Written by Alan Kepper
I went to visit one of our clients this morning at 8:15am. He was dressed well (shirt and tie which was abnormal for him) but he looked nervous. We met in the auditorium where 280 students were about to sit an exam, an online exam. I noticed that all the exam desks were neatly laid out on the stage and the flat area in front of it.
Trust. A fundamental core value cemented within every facet of Laminar and the company’s operations, internally and externally.
There has always been a great deal of trust between Laminar and our clients, and I was recently reminded of this.
The two previous attempts to hold these online exams in the auditorium were failures. His colleagues (management) walked past him this morning, jokingly asking him if his other job applications were going well…just in case. That is, if this does not go well, he will be looking for a job. I felt for him as I could see he was already very anxious. He had recently been promoted as the IT Director.
We spent a lot of time over the last couple of months engineering a new WiFi network solution for this exam. He came to me, to set up something that would definitely work. He took my advice with total trust.
We introduced new access points, switches and connection regimes, which were simple upgrades to what they have operating elsewhere. The same access points operated in other locations on campus that had successfully allowed small exams groups in those areas. We have also implemented these access points and switches with other clients which worked really well. I thought it was a low risk and manageable situation.
However, I was worried about a few issues and some unusual network activity leading up to the exam day. We had installed everything in time, but two of the four critical access point devices failed in the week prior during a testing phase. They were replaced by the vendor but one of those replacements started to behave in a weird way, so we decided to turn it off for the exam day. This last-minute change limited the new system to 75% of the designed capacity.
I was not planning on being there that morning and left it to one of our very capable engineers to help on the day – just in case. We also wanted to collect data on how things went.
But for some reason, I had a thought during the preceding night that while this was not a big installation for us, the client had placed a lot of trust in us [or me], so I turned up.
I was not going to get paid for this but what ever happened, we would succeed or fail together. I could tell he was relieved when I came. I started with setting the agenda of what we would all do (his staff and Laminar) if certain scenarios occurred and that the client was the top of the chain of command. We did not want anyone being cowboys under the pressure.
The first 15 minutes were tense. We watched the test equipment and the system management systems looking for signs of a disaster, so we could engage a planned remedial action. Initially a third of the students could not log in which had us worried but all the feedback from our instruments was that everything was OK. We realised quickly that most of those students who could not log in had power issues or their computer had not woken properly after being put into sleep mode (a common problem). After a reboot or power connection had been found; all the students were doing their exam.
We watched our instruments for the first 30 minutes of the exam and the system worked really well even with 25% reduced capacity. I knew things were well when our client left to attend a meeting.Later in the day, the school held another exam with 300 students. They were all connected and started in half the time of the morning session.
We spent the afternoon going over the logs for some of the unusual events we noticed to make sure everything would continue to work well as there are more important exams coming up over the next few days.
I reflected on how much we still rely on trust in our daily work and the almost symbiotic relationship between team members delivering a successful project. The network of trust we have built up is so valuable to us as an organisation.