London 2012 – Inspiration for us all

London 2012 – Inspiration for us all
Dominic Smith looks back at the London 2012 Olympics and finds that there is much that we can learn and apply in our own industry today.

The dust has settled from the Olympic Games here in London, and already there are reports of the staggering data usage served up over the mobile and fixed data networks. The BBC reported that there were 55 million visits to BBC Sport online during the Olympics and the man behind BT’s Olympic network infrastructure has expressed his relief that they made the necessary investments in network capacity – seven times the bandwidth that had been used in Beijing 2008.

A year ago I wrote on this blog about the potential meltdown of London’s communications networks during the Olympics, but it seems everything has gone to plan (bar a few hiccups with the ticketing) and the fixed and mobile networks have coped remarkably well with the huge surge in data traffic. Even the London transport system survived relatively unscathed with workers changing commuting patterns to lessen the load during peak travel times.
So why am I writing about this again? Well I think there are many lessons we can all learn from the success of the London Olympics, covering not only the fantastic infrastructure and organisation, but also the incredible performances of the athletes themselves. It’s very easy to look back on a failure and say what went wrong, but it’s much more valuable to analyse what went right so that you can replicate success again in the future.

Lesson #1 – As Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

This may be pretty obvious when it comes to the required network infrastructure, but when you look at the meticulous planning and preparation by the elite athletes, you can see that in some sports this is being taken to a new level. The extraordinary success of the Team GB cycling team (7 out of a possible 10 gold medals on the track) is widely attributed to the attention to detail of the management, coaches and sports scientists that make up the supporting team.

In our industry, many people pay lip-service to terms like ‘360 degree view of the customer’ and ‘fast time to market’ but without ever putting in the groundwork needed to have such a capability. It’s hard to predict what the future holds in such a fast moving market, but effective selection, implementation and integration of BSS and OSS solutions are the foundations on which future success can be built.

Lesson #2 – Figure out what you’re good at, and then focus on being the best at it.

When you look at the Olympic medals table and see the USA and China in the top 2 positions, it would be very easy for the smaller nations to be demoralised and think that they can never compete. Well for most countries it is impossible to take on the biggest nations in every Olympic discipline, but you can focus on what you are good at, and then perform to the absolute best of your ability. The most obvious example would be the Jamaican sprinters, but what about the Bahamas? They may have only picked up one medal in London, but it was Gold in the 4 x 400m, overcoming the USA in the final straight. An incredible performance.
The Telecoms sector is also dominated by the might of the USA and China, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be other winners too. The likes of Apple, Google and Huawei are arguably the dominant forces in our industry, but there’s plenty of room for everyone else too. It’s a case of working out what you are good at and where you want to be, and then putting in place the strategy, investment and partnerships to achieve it.

Lesson #3 – Blood, sweat and tears will only take you so far, to succeed at the highest level also requires investment.

It’s no accident that the UK’s rise up the medal table since the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 coincides with the introduction of athlete funding from the UK’s national lottery in 1997. For all of the talented individuals, it still needs investment in coaching, equipment and facilities, to provide the right environment for these talents to be developed into world-beaters.
Put this in context of the telecoms sector, and it’s that key combination of systems, people and processes that will make or break a business, and each requires an on-going programme of investment and enhancement.

Lesson #4 – Set your own goals and focus on your own performance.

Following the 2008 Olympics, there was much concern in the UK about how we could possibly put on a show comparable with the spectacular ceremonies of Beijing. So the organisers of the London Olympics took us in a different direction for the opening ceremony, with film director Danny Boyle creating a whistle-stop tour through British history and culture with personality and humour, and not to mention a dash of royalty dropped in (quite literally) for good measure. Could this be compared with Beijing? Not really. But did it make the nation proud? Absolutely.

By contrast, the incumbents of the Telecoms industry seem to spend way too much time focusing on everyone else – OTT service providers, the regulators, and so on – and reacting to market trends rather than setting them. It’s something of a cliché to cite Apple as the example to look up to, but they have done things their own way, and set their own standards. It just so happens that those standards have become the benchmark for the industry and now Apple has become the highest valued company (by market capitalisation) in history. Not every company can become the next Apple, but by setting out to do things differently and to the best of your abilities you have a much better chance of success in a competitive market.

Lesson #5 – The glass is half full.

My final thoughts are more psychology than science. Much of Britain was cynical about the Olympics beforehand – “the money would be better spent on health or education”, “the transport system will never work”, and so it went on. The transport unions then held the government to ransom by threatening strikes in a bid to get bonuses for working during the Olympics – and they succeeded.

This feeling of negativity towards the Games was all compounded by the standard media view that the ‘glass is half empty’, and contributed to low expectations of what London 2012 would deliver. So when the South Korean flag was mistakenly used at North Korea’s opening women’s football match, there was a hint of omnishambles in the air, and the country braced itself for further embarrassment in the usual self-deprecating way.

Fast forward 17 days and how wrong we could have been. The London Olympics brought together the most intense period of excitement and positivity this country has ever seen, with outstanding performances from the athletes, stunning venues and an amazing atmosphere created by the 70,000 volunteers who helped make the Olympic experience so special.
Whilst the general public may not have expected it would be such a success, all those involved in delivering the Olympic Games and the athletes themselves have shown what can be achieved when you have the confidence and belief in your own abilities.

The dedication, training and single-minded commitment to achieving their goals is the real inspiration for the next generation, and we should all take a more optimistic view of what can be achieved when we really put our minds to it.

Further detailed statistics from the BBC on the Digital Olympics can be found here: