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Catering for continuity during the Olympics

06 June 2012

Everyone should have their strategies in place for coping with the Olympics. To a certain extent it will affect everyone, but the closer you get to London’s East End the greater the risk of disruption. We asked one company how its plans have come together. Chris Johnston, Logistics Director for Sodexo UK & Ireland talks to PFM about business continuity throughout the Olympic Games

What steps is Sodexo Prestige taking to ensure continuity throughout the 2012 Olympic Games?
The 2012 Olympic Games is certainly something to be excited about and is fantastic news for our capital, and for us we have a business that will continue to be here long after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has moved on to Brazil. Therefore to ensure we maintain business continuity throughout the Olympic period, we have had to take the potential of business disruption in London just as seriously as LOCOG so that we can plan around the event accordingly.

We have structured ourselves as a separate team of individuals and meet monthly with all parts of our business, particularly Sodexo Prestige London who will be most affected by the games. We will ensure regular and proactive engagement with our clients, detailing where we are with plans so far and how we will be moving forward as we grow closer to the games.

Within the Prestige business alone this will impact 50 sites and more than 150 across Sodexo UK. We are moving our supply routes to a night time activity for the period of the Olympics and Paralympics. In reality this means that 20,000 deliveries are moving to nights!

To ensure every possible crisis scenario is covered, we have developed thorough preparation plans and in the next few weeks, will be sending a supplier guide to all our London clients. This guide explains the steps we will be taking during the Games and what will be affected in terms of supplier delivery processes. The guide will also provide them with the necessary planning tools including a detailed recovery process plan and contacts within our supply solutions team to make sure their sites are as ready as they can be when the Olympics arrive.

When did this journey begin and how long to do you think is necessary to prepare for an event of this scale?
The journey started when the IOC awarded London the Olympics as we immediately sought to understand how this would affect us and our clients; however the planning has increased significantly over the last 18 months. It has certainly not been straightforward when trying to understand the many infrastructure changes, especially when you take in to account the different boroughs and their individual needs. This fragmented approach has been helped by Boris Johnson’s intervention but it has taken a significant period of time to understand everybody’s plans due to the natural complexity.

We of course need to translate this into what it means to our clients, what it means to our customers and how it will affect our clients’ premises. Some clients will have 20% of their workforce working from home but some will be at the other end of the scale with the entire workforce expected to continue as normal. Ours is an overarching plan but will have to be individually tailored in consultation with that client.

To give an example of how we would deal with an unforeseen delivery problem such as not receiving the correct goods on time which are essential to the menu on offer; the on-site teams will be able to place an additional order from any of our approved London-based suppliers. The teams will also be equipped with order placement to delivery lead times to allow planning accordingly.

Come 27 July the torch will be lit, the games will begin and we have to be as ready as we possibly can.

How difficult is it to activate such a large-scale plan across your Prestige London sites?
The challenge we have is that each of the sites requires a unique plan specifically tailored to their needs. For example, Bateaux London, our restaurant cruises on the Thames, will have to implement a very different plan to the offices in Canary Wharf or the City, and that goes for every Sodexo Prestige site.

We have a central framework with information like who to contact in certain situations and what our central suppliers are doing, however each venue needs to take that framework and make it work for them. We keep all clients informed about what our suppliers are doing, and Sodexo Prestige managers have already started developing individual plans at a local level.

We haven’t limited our planning to catering activity. For example, where we provide hard FM services, all scheduled maintenance suitable to be postponed has been rearranged to take place after the Games. Sodexo already has in place a 24 hour contact centre that deals with emergency calls for repairs and various hard and soft FM related issues. This service will continue to be used during the Games.

In your opinion, can you ever be fully prepared for this type of event?
It depends how you define ‘fully prepared’. Do we have a playbook for every single eventuality? No, it’s impossible to cover every possible outcome. Have we got ourselves to a level of preparedness where we have a structure in place to deal with a lot of possible scenarios? Yes, our crisis management and continuity blueprints are very robust and plans are in place and on-going into the final few months ahead of the games.

What would you say are your top three tips for similar businesses?
Firstly, make sure you’re actively engaging with the client. There has to be a joined up plan between you and the client to ensure both yours’ and the sites’ needs are met. Secondly, think about your menus carefully, I would advise not to make them too complicated in terms of relying on a wide variety of produce and service. Thirdly, prepare to be flexible and have adaptable menus, relying on one set menu, with one set delivery and one set of ingredients may end in disaster!

Of course until the games actually begin we won’t know for sure what the impact will be. Although TFL have looked into the transport infrastructure with great detail and built a variety of models for different scenarios, I’m afraid this event is unprecedented and there will always be an element of unpredictability. For example, one model suggested that waiting time at London Bridge by tube to the Olympic park would be two hours in peak time which I’m sure won’t be the case! The point is we don’t know exactly how long it will take for a lorry to get from Heathrow to Central London, it could be one hour or it could be three, but if we have our plans in place and are adaptable to changing circumstances then we will overcome these issues.

What would you consider the most important tool to a successful Olympic games?
For our business it’s about extensive planning combined with a joined-up collaborative approach with the client. Nothing will beat communication and that includes the customers as well. Everybody knows it’s going to be a great summer of sport. Our challenge is to continue delivering service excellence through what will inevitably be a challenging period, and we look forward to meeting that challenge.

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