By Neil Crockett, MD Cisco London 2012

With less than one year to go until the London 2012 Olympic Games, excitement is increasing in the build up to this momentous event from both a personal and a business perspective.

Independent research conducted by Cisco earlier this year found that 41% of UKSMEs were awake to the opportunities that London 2012 will present for them, and 39% recognise the role it will play in kick-starting the UK economy.

But whilst opportunities to grasp contracts and tenders may now be drawing to a close, there are still ways for SMEs to benefit from London 2012. Whether businesses are seeking employee satisfaction or long term growth from the Olympic Games, it is not too late for UK SMEs to capitalise on this once in a lifetime event.

Embracing Opportunities

It’s long been an assumption that only large London-based enterprises with big budgets and never ending resourcecan achieve any real business benefit from the Games. However, SMEs outside London and the South East have been awarded prestigious Olympic Games contracts and there’s still the opportunity for SMEs to be involved. CompeteFor is a free web-based service that enables businesses to compete for contract opportunities linked to the London 2012 Games and other major public and private sector buying organisations. If your business isn’t registered — it really should be as there may still be a chance to be considered for some of the remaining contracts on offer.

The Games is already playing a vital role in our economy. According to figures published earlier this year by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), 1,200 previously unemployed local people gained work on the Olympic Park. Additionally, more than 3,000 training places have been generated and 408 apprentices have been offered the opportunity to work on the Games. LOCOG itself will award over £ 700m worth of contracts before the Games commence in July 2012.

Employee Engagement

What is crucial now is for SMEs to maximise on the diverse business opportunities this amazing event does, and will, offer.

Now is the time to start looking at what you are doing internally and share the magic of the games with your team. However, vast waves of SMEs have not even started thinking about this part of the London 2012 opportunity. For example across the country many businesses have yet to plan how they — and their employees — will watch the exciting Olympic Games coverage. In a recent survey, we found that only 10% of workers are currently aware of plans to watch the Games in their place of work.

Whilst many companies may not be participating in hospitality at the Games, arranging to simply watch the Games together at work is a great and affordable way to enhance teambuilding and employee satisfaction. After all, this is a once in a lifetime event for the UK and if embraced, the Games could really help unite your workforce. A get together in the office to watch the final of a major sporting event can only build morale, inspire workers and improve camaraderie.

I’m not saying that during Games time the office should come to a standstill whilst everyone enjoys the action — but if managed correctly, London 2012 has the potential to be uniting rather than disruptive. Of course employers need their businesses to continue trading as normal so it’s important to start putting plans in place now on the best way to engage with your workforce during this time.

Remote working is on the increase within businesses’ in general. Yet only 2% of workers surveyed were aware of plans by their employers to introduce flexible working facilities during the Games. With the influx of additional visitors to London and surrounding Olympic Games venues, a flexible working scheme where employees are provided with technology such as Cisco WebEx — so they can stay connected to colleagues and customers wherever they are — is surely worth considering.

As the big event approaches -and with the appropriate plan of action in place - businesses can maximise the potential of the Games to generate revenue and customers.

Building a brilliant future for SMEs

Whilst there are many opportunities before and during the Games, SMEs can also look forward to the legacy that London 2012 is leaving behind. Many long term benefits for SMEs will emerge at the closing ceremony - not end there.

At Cisco, we are committed to our role as the Official network infrastructure provider for London 2012 but we see our Olympic Games investment as long-term. The Games can act as a catalyst and platform for SME growth and we plan to help such businesses in the coming years. The British Innovation Gateway (BIG) campaign, announced by David Cameron and Cisco CEO, John Chambers in January of this year set out plans to help build a brilliant future for technological innovation in the UK. BIG is a five year programme to discover and develop a new generation of innovative hi-tech companies to help create new economic growth.

As part of BIG, Cisco will be working closely with the Olympic Park Legacy Company to allow SMEs to flourish post Games. The BIG initiative supports the Government’s plan to create an East London Tech City from the legacy of London 2012, where high tech start-ups and SMEs can work. Cisco will also invest in deploying capabilities to connect the East London Tech City and other world class innovation hubs across the UK so they can collaborate together and accelerate high tech innovation nationally. In addition, Cisco will soon be launching the BIG Awards to discover and support a new generation of innovative start-ups.

Cisco is also doing many other things to help build a brilliant future for the UK. We are working with host boroughs to open multiple Cisco Network Academies, to help train the next generation of network engineers. We’re also launching a series of STEM (science, technology and maths) challenges to inspire the kids of the UK, so that our own investment in London 2012 and BIG is a long term one.

I am confident that London 2012 will offer SMEs the opportunity to grow their businesses by connecting them to other organisations across the country, making the UK an environment in which start-up digital businesses and their ideas can flourish.

The Olympic Games can act as a platform for SME growth which spans far beyond Summer 2012. As long as businesses plan, prepare and capitalise on these opportunities, the Olympic Games is sure to play anintegral role in the UK’s sustainable prosperity and long-term SME growth.

Roger Black recently urged companies not to “be fooled into thinking that the opportunities for your business start and end in July next year”