Some months ago I received an email inviting me to the IT Directors Forum. Usually such invites end up in the bin and I could not shake the feeling that there must be a catch, but as it happens I’d been pondering the fact that
I’ve not been to a decent event, well, pretty much since the recession started when I paused my annual visits to Microsoft’s TechED which had for some time been held in Barcelona and which were a constant source of "new thinking" for me.
The point of such trips of course is to play catch up and grab some inspiration, learning about the latest IT tools and meet peers to exchange ideas.
This trip was to be run by Richmond Events and shortly after the invite I received a call from one of their senior executives, an enthusiastic Canadian. He explained that the event was free to attend for IT professionals, paid for by the sales companies who would host events, host dinner tables etc.
After about an hour on the phone he asked me if I would head up a round table meeting on the issues surrounding BYOD (bring your own device) and I agreed that might be fun.
I didn’t know it at the time but Dale from DRP was (who do the FSB’s stage stuff at our annual Conferences) was also to be there for a similar event (BIG ship).
I agreed to go. All went well until a couple of weeks ago when a personal tragedy set me thinking that I should cancel the trip. As it happened I had missed the bit that says that if you cancel at the last minute, you have to pay a £1000 fine and so, somewhat reluctantly, on Wednesday I headed off down to Southampton, meeting FSB employee and my head of IT, Ian Martin, half way down the country, an ideal opportunity to catch up.
Midday Wednesday we arrived in Southampton by train and got on the free shuttle bus to the Aurora.
"Massively impressive" about covers my feelings on first seeing the ship. How DO people build things this big? Aurora is a cruise ship of the P&O Cruises fleet. The ship was built by Meyer Werft at their shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. At 76,000 tonnes, it is the fifth largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises.
That really does not do justice to the initial impression. On embarking the ship and being handed our room keys the first thing we noticed was the elegant staircase and impressive surrounds. The very first thing I said to Ian was "Titanic!!"
Thankfully he has a sense of humour. Off I went to get changed and study the agenda. The room was tremendous – turns out the IT guys get the good rooms while the sales guys get the ones without windows – works for me.
Now, when I said I’d chair a talk, I was thinking I would see how others did their stuff to get a feel for it. Imagine my surprise (to quote VIZ) when I discovered I was on FIRST THING Thursday and had to do a repeat on the Friday morning.
Not only that but I was marked up as a speaker alongside people such as Jim Noble who is an advisor to President Obama and who has top USA security clearance. Oh dear.
The event opened Wednesday evening with a keynote speech by Michael Portillo and the evening ended with dinner, where Ian and I were assigned to different tables both hosted by companies who were there primarily to sell their services to the IT pros (who seem to have been chosen for their spending power).
By 9am Thursday morning I was a bag of nerves ( the constant swaying of the ship, producing a feeling not unlike a severe hangover didn’t help either). As it happens the discussion went well and I got mainly "good" circles in the response forms for my efforts. Whew! Meanwhile Ian was elsewhere on board attending talks appropriate to his needs.
One kind fellow rewarded my efforts by handed me one "average" mark because I failed to say what "Bring your own Device" was about, even though it was clearly explained in the support papers which you had to read in order to select which talks you wanted to attend. Always keen to improve, I took that on-board for the next time.
I could not possibly describe the many great talks nor the wonder of travelling in such a great machine designed to making people feel ill, but one big event of Thursday stands out… A talk by Dr Steve Peters, the consulting psychiatrist who supported team GBs extraordinary cycling success in the London 2012 Olympics. I have to say that normally I’d give such stuff a miss but I can honestly say I’ve not been so impressed since the American Mars landings! Suffice it to say that after a quick trip to Amazon, his book "The Chimp Paradox" is on my tablet. The rest of the trip was dominated by "inner chimp" jokes. Even the ship staff were at it. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the humour.
Friday morning I repeated my BYOD session, this time accompanied by violent storms and a ship vibrating madly as it compensated for the storm by shifting huge weights around. I must’ve learned something from the previous session as my meeting ended in more smiles and a bunch of "excellent" tick boxes.. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was chuffed.
Many inspirational talks and supplier meetings later, we departed the Aurora (which had spent the two days anchored off the Channel Islands) with some insights we simply could not have obtained any other way and a promise to meet some new colleagues again in the future.
Would I go again? Absolutely, but next time with travel pills!