The Jubilee is over and the Euros are in full swing (until the home nation teams are knocked out and we all change channels). It's raining heavily and parts of the UK are flooding, so we know Wimbledon can't be far off. But there's another event lurking on the horizon, ready to straddle the summer, shining a light on the UK boosting tourism. Or it might just expose London as a city of creaking infrastructure, grey skies and grumpy locals…
With an extra 3.3 million trips predicted across London's transport routes on the busiest day of the Olympics and a million on an "average day" during the games, I've been looking at how the influx of visitors to the Olympics and Paralympics will impact my agency, which is based in Central London. I've been to the seminars, read the blog posts and used the online planning tools - and the latter don't impress.
TFL's Plans for the Olympics
TFL and LOCOG, the Olympics organisers, have been running seminars and advertising campaigns about how this volume of visitors is predicted to impact London and their plans to keep the city moving for some time. The Get Ahead Of The Games website is the hub of that strategy, holding details of seminars for businesses (which continue right into July), information on road closures due to the Olympic Route Network (so VIPs can whizz past us plebs) and a tool that lets you view how busy London stations will be each day.
Apart from telling me stations that are normally busy are going to be even busier, it's not an insightful tool. The advice that accompanies it is obvious - travel early/late to avoid rush hour, work from home on busy days, try changing your route etc. Good advice, but it and the tool are…broad and unspecific, at a time when big data and personalisation are two of the major trends of the day.
The tools on the site are a disappointment. There's a real lack of ambition here. This was an opportunity to create something world beating - dare I say it, even Olympian - that showcased the UK's digital talents.
What sort of tool am I taking about? One that allows businesses to:
a) Capture the routes team members take to and from work via a survey
b) View per day how those journeys will be impacted as events take place across London
c) Output suggestions of who should travel early/late or work from home each day
d) Enables the user to send this to individuals with a link to add a reminder to their work calendar and also to their mobile phones - maybe as a part of a wider Olympics app, paid for by sponsorships (see the revenue stream there?) which also provides news on sports the user declares an interest in, and details of the Olympics Festival. Maybe it could have even offered spare tickets for sale, too - more revenue.
This back-of-an envelope idea takes elements of big data, geo-information, event planning, transport management and revenue generation. It's not polished and might not work - but it would have been nice to see something ambitious emerge. It doesn't help that the "characters" on the website - no doubt somebody sold them in as "quirky" - look like they are the descendants of the love child of the ads of a certain utility company and high street bank.
Creaking Information Infrastructure
There are other sources of information available - the normal TFL website, the sites of individual rail companies, their social media presences etc. - but the speed they update and their accuracy varies; not mention the way certain rail companies go silent on Twitter when there is a problem, leaving commuters to fill in the information gap.
The Olympic planning tools are at best OK; but I suspect the disruption the games will bring will shine a light on a bigger issue. TFL need to be given the remit to unite the disparate sources of information London's commuters have to battle through to find out what's actually happening during a delay (and there are many). Even more so, now the tube is getting WiFi if it's anything like the #uksnow mash-up of a few years ago, it'll be left to talented individuals to make up for the digital short comings of public infrastructure. Mind the gap indeed. The digital one between the private and public sectors (and don't even get me started off on 4G).
By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK
Image source: www.the2012londonolympics.com
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