ONLY weeks away, the London 2012 Olympic Games – running from 25 July to 12 August – represent an ‘interesting’ challenge for the organisers.
The Games’ official logistics company is UPS and it will be responsible for delivering all the sporting equipment, and vast amount of additional equipment – from laptops to referee whistles – in the run up to, during and in the clear-up after the event.
Cindy Miller, UPS’ managing director for the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, has the unenviable task of co-ordinating the Herculean operations.
She puts it into perspective by contrasting UPS’ global peak day last year – the day the company moved the most number of packages, which was 27 million, around the world – with the 30 million packages the company will be handling for the Games.
“This is an extremely large undertaking,” Miller understates. “The quantity of cargo is one thing, but there is also the level of timing.
“In business, we all like to think that we have a zero-failure tolerance in everything we do, but of course that is not realistic. With the Olympics we really do have [no room for error].
“We have time-sensitive products just like everybody else, but so many of these movements across the supply chain have a definite time when they absolutely have to be at a certain place,” she explains.
“It makes me wake up every day and go to bed every night realising we have got to be perfect, it’s got to be flawless.”
Fortunately, UPS is also contracted to handle the test games leading up to the Olympics, such as the football and aquatic championships, so the supply chain it is building can have a proper shakedown.
“We have made a few mistakes and had some scrapes and scratches on this learning curve,” Miller admits “but we have learned a tremendous amount of lessons on the test games, which are invaluable in knowing how to stage the games flawlessly.”
She cites, for example, turning up for a delivery only to find the loading ramps are of a completely different height to the trucks. “It is these little nuances that you pick up when you go through the test events. We have had to work through all of our contingency plans.”
‘What makes this unique is that we’re developing a temporary
supply chain. Whatever we build will be dismantled’
Trying to look on the bright side of the unlucky run of supply chain-shaking incidents the world has suffered recently, they have at least been a spur to the entire industry to anticipate disasters and develop their continuity management.
“There are things that go on around the world on any given day – whether political unrest or natural disasters – that really help drive us to create contingencies,” Miller says. “Earthquakes are obviously a severe example, but even for things like the volcanic ash cloud, it was amazing how much disruption something like that caused.
“We’re looking at developing some creative solutions to take freight out of the air onto the ground and utilising what we can to supply customers and countries with product. We sit at the drawing board and try to get as creative as we can and thinking of contingencies for contingencies.
“It’s been a taxing exercise but I think it’s been valuable for us when we now come to supply the Olympics,” she reveals.
As well as the test games many suppliers have had up to two years to ship their products to London in preparation for the games. Even so, there are some areas where things will be on a tight schedule. For example, the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2012) is being held in Poland and Ukraine almost immediately before the Olympics.
“There are quite a lot of broadcasting companies that will be [there] and they need to wrap up, and get their equipment to London in a very narrow window,” Miller says. “We have several of those around the world and they cannot necessarily move their equipment ahead of time. That is where a good bit of our air cargo will come in, [along with] emergency supplies that we think will come in as we get closer to game time.”
To cope with the handling, UPS has just opened a warehouse and distribution facility in Stevenage (a town just north of London), which covers a total area of 30,750m2. It will house the majority of the sporting goods and event equipment before they are transported to the respective London 2012 Games host venues.
A second UPS facility in Tilbury, on the Thames Estuary, will be opening in the next couple of months. “What makes this unique and unprecedented to anything we’ve ever done, is that we’re developing a temporary supply chain.
Whatever we build will not be needed next year and will be dismantled,” she adds.
Aside from the Olympics, business obviously goes on and Miller says the downturn has not hit the company particularly hard.
“Suddenly business will probably be anything but usual”
“Things are going very well, but it’s amazing to me how busy it’s been recently. We were quite busy, and so was everyone, in 2011, but as soon as that calendar rolled over to 2012 it just seems as if life has been turned up a few notches.
“I was expecting it, but I have been surprised at how people have gone from a trot to a gallop and in some places all-out sprinting!”
UPS carries a large percentage of the global gross domestic product – Miller estimates about two or three per cent – so she says they directly feel the highs and lows of global economic trends. Optimistically, therefore, she points out that all of UPS International saw a 3.5 per cent growth last year and she saw similar amounts of percentages in the UK.
Certainly, UPS’ European air hub at Cologne/Bonn Airport is, Miller states, “bursting at the seams”. So the company is about to invest US$200m there to increase capacity and prepare for future growth.
Maintaining standards while handling continuing and new contracts, all while dealing with the Olympics, will be difficult enough, but the Olympics themselves will interfere with normal business.
“Last year the supply chain was running as it should, but fast forward to May or June this year and there will be a lockdown around London,” she says. “Suddenly business will probably be anything but usual. Operationally we are looking to employ various strategies, such as making deliveries at odd hours and managing a workforce that can handle that.
“And of course it will also be a time where people usually go on holiday and businesses slow down.” Despite waking up at night, Miller remains unfazed by the task in front of her. “It’s an exciting time,” she smiles.