After Hours

2012 Olympics and tech: What will remain once the cheering stops?

Once the Olympic juggernaut has rolled out of London, people expect its biggest tech legacy to lie in comms infrastructure. But London 2012 may leave behind a more subtle change.

With thousands attending the 2012 Olympics, the fear was that London's infrastructure wouldn't cope. Photo: Toby Wolpe/TechRepublic

Written in my living room while watching London 2012 and despatched to TechRepublic at 40Mbps over my office wi-fi system.

Along with the main Olympic events themselves, there is a lot of chatter about the legacy of the London 2012 Games. The urban regeneration, the new park and stadia, and all the purpose-built facilities in and out of London, the raising of the visibility of individual sports, new champions and role models and so on.

But when the event is over, when everyone has gone home, what will really be left?

Before the games, the single biggest worry beyond security and some terrorist attack was the infrastructure. Would the roads, rail, underground and airports bear the weight of the thousands of visitors coming to the Games? Would the hotels, shops and restaurants cope?

Under normal daily loads, London struggles with insufficient capacity and is burdened with an ageing infrastructure. So the expectation before the Games was not a happy one.

What happened? Hotels have empty beds and are slashing prices by 50 per cent or more, restaurants and shops are deserted, and travel around the city is in free flow the likes of which no one can ever remember.

Even the trains and underground are no longer overcrowded, while Heathrow and Gatwick Airports have more than coped with minimal delays and congestion. Where is everybody?

Faced with the pre-games prospect of total transport chaos the millions of workers who normally flock into London have either gone on leave or opted to work from home for the duration. No one forecast this possibility. No one expected it to be this way.

But talking to cabbies, and members of the normal working population before the games, there were some common themes, such as: "I'm leaving the country," or "I'll work from home" or "I'm avoiding London at all costs."

So, what will be the lasting London 2012 legacy? It might just be home working. The city, companies, offices and institutions have operated as normal without their people being in London. And I can almost guarantee that more work has been done as a result.

"The only reason I go to the office is to be interrupted."

The UK already has the biggest proportion of any workforce anywhere working mobile and from home. And offices routinely accommodate less than 80 per cent of the full workforce in any one working day, with mobile workers who operate out of hotels, cars and homes making up the rest.

The intense activity of this past week might just lead to all those mobile and home-working percentages increasing permanently.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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