Can we learn anything from the 0lympics and Paralympics?

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Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph of the author in official kitHaving just spent the first week of September as a Games Maker at the Paralympics working as a scorer for the wheelchair fencing, my eye was caught by an article in the July 2012 Logistic Managers magazine entitled – “What will logistics learn from the Olympics?” Well after my own personal experiences from interview to actually being there, I thought it is more than just Logistics that can learn from what has happened in GB this summer.

In the Logistics Manager article (by Malory Davies) it was pointed out that there would be a huge strain on logistics systems due to the operation of the Olympic Route Network. This had resulted in companies looking at innovative approaches to the issue. UPL, who were the Olympics and Paralympics logistics supplier, for instance, had taken to using the Thames to move goods into the village. It used 2 barges to ferry goods from Tilbury to a wharf near the village. DHL had set up a consolidation centre on the outskirts of London to service the Westfield shopping centre which is right at the entrance to the Olympic Park. The Freight Transport Association had release guidance on making deliveries in London and other Olympic venues. Foot couriers were used make deliveries either on foot or on public transport. One logistics company, City Sprint, used roller-bladders to make deliveries.

Having had to travel during the Paralympics during the day to get to my shifts, it was interesting to note the number of helpers on the key stations on the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway. The personnel were clearly identifiable and had radio communications to base. They had been well trained in how to handle crowds coming onto the stations and their customer relations was faultless – this is best summed up by my first arrival at the ExCel Centre, where, as I went up the steps from the Custom House DLR station to the walkway to the Centre, there was a happy Transport for London employee with a megaphone singing to reggae beat where you should go! My daughter works in the City and she told me that during the Olympics she had no problems in getting into work, in fact it was empty! So organisations did take on board the idea of home working, as a way of solving the load on London’s transport system; as well as people deciding to take holiday.

But what about the Games themselves, both in terms of the volunteers and the athletes? Well we know now that, in terms of medal totals at both Olympics and Paralympics, we over-achieved on our overall goals, although in some sports we didn’t quite get there. Let us look at the athletes first. Our success is due to the investments made into each sport and into certain individuals either through Lottery funding or through private enterprise sponsoring. This resulted in the sporting bodies being able to target and plan effectively for the last four years. Yes there were some hiccups – notably Idowu and British Athletics just before the Olympics. So by appropriate investment, athletic bodies were able to plan and execute against that plan over a long period, even during the recession. The only worry, as I see it, is whether the Government’s aim of getting more people actually taking part in sport is going to occur. With the reduction in the investment in school sports and the push for local clubs to make up the shortfall through volunteering, I am not sure that this objective will be met.

As a Games Maker, I have to say I was impressed with the organisation to select, train, cloth and allocate shifts. There was effective use of email to provide information to us. We had our own website that provided both general information and also information appertaining to the role you were playing. Whilst at the Games, there was a daily newsletter that you could pick up when “clocking-in”, which had competitions and crosswords. Once again, investment in the process of the life of a games maker had been made and appropriate plans put into place. LOCOG and its Olympics/Paralympics partners, such as McDonalds and Omega, were up to the tasks required, and helped to deliver what everybody has described as the most enthusiastic and helpful Games Makers ever. It is interesting to note that the Games Makers are being offered the opportunity of an online qualification in Customer Service, courtesy of McDonalds. What a good piece of legacy for the young volunteers.

So what are the areas we can learn from this incredible project? Some of them are already well-known in that the right investment with the right flexible plan, which has continual monitoring, makes a successful project. We also know that the right motivated people also make success. But it is also right that we need to have room for innovative ideas, which means we need to think out of the box at times. For those of us who have been involved in programme and project management, we know that you have to have the “big picture” that you can use to sell and market to management. But for those at the sharp end we have to plan at a much more detailed level. The key in the end, and what I feel the Olympics and Paralympics succeeded in delivering, was to link the “big picture” to the detail for different parts of the project from transport to logistics to athlete development to a band of motivated volunteers. It is this concept of volunteers that we now need to think about to capitalise on what was found during the summer.

What about the use of technology? Just before the Olympic Park was being built I was approached to work with some organisations to look at the use of RFID to control and manage logistics movements on the site. This opportunity, to my knowledge, was not taken up. But RFID was used during the Marathons to check runners as they went through the fuelling stations. All ticket holders and games makers received an Oyster card to cover travel to the Games on the day of their tickets or shifts, thus making this the greenest Games, as well making it faster through the gates at stations within Zone 6 that people used. It was interesting to note that although there was a major use of technology to handle timings, photo finishes, and communications to the Press Centre, it was the paper record that was the ultimate records of the results. For example as a scorer for wheelchair fencing, I had to use a touch screen to enter the contestant names, which were then displayed on the boards behind the pistes. Although the hits were recorded using a hand held device, it was the piece of paper that I kept the score on that was ultimate record of the fight. Each Olympic and Paralympic Games will get more dependent on technology and the key to it working is integration of the various elements in a seamless manner.

There is a lot we can learn from the success of the Games so that we can make the same success with our projects.