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On the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Procurement Leaders invite Bill Morris, who was a director for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics Games opening ceremonies to explain the challenges of a procurement project of this scale and level of scrutiny.
The eyes of the world are upon you, there's national pride at stake, your reputation is on the line and you've only got one chance to get it right.
It's fair to say that organising the opening and closing ceremonies at the London Olympics involved a good deal of pressure and a multitude of challenges.
The success of these live events, which my team delivered, centred on the ability of our creative staff to innovate and take risks. Both ceremonies had to be spectacular, quirky, memorable and, most of all, uniquely British. Therefore the biggest challenge of all was to build a rock solid platform for flawless delivery that would enable the freedom and flexibility required to unleash that creativity.
What transpired provides useful lessons on how procurement teams can be rooted within and key to the creative process, something I'll be discussing at PfH Live in Manchester, UK, on 24th June.
There is often a temptation to build a slick corporate procurement function, all bells and whistles, but the risk is that it is too removed from final users – i.e. the people who need things procured and procurement staff who have to build working relationships and use the technology every day.
In the case of the London Games, our Ceremonies team needed a simple procurement procedure married to a purchasing tool that was close to front line delivery. The two had to link up; they wouldn't work on their own.
Although the Games' organiser LOCOG had sophisticated procurement facilities and software in place which our staff made use of, we decided to set up our own special purpose contracting vehicle due to the unique challenges we faced. A hybrid, semi-outsourced model was created with its own built-in procurement function.
This enabled us to root our own dedicated procurement professionals in the creative process so they could quickly respond to ever-changing demands. The team had to procure everything from props and costumes to safety and stage equipment. While many suppliers and contractors were lined up 18 months ahead of the Games, the creative nature of the project meant some had to be bought in just days before the opening ceremony as last minute changes were, inevitably, made.
Having our procurement staff embedded in the day-to-day work of the Ceremonies team meant that they were eating, sleeping and breathing the product along with the production staff who they were supporting. Our procurement officers were co-sited with us, they were there in rehearsals, they 'got' what the creative team wanted and they felt like a fundamental part of the delivery. This approach of keeping the buyers close works in any environment – particularly when the procurement you are doing isn't the norm and when you need to ensure the watertight delivery of innovative projects.
We could have taken the decision to completely outsource the project, but ultimately you can't outsource risk and if things had gone wrong we would have been blamed. The semi-outsourced model my team created allowed us to buy in world-class talent while ensuring contractors and suppliers entered into a genuine partnership where risk was shared. Everyone involved knew their reputation relied on the success of the venture. Their business would be damaged if they did a bad job – but there were huge rewards for being part of such a prestigious event.
Bill Morris is ex-director of culture, ceremonies, education and live sites for the London 2012 Olympic Games. He will be speaking at PfH Live in Manchester on 24th June.