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Olympics front-runners: why SMEs should be part of the race

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A recent article in The Telegraph about London’s Olympic Stadium revealed that  “the grass came from Scunthorpe, the seats from Luton and the roof from Bolton”. The fact that it was all built in Britain is truly a remarkable achievement. However, I’m reminded that I was recently asked why it was that SMEs had failed to win contracts for the 2012 Olympics.

Certainly this is not the case for all SMEs  – John Armitt, Chairman of the Olympics Delivery Commitee, is quoted as saying: “The big companies are overseeing the performance of the SMEs”. Nevertheless it is true that there is a general antipathy to using smaller enterprises for large projects.

The problem that SMEs face is one of perception. How can a small or medium business possibly have the integrity and capability to support a large prestigious event like the Olympics?  This is to make the fundamental mistake of lumping all SMEs together when of course not all businesses are the same.

The Olympics committees that were sceptical of SMEs should have looked beneath the surface of the large enterprises’ marketing hype. Do they actually own their own infrastructure end-to-end, their own networks, their own data centres? Or when they run into problems do they have to contact third-party suppliers and support staff who are tucked up in bed hugging their “on-call” mobiles.

It’s very easy to play it safe and go with the big companies – it’s the old “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” approach. And certainly those issuing contracts for the Olympics were right to give SMEs with a largely third-party setup a wide berth. However, they missed a trick if they dismissed others who have the proven capacity and commitment to offer a truly business-grade service, managed and monitored round the clock by their own in-house experts.

As the Olympics competitors themselves demonstrate, pedigree, perseverance and passion are the essential ingredients of a gold medal performance – and SMEs are just as capable of delivering these as any larger provider.

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