Friday Rant: The London Olympics — In Praise of Transport & Logistics

The London Olympics has faced a few recent issues, principally the failure of G4S to come up with as many security personnel as their contract required then to provide. Since the Games started, we've also had traders in London complaining that the dire warnings about travel chaos had worked too well, and visitors and locals were staying away from London with a resulting decline in business for shops, bars and theatres.

I was in the city on Wednesday and it certainly was quieter than usual. I had a long chat with the lady behind the counter at my favourite wine bar (purely in the spirit of research of course) as I was the only customer for about 30 minutes at 5pm! Here's a picture I took of Oxford Circus at peak shopping time -- not deserted but probably a good 30% down on the usual crowds. So any hope of an economic boom for the UK from hosting the Olympics seems likely to be in vain.

But on a more positive note, I attended the Olympic Rowing on Tuesday at Eton Dorney near Windsor. We booked the park and ride service, which I was convinced would be a transport nightmare. Huge queues to get into the car park, an hour waiting for the bus, etc.

In fact, it was almost supernaturally efficient. Arrive at Car Park in Windsor Great Park, very early, I grant you (we think the Queen's deer herd had been shipped off somewhere else). No queue for entry. Walk straight onto immaculate, apparently brand new, Olympic liveried Double Decker bus, which leaves within two minutes of our alighting. Arrive at venue drop off ten minutes later. And even more remarkably, on leaving the venue with 25,000 other folks, the pattern was repeated. Straight onto a bus, no queuing, back to the car, minimal wait to get out of car park, home an hour before I expected.

It made me realise just what great transport and logistics management looks like. In procurement, we sometimes look at functions and activities around shipping, transport, logistics, and so on as a little bit beneath our dignity; sourcing is so much more exciting, isn't it?

But while I don't know how you would measure the utility (the time saved, the positive feelings, the happiness even) of some 200,000 people over the rowing event, whoever organised that particular aspect of Olympic transport deserves great credit, and delivered huge benefit. And I guess that's what efficient and effective logistics can do in a business environment as well, although the benefits may be more measurable than lots of happy people going "Wow, wasn't the bus service great!"

- Peter Smith

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