On the 5th of September 1997 Athens was selected as the host city for the 2004 Olympic Games. And once the initial jubilation of winning the bid ebbed away, the enormity of the logistics challenge ahead began to dawn on the organizers.
The main objectives of the Games’ Organizing Committee (ATHOC) were to demonstrate to the international community modern Greek achievements, future promises, the historical/cultural legacy of Greece and the spread of advantages to running the Games.
ATHOC was a multi-million euro, non-profit organisation, with a five-year life span and a sole aim – to produce one perfect product with just a thirty-day shelf life. But ATHOC, like other Olympics organising committees around the world, had a key constraint: Very limited knowledge of what was going to happen. Only 40 per cent was known and 60 per cent would be a new experience.
The official Transfer of Knowledge set of documents, prepared by the previous Games organising committee, was of limited usefulness as it tended to describe most of the events and processes superficially. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) provides very general guidance under the policy to leave the organiser independent and to minimise its exposure to risk.
As a result in June 2001, ATHOC appointed consultants, BLS, to determine logistics support requirements for holding the test events for the Olympics and Paralympics. In order to effectively plan the Games’ logistics support, understanding its complex nature and unique characteristics was essential.
The event characteristics of the Games are reflected in the planning, processes and procedures applied, because the Olympics are transient in nature, with a short duration and with no steady state processes: Demand Diversity and Uncertainty as a normal phenomenon; Firm Schedules since deadlines are immovable; and Big Differentiation from country to country as host country location affects freight forwarding operations, customs clearance, security screening, lead times and contingency plans.
A design for logistics during the Operations Master Plan development was crucial for determining project milestones and providing answers to when – where –what for test events (two years in advance of the Games); Bump-in period (feeding the venues with all the required material and equipment under a strict security environment); Olympics (opening ceremonies – Games – closing ceremonies); Transition period (preparing the venues for Paralympics); Paralympics, bump-out period (removing from the venues all the material and equipment); and Olympic Material Reutilization – distribution.
All distribution and transportation activities for the competition and non competition venues in respect to receiving and distributing the required Olympic material and equipment were coordinated across all the nodes of the Olympics supply chain. The degree of diversification of the Olympic material, equipment and infrastructure made it a complex and highly critical exercise, especially with the detailed knowledge of what was needed, in terms of quantity, quality, time, place etc.
The existing logistics infrastructure of the host city/country has a huge impact on the logistician’s job. Providing logistics support for the Olympic Games in a country the size of Greece was a task equal to war mobilization.
And last, but by no means least, is security – the most critical factor in planning and implementing logistics activities. It affects time, imposes specialised infrastructure requirements, and for sure impacts cost.
In the field of logistics, like in other functional areas, ATHOC had to make some critical decisions concerning: budget; outsourcing vs in-house; organizational structure; infrastructure and technology.
The main restriction for all Games is budget limitation. Normally the organiser is trying to run the project with a low budget, keeping the government and the local authorities happy. But everybody knows that at the end of the day the costs double.
In Atlanta and Salt Lake City the organizers kept all logistics activities in house. In Sydney and Athens they decided to outsource most of them. So in Athens the Olympics’ Logistics Center Operations, transportation and distribution and venue logistics support were outsourced to Logistics 04 Consortium (L04), a Logistics Services Provider (LSP).
The organising committees’ structure from Olympics to Olympics is different. So, there were general managers for logistics at the second level of the pyramid or just logistics managers at lower levels. This reflects power inside the committees, business culture in different countries and of course strategic thinking about logistics importance. In ATHOC the logistics director reported to the finance general manager. Venue logistics managers were coordinated by him but reported to venue managers. L04 was responsible for the Olympic logistics center operations.
An organisation with five years life span needs significant infrastructure, for a very short period of time, varying from two months to two years. In the field of logistics there are two options. To contract an LSP with capability to provide everything required (the concept used in Sydney), or to divide the project into sub-projects. In Athens ATHOC rented brand new warehouses and contracted separate providers for materials handling equipment, information technology etc. Due to the nature of the Games and the characteristics of the organizing committee’s staffing policy (labour increases tremendously just a few months before the Games and most of them disappeared a few days after the Games), technology must be mature, simple, flexible and with limited requirements.
From the beginning of the year 2004 ATHOC’s organization moved from the Operational Planning Phase to the Operational Readiness Phase. Through this transformation, the Logistics Command Center (LCC) was developed, under the directorship of the ATHOC’s logistics director.
At the point of change to the Operational Readiness Phase the Olympics Logistics Centre became the Logistics Command Centre. This site, operated by L04, was the main distribution center and marshaling yard. Key logistics partners were: ATHOC’s logistics department, L04 the LSP, and Schenker the Olympics international freight forwarder.
The creation of the Logistics 04 Consortium was a strategic proposal put forward by consultants, BSL, and based on research undertaken by the consultancy into the Greek LSP industry. The findings were: high fragmentation, transportation ownership restrictions, lack of managerial skills and experience in large scale, time sensitive projects and LSP’s fear of loosing existing business the day after the Games due to the project size absorbing all their existing resources. The key conclusion of the above was: no Greek LSP or transport company was capable of undertaking this project on its own.
It was considered imperative that crucial know-how regarding project implementation in previous Olympics and an understanding of the nature of a high complexity, high intensity and short duration project were key attributes of any coordinating body. L04 was a business entity capable of convincing ATHOC on its experience, know-how, magnitude and competence, based on a well documented proposal.
L04 was made up of the consulting firm BLS, which, due to specialized consulting work in the field of logistics and its executives’ experience and skills of managing major logistics projects, possessed the necessary know-how for planning and implementing the project; the transportation company DelatolasExpress Cargo (DEC), with excellent knowledge in this field, coming from 35 years of experience and operational excellence; and the LSPs Frakapor Logistics Hellas (FLH) and Frakapor Holdings (FH), with long experience in 3PL services.
Becoming operational in June 2003, the Olympics Logistics Centre was an 86,500 m2 brand new warehousing complex constructed on two contiguous sites and built on a plot of 220,000 m2. Interestingly, no storage equipment was used as all the Olympic materials were classified as non-rackable and non-stackable, with a great degree of diversification, making any storage system unwieldy and inefficient. However, all types of MHE were required and provided by L04.
Overall, L04 handled approximately 11,926 sku’s, classified as technology, athletics equipment, publicity material, medical apparatus, stationary, apparel, Paralympics equipment, material transport equipment etc.
IT systems used to support the logistics operations were mature, simple, and flexible. The main systems used were the Asset Tracking System, the Master Delivery Schedule, the Marshaling Yard Security Control System, and the Rooms Inventory Control Data Sheets. All administrative communications were based on the standard MS Office 2000 platform.
With regards to human resources, the Consortium’s Personnel Department developed a ‘Human Resources Recruiting & Evaluation System’ to ensure the principle ‘the right man in the right position’. Under high security accreditation standards and due to the high complexity of the project, a relevant database and a smart card electronic control system were used.
For the project execution approximately 37,600 man-days were needed with peak periods between July-August 2003 (3,270 man-days) and climaxing in July-September 2004 (13,760 man-days). L04 organized and managed a transportationdistribution system that fulfilled the high security standards required, ensuring trucks, special equipment and machinery availability within an environment characterized by a high percentage of unplanned, last minute demand.
Servicing the sites
In total, the Olympic competition and non-competition venues in Attiki (City of Athens area), and the five Olympic cities, composed a network of 69 main sites which was serviced by three and seven ton trucks (for distribution around Athens), trailer trucks, 12m platform trucks, vans and special equipment (Forklift trucks, shuttle lifts, telescopic cranes etc).
Working in an international, multicultural environment, in an organization the size and nature of ATHOC, of course, was a great experience. However, there were some issues regarding communication and collaboration on logistics requirements and fulfillment.
The Olympics is a sports event with great emphasis placed on the opening and closing ceremonies. In Athens we faced the same phenomenon like other Games in the past. Everybody focused on the Sports Department and paid less attention to operational departments and issues. Functional planning was not at the required detailed level. The result was that logistical system customers submitted their requirements without the necessary standard planning.
Delays in material deliveries by contractors, inadequate items description and coding, differentiation in physical inventory quantities and units of issue (from what was posted in the Asset Tracking System), lack of materials pre-allocation to venues, inadequate knowledge of FA’s personnel in Logistics processes and procedures, venues re-supply with consumables during the first days of the Games, were just some of the problems to be solved by the Logisticians.
Contingency planning processes were never ending: a planning process for what had to be done, a planning process to cover ‘what if’ scenarios and most importantly, planning processes to cover ‘what if the “what if” plan’ did not work.
As the time for the Games approached issues not covered in the Planning Phase arose. We had to effectively set up new lines for checking and setting to work 20,000 mobile phones, unpacking/testing and repacking all torches (due to high failure rates detected in the beginning of the torch relay), test and maintain all escort boats for sailing, set-up ticketing equipment, test all audio systems, sort out all the relevant material per medical station and distribute athletes’ luggage from the airport to the Olympic Village and vice versa (2,130 routes), organize Paralympics athletes’ equipment from Olympic Village to training sites and venues and vice versa (500 routes) and arrange for ticketing equipment to 400 points of sale around Greece. These are a few examples of the non-planned but time and resource consuming activities.
At the end of the day the result was a successful project implementation, despite the lack of previous experience. However, it could have cost less. The detailed recovery plan, in combination with the welltimed communication with all parties involved, reduced asset losses.
Overall, the Greek logistics community gained significant experience and enriched its capabilities, due to the development and absorption of a logisticstrained pool of managers. As a bottom line we can say, a good balance between strict procedures implementation and flexibility, is the optimum way of doing business, particularly in uncertain and difficult to plan projects.
Evangelos Angeletopoulos is managing director of the consulting firm Business Logistics Services (BLS). He is also managing director of the logistics consortium that undertook the logistics for the Olympic Games Athens 2004.
Andreas Pastroumas is a business and logistics systems consultant and a co-owner of BLS. He is the operations director of the Logistics 04 Consortium.