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Author's profile photo Richard Howells

The Logistics Of The Olympics Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/logistics_125032.jpgWhen the Olympic flame was ignited at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, it had traveled through over 1,000 cities, towns and villages in the United Kingdom. The Olympic torch arrived in the UK from Greece on May 18 and started its 70 day journey from Land’s End to London the very next day.  By the time the Olympic flame was lit, it had been carried by 8,000 torch bearers.

The organizers have overcome a logistical challenge to ensure the Olympic Flame traveled within an hour of 95% of people in the UK, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey during the 70-day Torch Relay. My favorite and most inspiring carrier is war hero Ben Parkinson, who carried the Olympic torch after learning to walk again on artificial limbs.

But this isn’t the only logistics challenge to be overcome at the “Games of the XXX Olympiad.” In a recent blog I discussed the opportunities that the Olympics brings to businesses and the need to run like never before  to avoid a  lonely 4th  place finish at the Olympics.

Here are some examples of how great logistics ensure your business “makes the podium” at the Olympics.

Warehousing Logistics for the Games is the responsibility of UPS, the official logistics partner of the Olympics, who have secured 80,000 square meters of warehousing space to accommodate the demands of getting the goods to the starting blocks.  UPS has the unenviable task of literally “managing the last mile” into all the Olympic venues.  Everything is processed through UPS warehouses where the inbound deliveries are unloaded and x-rayed for security purposes. Outbound shipments are planned, loaded onto vehicles and sent to one of the 37 competition venues across the UK (27 of which are in London).   But what goes into the venues also needs to come out!  So the Olympics reverse logistics is also a significant challenge involving retrieval return to warehouses and finally disposal. In fact, by the end of the Games UPS will have moved more than 30 million items!

Transportation Logistics has been a key component of planning the London games. In early July, this plan was put to the test when the major motorway between Heathrow Airport and downtown London was closed due to hairline cracks on a viaduct. A lot of thought has gone into the physical logistics of moving people and goods around London. An “Olympic Route Network” has been created that is a “mass transit” network to specifically support the Olympics.  London has a road network of 9200 miles.  The Olympic Route Network leverages 109 miles (only 1% of the total) stretching across London, which can be used by the vast majority of vehicles (mainly buses and large vehicles). Of this, 30 miles of “Games Lanes” have been dedicated to athletes, officials and special traffic.  So, by reserving 0.3% of the network for the games, it is anticipated this will actually reduce the pressure on the rest of the network and therefore make movements faster for everyone.

Supplying the 2012 Olympic Games has provided opportunities for manufacturers of every type of product imaginable. In the “if we build it, they will come” phase, construction companies and their suppliers struck “gold.”  Food and beverage suppliers can expect a bonanza, as can suppliers of athletic clothing. Depending on the weather gods there will be a surge in sunscreen or (more likely) umbrellas and rain coats emblazoned with the London 2012 logo!

For any supplier to the 2012 Olympics, the chance will come once and once only. If grabbed effectively, the opportunities the Olympics offer may provide income and stability for many years. It is therefore highly important that supply chain organizations – whatever their role or products – ensure they meet criteria set by the International Olympic Committee about the Sustainability of the 2012 Olympics.

Planning for Olympic Size Demand also has its challenges. When it comes to forecasting demand, manufacturers and retailers are entering uncharted waters. They can’t exactly leverage their sales forecast history, as the last Olympics in London were in 1948!

The unpredictable British weather also has an impact on supply and demand when it comes to the Olympics and Paralympics. The fact that the two events are a few weeks apart could result in completely different products being required by the spectators. Where you may be buying ice cream and sunhats in the July and August heat, you may be looking for tea and blankets to warm up as the autumn chills of September take over. In unique events such as these, the accuracy of stock requirement is difficult to predict and there will be plenty of inventory buffers built in to make sure that demand can be met. Look out for the huge discounts by those companies who do not accurately match supply to demand.

In the next of this series, I will discuss the goals of making London 2012 the first truly sustainable Olympics and Paralympics.

Follow me on Twitter @howellsrichard.

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