The Olympic Games are inevitably split into three phases for the host country. First comes the lead-up period, during which billions of dollars are invested in the new infrastructure and facilities required to actually host the Games. Next up is the main event. For a glorious two-week period, the host city becomes the centre of the world as fans everywhere tune in to watch their nation’s athletes compete for glory and millions make the trip to cheer them on in person.
The third and final phase is both the longest and most difficult. This is the period after the Games have passed, after the dust has settled and every athlete and spectator has returned home. It is this period that determines whether the host city made a wise financial decision by taking on the Olympics.
Historically, Olympic cities have always overestimated the financial boon that comes from putting on the games and rarely have a plan in place for what comes next. From Athens to Barcelona to Beijing, Olympic venues still stand in a state of disrepair as a stark reminder of how success is hindered by short term planning.
That is why the efforts of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) have been so remarkable. The LLDC was created after the London 2012 Games to transform Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park into a viable tourist attraction, and more importantly into a catalyst for the regeneration of a forgotten part of London. The 2012 Games were the most expensive in history at the time—weighing in at a healthy $16 billion—but what the LLDC has done in the past four years is widely regarded as a gold standard for host cities when it comes to making their Olympic investment pay longer term dividends.
The organization has successfully repurposed Olympic venues, overseen the construction of thousands of new homes and the creation of thousands of new jobs, and turned the Park into a cultural destination for tourists and locals alike. The neighbourhood around the Olympic sees new restaurants, shops, and bars opening up almost weekly and has become an attractive address for Londoners to live in.
So how has the LLDC succeeded where so many before have come up short? Charity organizations are not generally known for innovation (due to limited funding and resources) compared to large corporations, and yet London’s Olympic regeneration project continues to evolve.
The LLDC’s success can be attributed to its commitment to do things differently. It has proven itself to be a genuine innovator in the way it tackles the post-Olympic challenge, both in its tactics and its operating model. Perhaps most crucially, the LLDC understood early on that it needed to be exceptionally lean and nimble to achieve its vision while overcoming financial barriers and meeting tight timelines.
This required a commitment to speed and innovation across the organization, which in turn demanded a cost-effective means of rolling out new projects quickly. In other words, the LLDC needed to be a charity organization fit for the digital age.
From an IT standpoint, cloud systems were the obvious solution. No need to invest in expensive IT infrastructure, no need to house and maintain complex systems, and minimal time required to get processes up and running. The LLDC began with its back-office, implementing a cloud ERP system from Oracle in just four months so it could immediately begin managing and reporting on the success of its projects.
The onus now lies on the LLDC to build on its regeneration efforts to date and find new ways of getting returns out of London’s Olympic investment. Much like an Olympic swimmer who spends each day shaving milliseconds off their lap time or a cyclist who spends hours in a wind tunnel to make their downhill tuck more aerodynamic, the LLDC is under increased pressure to keep outdoing themselves, to do more with less, and to keep innovating.
But again, financial constraints and tight timelines rarely allow for charity organizations to roll out new projects with reckless abandon. A measured and well-researched approach is their best and only option. And how does an organization like the LLDC continue pushing itself while keeping risk and cost downs? By extending its fast and nimble ethos to planning.
Where the cloud makes reporting and project management more efficient, it also allows companies to develop and model future scenarios so they can design new projects with greater confidence. Rather than hedging their bets on an untested approach, users can quickly and accurately model how different conditions will affect their project and develop a more complete plan that covers all these contingencies.
For an organization like the LLDC that is tasked with rededicating billions of dollars’ worth of purpose-built infrastructure for entirely new purposes, this takes much of the potential cost and risk out of a very expensive equation.
Hosting The Olympic Games will continue to represent a huge expense for host cities. This year’s Games came at a price tag of roughly $12 billion, and with Brazil in the midst of a recession, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro to maintain positive momentum now that the Olympics have come and gone.
The 2014 World Cup did not set the best precedent. Reports suggest most of the football stadiums built for the tournament have since fallen into disuse. The future of Rio’s Olympic venues looks more promising, however. Brazil’s Minister of Sport, George Hilton, has admitted to shortcomings following the World Cup plan and is focussed on “leaving a legacy.”
New transportation infrastructure built for Olympic tourists now links previously isolated parts of Rio. Looking forward, the plan is to house “sports initiation centres” in former Olympic buildings. These large gymnasiums will be open to children from impoverished communities as a place to meet and learn to play Olympic sports.
This is a noble initiative and an ideal way to repurpose Olympic venues for future generations. However, for the Rio Games to leave a real legacy there must be a long term commitment to programs like these. Much like in London, success will be the combined product of innovation and the city’s dedication to continuous improvement from the inside out. And, as with the LLDC, a nimble and measured approach to planning will lay the groundwork for years of future innovation.
For a closer look at long-term planning and budgeting for the digital age, I invite you to read the recently published paper from Ventana Research, "The Digital Transformation of Planning and Budgeting."