With only a few weeks to go before the start of the London 2012 Olympics, the pressure is on BT as the event’s official communications partner to make its final preparations for what is its ultimate right-first-time project.
But it is not only BT that needs to think about its preparedness: the Olympics represent a big opportunity, as well as some potential challenges, for all sorts of UK companies.
To find out whether UK PLC is ready, BT surveyed 12,000 public and private firms. Worryingly, most had not begun planning, and the majority said they believe three months is more than enough time to get ready.
"Some are sticking their heads in the sand," says Emer Timmons, the fast-talking president of BT Global Services in the UK. "It’s a case of saying ‘we are hoping we’ll be ready on the day’, when in fact these things take planning. You cannot plan enough."
For those who believe the Olympics are unlikely to have much effect on their own business or staff, it’s worth considering the research BT commissioned after the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
After that Games, two-thirds of companies said they had benefited from them in some way, while in the leisure industry (86%) and retail (80%) the figures were even higher. Many also saw a number of issues. Some 28% put on extra staff, and about the same number saw staffing challenges – little wonder that another one-third said they wished they had implemented flexible working practices before the Games.
"When you hear these stats you say, ‘Do you know what? I would have thought that,’" says Timmons, "but what’s really interesting is when you come to the last piece of research we did: we found that a third felt they should have invested more in multilingual capabilities."
It’s clear from the research that many organisations considered the Olympics a boon, with 40% across the board saying they saw an increase in sales during the Games, with the average increase being 10-25%. But as with any increase in demand, there come a few challenges, too.
Based on the Vancouver experience, Timmons outlines what she sees as the four key areas where UK PLC needs to have plans in place.
"One that is going to impact them is staffing pressures," she says. "Two, customer demands. Three, supply chain disruption, and four, network capacity. But they’re all absolutely interlocked."
Despite the Vancouver findings, only 58% of the organisations surveyed in the UK said they felt they were likely to be impacted in any way, although 65% did say they believe the Games would be a catalyst for an upswing in the economy. As for those who said they believe the Games would have a positive impact on their own businesses (around 42%), those surveyed in the private sector said they believe the impact will be revenue growth, while in the public sector they said the positive impact would be in the quality of service. One-in-two companies said they expect to see an increase in international business.
There has of course been a lot of talk about what the legacy will be from the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Interestingly, 38% of those surveyed by BT said they expect there to be benefits after the Games officially end, and 38% said that those benefits would continue beyond 12 months.
But it is not all dancing in the moonlight – 87% in the private sector said they expect some sort of disruption to their business as a result of the Games, with 72% saying they may see some disruption to their supply chains.
"What was shocking for me was that two-thirds said they only need three months to plan for any such disruptions," says Timmons. "That’s twelve weeks! So I’m calling out not only on behalf of BT, I’m doing it on behalf of UK PLC – ‘We want this to be a great showcase to show how good and great our businesses are.’
"You need to make sure you have planned for your staffing. Do you have the right multilingual staff? Are your call centres prepared? Do you have a plan B in relation to surges in increased customer demand coming in for your products and services? How is your supply chain? Is it going to be disrupted? Have you looked at the ORN [Olympic Route Network] and how that might affect your staff and business?" Timmons asks.
As well as encouraging UK PLC to get ready for the Games in order to cope with demand and maximise opportunities, BT is the primary communications services partner for the event – a huge undertaking.
As if anyone was in any doubt about the sheer scale of the task, BT says it will create 80,000 connections across 94 locations, 16,500 fixed telephone lines, 14,000 mobile SIM cards, 10,000 cable TV outlets, 5,500km of internal cabling and 1,800 wireless access points. There will be a team of more than 800 BT people helping to run the communications services.
So what has BT itself taken away that it might perhaps use again on future IT delivery projects? "We have 350 new processes – for example, a supply chain optimisation process. For us, learning from the Olympics has been great because it has actually made us raise the bar, our service bar, even higher. We’re rolling those 350 processes out so our customers can benefit from them," Timmons says.
BT is already using some of what it has learned to help customers plan their network capacity needs during the Games and beyond, not least with the help of its superfast broadband offering, in which BT is investing £2.5bn.
"You don’t see too many people in times of a difficult economy actually investing that kind of money to say, ‘Do you know what – we’re going to invest in this country and we’re going to invest so that everybody can get the benefit from it,’" Timmons says.
Time to feel good
The Games have given BT a great opportunity to talk to customers about plans, according to Timmons: "Our point of view is that it’s a time to feel good – for us to feel good as a country, as Team GB or UK PLC. Everyone wants to have pride in the Olympics," she says.
"Also, a big thing for us is the legacy as well. So while we’ve kind of been building it up, what we want to do now is have a great Games, and actually continue that momentum post-Olympics," Timmons concludes.