Monday, 24 September 2012

A couple of months can make all the difference.

Lyndon Bird FBCI
After years of preparation and much scepticism in some quarters, London 2012 is now over.  Both the Olympic and Paralympic Games have been hailed globally as great achievements.   Oddly, I have received congratulations from colleagues and friends in all parts of the world as if the success of the Games had had something to do with me.   However, reflected glory is always welcome and I am not complaining that the UK is being viewed in such a positive light.
It is strange that just a few weeks ago the main media interest was in the failure of G4S to provide adequate security personnel; the possibility of an immigration officer strike; and doom and destruction predictions on almost everything from transport to infrastructure.   We constantly heard of a grid-locked London, wide-scale traffic chaos, business disruptions and 1970’s style industrial action.   Even Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US presidency, publicly expressed his worries on the eve of the Games based upon little more than arbitrary scare stories.
Some commentators predicted massive criminality and public disorder although evidence from previous Games suggested the exact opposite.   Others saw it as inevitable that we would face terrorist attacks, resulting in possible carnage.   Those less dramatic in their predictions did all seem to agree that London itself would be over-flowing with people and that businesses would be unable to operate due to the congestion and staff absenteeism.   When pointed out that tourist numbers were down, the same opinion leaders then changed their complaint to the fact that the events were scaring normal tourists away such that hotels, restaurants, theatres and the stores on Oxford Street would soon be going bankrupt.
To my knowledge little of this happened. Sensible organizations and individuals arranged their working practices appropriately.   Maybe the short-term financial boom envisaged by some London leisure businesses failed to materialise, but the enormous gain to the reputation of London will make people who never dreamed of visiting London before put it at the top of their list as a place to see.  
The leading UK retailer “The John Lewis Partnership” reported a major increase in sales and no problem with “foot-fall” at their central London shops as well as great success at their new store adjacent to the Olympic Park.  Large organizations like BT, BA and Sainsbury’s have contributed much to the overall success but it will enhance and benefit their reputation in ways almost nothing else could.   Overall the negative impact on business has been much exaggerated.
Well did this happen by luck?  
Perhaps it is pertinent to quote golfing legend Gary Player who (when opponents claimed he was fortunate) famously said “it is odd but the more I practice the luckier I get”.   It seems clear to me that major problems usually occur only when unexpected things happen, at unpredictable times and when no-one is trained to deal with them.  Fear of the Olympics was like other potential catastrophes that failed to ignite – think of the millennium bug or two flu pandemics (avian and swine varieties).   All captured the attention of the media but caused limited or no direct impact because we knew about them and had prepared accordingly.   Where we face real problems is when the threat is impossible to foresee such as the tsunami triggered by the earthquake causing a nuclear melt-down; a political extremist running riot in peaceful Norway; or a corporate scandal getting out of control as we saw a few years ago with Enron and Arthur Anderson.
For “known, knowns”, the Olympics is a great example of integrated Business Continuity Management.   It shows that however complicated or frightening a threat is perceived to be, it can be mitigated effectively by good planning, good organisation and plenty of practice.   The Games did not just happen at random, the organisers knew the dates and schedules in detail for many years.   They had the capability and expertise of leading experts from around the world to call on, and they had time to test and rehearse everything over and over again until it was perfect.   Some things went wrong, of course, but they were managed not by panic or “off the cuff” decision-making but by fully trained and committed people using tried and tested processes.
I hope you all enjoyed summer 2012 as much as I did.   It was good for the morale of the country, great for Risk Managers in showing that risks can be managed not just avoided and brilliant for those Business Continuity professionals who contributed their time, efforts, skills and passion to making it work for everyone.

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