Tag Archives: Failure

Risk management and learning from failure





Simon Geller
Senior Project Manager
University of Sheffield
Member of UCISA-PCMG



I made it to Indianapolis in time for Peter Tinson’s induction session. That was helpful, and it was good to meet up with UK colleagues or dinner.

The morning plenary started at 8am – not a problem for me as my body clock is still fixed halfway across the Atlantic – with the usual welcome from the CEO of Educause and thanks to the organisers.

Then we got into the star performer of the morning – Daniel Pink on motivation. He’s a good speaker and kept the audience engaged, as indeed a good motivator should!

Risk management and learning from failure
I then attended “A practical approach to risk management” (up my street, as I was lead author on the UCISA-PCMG Toolkit on risk).  However, this session really just focussed on well-known tools and techniques and how they had been implemented at particular institutions.

Of more interest was the following session on how organisations can learn from failure – this was run in a highly collaborative and participatory way, with an open Google doc used to capture thoughts from the participants.  As well as comments in the room and the session had its own Twitter tag, #edu15fail.

APIs, architecture and the Narwhal



Matt Cook
Head of Infrastructure and Middleware
Loughborough University
Chair of UCISA-NG


2014 Technology Exchange – Day 1

Courtesy of the UCISA 21st anniversary bursary scheme, I am in Indianapolis, USA this week for the inaugural Technology Exchange conference hosted jointly by Internet2 and ESnet. Internet2 is the USA equivalent of the Janet National Research and Education Network (NREN) in the UK. ESnet provides specific high bandwidth connections to Energy Science research organisations across the USA and beyond.

If you have never been to a conference within the USA before, I’d certainly recommend taking the opportunity to experience a different scale of event. I’ve spoken at VMworld in the USA before where over 7,000 delegates attended the conference, which was orchestrated more like a music concert or sporting event; I was pleasantly surprised to experience a more personal 750 delegates for the first Technology Exchange conference. The same networking opportunities are provided with mini sessions starting at breakfast, multiple mini working groups ‘camps’, Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions and both leadership and technical streams.

There are four main topics covered within the conference

  • Security;
  • Trust, Identity and Middleware Applications;
  • Cloud Services; and
  • Advanced Networking/Joint Technologies.

As an inaugural event, I’m interested to see how it positions itself along with the Internet2 Global Summit, TNC and Janet Networkshop. I really value colleagues in the community who dedicate time to blogging thoughts from the events they are attending. Collectively it provides a rich resource and I’m pleased to be contributing to this through the UCISA blog over the next four days.

Opening ThoughtsMatthew Cook Day 1

The opening keynote was delivered by Harper Reed who would not look out of place in one of the hipster cafes in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. This is by no means a coincidence as one of his roles is CTO of Threadless, the crowdsourced printing company in an adjoining neighbourhood. Harper delivered an excellent opening keynote in a TED Talk style highlighting many learning points from his technology career including that as CTO of the Obama for America campaign – remember the Narwhal?

Harper spoke about how we grow the talent pipeline and further develop the bright people in our team. We often concentrate on the development of future leaders; do we pay enough attention to our technical talent pipeline? A stream of the conference is focusing on the diversity of our workforce and providing the opportunity to tell the story of our career to date, would it not be interesting to hear how colleagues got to where they are today? The point was made that we should always hire people who are smarter than you and who are different to you. A sure-fire way to build a great team. A lot of the work Harper’s team developed on the Obama for America campaign was related to business analytics, turning the data obtained from the doorstep campaign through information, into knowledge and ultimately wisdom for the micro targeting marketing campaign.

Harper’s insights into the development of the architecture required to support this initiative is a similar challenge to that raised in the UCISA Strategic Challenge Report 2013 “Supporting the use of analytics/business intelligence to inform decision-making and planning.” Architecture is key for success in this area and Harper outlined the simplicity of making the same data available through straightforward API calls. Although on the one morning when the daily campaign bulletin failed to arrive, it was not a failed ‘cronjob’ as the team expected; an intern had simply not turned up for the shift to input the data.

At Loughborough, I have the pleasure of working with some extremely clever people who can code and build things, which are beyond the reach of my BBC BASIC skills of the 1980s. In terms of visualisation, Harper mentioned StatsD/Graphite, which looked extremely interesting to me, so a quick Google search found an introduction that those of you who can code may find useful. Some of the technology we promote within the community has a very long gestation period from inception through to fruition. Some technology doesn’t make it, but others become part of everyday life. Take Eduroam for example, 11 years in the making, it took a big push in the late 2000’s for organisations to take it seriously and now it is in commonplace use, including at the conference venue.

I was at an EMUIT (East Midlands Universities IT) Operations meeting a week ago and was pleased to hear a colleague explain that they ‘required’ IPv6 to be operational on their site to win a research contract; in a similar vein I was pleased to see Harper explain that he ‘required’ the cloud in order to develop the architecture to support his work. Sometimes we are blinkered by the architecture we have always had, supported by the resources we have always had and have done things in the way we always have done. There are opportunities to think differently, there were a couple of Apple references in the talk, but I do genuinely believe there are opportunities to approach infrastructure in a different way.

When the UCISA bursary call for interest was released, I was originally going to submit a request to attend the “AFRICOMM 6th International Conference on e-Infrastructure and e-Services for Developing Countries” conference in Uganda. I can see there is a lot of potential learning in how to do things differently in challenging situations. As I was still recovering from a rather physically challenging broken ankle sustained in last year’s snowboarding season, I thought I’d play it safe and travel to the USA instead. I’d certainly watch the African NREN’s with interest after hearing some of the innovative work they are undertaking at a previous TNC conference.

The final points I wanted to make surrounding Harper’s presentation are around failure, he was proud to announce “We practiced failure for over four months”. The learning points from understanding and embracing failure are great and often swept under the table, rather than embracing and celebrating the learning from failure.

Learning Points

• How do we grow our technical talent pipeline?;
• Designing the architecture to support analytics/business intelligence;
• Sometimes technology innovation has a long gestation period, be patient;
• Find opportunities to think differently about architecture;
• We should all train for failure to understand success.

Matt Cook