The Olympic data legacy

Alongside the athletes, modern collaboration technologies will also be on show come the Games

Are you getting excited about the London Olympics yet? Or has your enthusiasm, like the event’s famous torch, yet to be ignited?

As the start date of the biggest sporting jamboree ever to be held on UK shores approaches, it seems news coverage has been dominated by the potential disruption the event is expected to cause businesses rather than the displays of athletic prowess we can anticipate. Our tendency towards the cup-half-empty view on life has ensured we’ve heard more about traffic chaos than Usain Bolt, more about Internet crashes than Chris Hoy.

Network Rail boss, Sir David Higgins certainly believes the capital’s transport system will be gridlocked during the Games this summer –a prediction London Mayor Boris Johnson has poured cold water on. The tousle-haired politician recently likened the pessimism about travel chaos to the upsurge in unfounded warnings concerning the Millennium Bug.

But with extra journeys in London expected to peak at 3 million a day during the 17-day event, what can be said with some assuredness is that things are likely to get very busy. Transport for London certainly thinks hot spots like Kings Cross St Pancras station, where the so-called Javelin trains will depart for Stratford, are a cause for concern and estimates only a 30% drop in business commuters will prevent embarrassingly long passenger queues.

TfL has even published details about expected travel problems on the Developer Area of its website. Its hope is that programmers will use the information to create apps for smart phones that the public can download and use to navigate their way around the city at busy times.

Bankers are equally concerned and late last year the FSA ran a disaster recovery exercise looking at how banks would cope with ATMs running out of money if the vans carrying the cash were stuck in heavy traffic as a result of the Games. For good measure they threw in a cyber-attack on bank payment systems at the same time, perhaps, to make sure the money men worked for their hefty bonuses.

All these worries about travel chaos have led many organisations to consider offering their staff the option of flexible working or homeworking during the summer. Some recent research from Cisco found this to be the case in a fifth of UK companies, with over half stating they already have the necessary collaboration technologies in place to make it happen. Indeed, some believe this response to the Games could mark the tipping point for flexible working to become far more prevalent into the future.

The Civil Service, for example, has launched a scheme called Operation StepChange to promote homeworking for staff while the Olympics are on with the hope the experience will transform working patterns for the long-term through the smart use of IT. Meanwhile, mobile operator O2 recently shut down its head office in Slough as 3,000 employees took part in the “biggest flexible working initiative of its kind”. The exercise was part planning for the Games, part pilot trial to prove the wider business case for flexible working and the environmental benefits of allowing people not to travel.

As much an issue for the technologists as it is for HR, more employers are now considering flexible working, partly because of changing employee expectations but mostly due to the widespread availability of affordable and easy-to-use technologies such as high-speed broadband, high-definition video communications and cloud computing. Here at FileMaker, we’ve certainly seen an impressive rise in demand for our FileMaker Go product, which allows easy development for the iPad and iPhone, to enable remote working.

However, the Government has voiced concerns that the technology might feel the strain of all these extra users during the Games. Businesses have been warned some internet services might drop out or that some ISPs and mobile operators may apply data caps during peak periods.

Even spectators inside the stadium are expected to cause technology headaches for organisers, as a predicted large number of smart phone users attempt to send high-res images of their Olympic moment simultaneously, clogging over-burdened networks.

It’s clear the event will push some technologies to the brink and provide a valuable proving ground for a host of collaboration and networking services.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Olympic legacy in the build up to this momentous event. The ‘legacy’ the games would leave to sport in Britain and to a rejuvenated East End of London and its children was a philosophy embedded in London’s original Olympic bid; an ideal credited with enabling London to narrowly pip Paris at the post.

But the Games’ legacy will also extend into the technology field, leaving an improved infrastructure that should benefit both businesses and consumers heralding new approaches to using technology in and out of the workplace. The event should also help us understand the difficulties in deploying such technology and help inform how such challenges are overcome on a wider scale in the future.


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