Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Speed dating and the Olympic challenge

Last night I went to an IT forum hosted by The Chemistry Club in London. First time I'd been to one of these, and it had been recommended to me by some colleagues who'd been to one or two. Attendees are CIOs and IT heads from private and public sector companies and senior representatives from various sponsors of the event ( aka suppliers). It's very well organised, and I can only liken it to speed dating, not that I've ever done it you understand.

You're sent an attendee list in advance, and have a phone call with one of the organisers where you discuss what you'd like to get out of it, what your current issues are and who you'd like to talk to. Everyone does the same, and then when you get there, you're met by your personal "introducer" who, armed with all the information on an iPad about people in the room, who you want to meet, and who wants to meet you, introduces you to people. I had a whale of a time! I'm not exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to these things, and enjoyed meeting many new people, as well as catching up with some I already knew. I was surprised that people actually wanted to meet me, and I spent quite a lot of time talking to people about how we support a bring your own device culture. I also managed to talk to some quite senior people from one of our suppliers, who shall remain nameless, about their discount policy for bulk orders, and how we can deploy corporate apps to iPads. Ooops. Might have just given it away.

The speaker at the event was Gerry Pennell, CIO of the London Olympics, who I've heard before and is excellent. He gave a fascinating insight of what it's like to provide the technology for this massively public event. Many of the systems are new, and the challenges are huge. There is technology in every venue measuring something and gathering data which has to made available immediately to many different devices, in different formats for different purposes. That could be large screens in the venue, or to the media companies, or journalists, or commentators, or to the general public on their phones or iPads. The stakes are high, and if everything works, no-one will really notice, but if it goes wrong, the world will see and remember!

Testing is paramount, and they've built "the Olympics in a room" in a huge lab in Canary Wharf, and they're running test events. One of the other problems they're facing is the very short timescale to get their kit into the venue. For example, Wimbledon finishes only 3 weeks before the games start, which has then got to be completely recabled and have all the new stuff put in, commissioned and tested. Scary!

Finally he challenged everyone in the room to look at their readiness for the games, which will be remembered as the UK games. What change control policies are in place for the duration of the games, what flexible working arrangements are being made to reduce transport issues, what are the ISPs and telecoms providers doing about infrastructure and the potential strain on the 3G networks?

Very good talk, and an interesting Q and A session afterwards, ranging from had he got any spare tickets ( no), what's the biggest change since the last Olympics (consumer technology), what are they doing about malicious intent (lots but he wouldn't tell us what), and between the opening and closing ceremonies, what would he be doing (depends on whether things are going well, or badly!). That last question was mine and I was quite proud of it.

All in all a good evening and probably worth repeating occasionally.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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