How Royal Mail stamps won the gold!

With Paul Margetts,
Head of Application Services in the UK at Capgemini

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How Royal Mail stamps won the gold!

What could be better than winning an Olympic gold medal? How about seeing your victory immortalized on a stamp in post offices the very next day? That would mean accomplishing something that usually takes months in under 12 hours. For the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Capgemini supported Royal Mail to reach the top spot on the supply chain IT services podium.

IT sprints at the London Olympics

Royal Mail, the UK’s postal service, gave Capgemini just six weeks to carry out its mission. Talk about a record-breaking sprint! Royal Mail’s idea was simple enough: for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which took place in London from July 27 to August 12, and the subsequent Paralympic Games, the postal service would release a stamp bearing the face of every British gold medalist… with the support of the British Olympic Association, of course. So far, so good—except for one minor detail.

“Royal Mail’s plan was to design the stamps as soon as a British medalist was announced so people could immediately order them online. Stamps would then have to be printed and shipped to customers as well as 500 post offices across the country—all within 12 hours. This process for a normal stamp production usually takes months,” states Paul Margetts, Apps UK CEO at Capgemini.

The Group was tasked with designing a digital tool that could take orders in real-time, determining the necessary printing volume.

The most exciting part was seeing the result of our work in real time. We watched as order volumes shifted based on public interest driven by media exposure in each particular athlete. It was a rare opportunity.Paul Margetts

The thrill of an extraordinary adventure

The partnership between Capgemini and Royal Mail dates back to 2010 when the Group signed a key contract to start the postal service’s digital journey. The Olympic stamps were somewhat separate from this original partnership, requiring 20 people fully devoted to the project for three months. The stakes were high.

“No other postal service had ever tried to release new stamps under such tight deadlines. The entire organization, from graphic designers to printers and delivery services, was set up to act just in time. There would be considerable impact on Royal Mail’s image since the entire British press was focused on the initiative. Our delivery had to be perfect,” says Margetts, recalling the intense pressure.

In retrospect, Margetts feels like the team pulled off an amazing feat. “Setting up a robust digital solution  in just a few weeks that you know will likely receive hundreds of thousands of visitors at once is a real challenge,” he says. “We needed to ensure that the visitors to the site had a good customer experience and were able to place their orders in a timely manner, recognizing that we had no view of the number of visitors to cater for and the high profile of the event meant it was likely to be a target for cybercrime or disruption.”

Medalists test the machine’s limits

As it turned out, the British team gave an outstanding performance at the Olympics, ranking third in the overall medal count with 65 medals, including 29 gold. The pressure on the solution reached a fever pitch on August 4th, 2012—the famous “Super Saturday”. That day, Great Britain won six gold medals in a row!

Gold medals won by Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics

“We designed the digital solution with a focus on flexibility to accommodate very high order volumes. As a result, we were able to handle several hundred thousand visitors in a few hours without incident,” concludes Margetts. The stamps were printed at two in the morning and delivered to post offices by noon the following or put in the post for delivery. The following week, the Telegraph ran a congratulatory article chronicling the success, titled “Royal Mail’s great stamp sprint: podium to printer in an hour”—with some help from Capgemini to beat the clock.

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