UCISA 2013 Pt 7

We’ve nearly made it folks. Thanks for sticking with me this far…

After a good night before came the morning after, to say nothing of the complications of checking out of the hotel before a full AM schedule. Thank heavens for hotel breakfasts.

Having escaped the hotel I made it (later than planned) to the venue and had to sit at the back through the first session from Mark Howell of Meru Networks (presentation here) on wireless networking. I’ll be honest, I was really not that engaged with what was being covered in the session. But then neither were most others – I even took a photo at one point when I realised that most the room had their heads down in phones/tablets/computers/sleep.

Eyes down for an inattentive house.

Eyes down for an inattentive house.

Quite popular (at least judging by Twitter mentions) during some of the slower sessions was Sheffield’s “Peregrine Cam” – a webcam pointed at the nest of Mildred and George, Yorkshire’s first urban breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons.

My summary of Meru’s presentation probably doesn’t do Mark Howell justice, but in my head I’ve boiled it down to being “kids expect wireless because of experiences at home/school, so plan now for increased coverage/bandwidth” with a bit of a sales pitch subtly thrown in. I refer you to Rob Bristow’s take and the following tweet, if you fancy an idea of the mood in the room!

After that slow start, David Cotterill’s walk through of the Department of Work and Pensions’ work on encouraging innovation (presentation here) woke us all up.

Once I’d got over the fact that the DWP even *has* an innovation team (though I think the point David wanted to make was that they only had 7 people) what followed was a my first real-life introduction the principles and implementation of gamification, a subject that now has a prominent place on my to-do list.

Acknowledging the challenges of time, resource and culture, David introduced Gamification (including a snippet of Seth Priebatsch’s excellent TED talk on the topic) and took us through the introduction and development of “Idea Street” at DWP – a platform where staff could share ideas, get support, build a multidisciplinary team, develop a business case and then get it done.

Introducing the concept that ideas were things that can be backed by “shareholders” who accumulate “currency” based on the fruition of ideas basically crowd-sourced the process of filtering through the ideas and identifying the most practicable ones.

Idea Street is a platform that evolved (and still evolves) in reaction to the lessons learned. For example the discovery of “day traders” playing the game to get currency, rather than back and develop ideas (effectively avoiding the desired behaviour – supporting and developing ideas) led to some changes to get the focus back on the benefits for the organisation.

Idea Street

Idea Street

10 months of the project:

  • Involved 10,000 “innovators” across the UK government
  • Collected 1800 ideas
  • Generated 174 successful ideas
  • Saved £20m

The stand out point to my mind was  the 10% successful conversion rate – I doubt anyone outside the trendiest of Silicon Valley start-ups can make a claim like that!

I’m offering little personal colour on this presentation mainly because I was very impressed with the whole concept (to say nothing of the quality of the presentation itself!). Along with a couple of others in our party I came away with a good idea of the potential of gamification – a lesson I’m keen to apply to work we’re doing at the moment on knowledge management.

Unfortunately the presentation from Mike Bracken on the Gov.UK move to “Digital by Default” isn’t available and my tweets and notes don’t feel enough to do justice to what again was an interesting (and well communicated) presentation.

Mike is an ex-academic who has been working in the Cabinet Office for about 15 months trying to “get IT out of the way” for Her Majesty’s Government. To enable this he’s flipped project delivery from the traditional process (with long lead times which tend to fall behind changes in technology and expectations) to something more responsive and iterative – the detail is explained far more clearly and concisely than I could ever manage on Mike’s excellent blog.

This approach is already reaping rewards – the GOV.UK site recently won an award for design. The lesson here I think about the value of a rapid, user-led design, iterative product development model – a challenging idea when, certainly for us at the moment, the strategic direction and funding model favours the larger, more formal requirements-tender-deliver-review approach.

Following the previous two presentations (we’ll ignore the first one of the day) was going to be hard to beat, but Adrian Woolard put on a good show (presentation here) with a talk on the cool and crazy things they’re up to in BBC R&D in a session (confusingly – to my mind) titled “What should HE be looking out for as technology professionals?”.

Having briefly discussed the impact and aims of the recent moves of various parts of the BBC from London to the new Media City development in Salford Docks, Adrian took us through the notable history of BBC R&D, from their early breakthroughs in NICAM, DAB and digital television through to the current iterations of iPlayer and their “1 Service, 10 Products, 4 Screens” strategy (an excellent way of defining the BBC, I felt).

The BBC in a nutshell!

The BBC in a nutshell!

There was a lot to say about the BBC’s online coverage of the Olympics – and with good reason, given the number of live streams and amount of iPlayer use it generated. But the most interesting snippet of information to come out was the fact that the number 2 most popular event viewed online was Shotgun shooting! To quote Adrian, “the internet delivered the long tail at the Olympics”.

The past done, we were given an insight into the future. And a strange looking future it was too, although that’s often the nature of technology R&D!

It turns out that long before the recent revolution in gesture control for everything TVs to mobile phones the BBC were already dabbling and had created a gesture controlled orchestra – The BBC Philharmonic Maestro.

Other highlights from their weird and wonderful portfolio was what I would best describe as surround vision (where your HD telly has the main picture, but the wider scene is project on walls around the room) and the “Telethrone”, a Skype-like service where a person is projected onto a mannequin rather than shown on a screen. Fair to say that last one captured people’s imagination!

BBC Telethrone

BBC Telethrone

A good session, with BBC R&D’s history being a reminder about the importance, nature and impact of innovation – even on CBeebies.

The final and keynote speaker was the remarkable Mark Ormrod, a Royal Marine who was seriously injured (an understatement) by a landmine in Afghanistan, losing both legs and an arm. Mark spoke a little about his background, talked us through (in slightly horrific detail!) the incident in Helmand, shared some rather gruesome images from shortly after the explosion and recounted his incredible recovery.

It was an inspiring session, as demonstrated by the fact that about 10 minutes in all Twitter activity on the conference hashtag came to a halt. I have to admit that at a few points my “ hay fever” played up.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity mention Mark’s charity work and encourage everyone who reads this (and makes it this far!) to make a donation to the Royal Marines Association.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this far. I’ve one more entry to do…

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