections or physical logistics. We can make a different call on them on a 24-hour basis.”

Jackie Fionda, VP Marketing for Global Retail & Fuel Products at BP, describes a similarly decisive approach to flexible working over the Olympics: “We are quite supportive of flexible working anyway, so we don’t expect any noticeable change in performance, but as the expected disruption to travel around Canary Wharf is so high, we will close our office there and have asked people to work from other offices or from home over the period of the Games.”

Of course, even the most well-rehearsed business will have to step into the unknown while the Games’ unprecedented circus rolls into town. Nick notes: “Because London, unlike Athens, is so well served… the question is whether Olympic traffic is replacing normal summer traffic or is on top of it.  We imagine it will be [akin to] Christmas levels of very intense load factors, but operating broadly within the schedule we knew about some months ago. If that is the case, we’re in very good shape to handle it.”

If the Games are to really deliver, the benefits have to be over both the short and long term. Phil says: “You can’t have an event of the magnitude of the Olympics, with the amount of investment that’s gone into it, that isn’t going to have some sort of positive effect… Now, the [only] question is: does that effect include a lasting legacy?”

Nick adds: “No doubt, we’ll all be feeling a bit empty when it is finished; it has been seven years in the making, it will be six weeks in the delivery but, hopefully, the legacy will last for years to come.”

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

www.twitter.com/criticaleyeuk

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