Monday, 1 March 2021

OT - Sports Video & Photography

Some people have asked me about the setup I use for filming & streaming live hockey matches (although this would apply to most live sports).

So the first thing to say is that I'm very much an amateur & beginner myself, but I've picked up some good tips from those around and done a fair bit of research and trial & error.




Setup

The setup is a mix of software and hardware, some used pitch-side and some used from anywhere.

One thing to remember is that video files get big quickly, very much dependent up on the video source resolution & format, and the compression codecs used, I film at 1080p 50 frames/second MPEG4 35mbps which generates about 16GB of data files per hour. Not only does your camera need to have enough storage capacity, but remember the time take to transfer files from cameras to PC, the storage needed to keep both these 'raw' files and the subsequent processed files.

Many cameras, including mine, will seamlessly split a single recording into multiple files, so for a 1hr match I will typically have 5 files of circa 3.2GB each - later these will need to be joined/concatenated into a single file as part of processing before uploading to an analysis / sharing service.  

Notes

I have 3 distinct sets of kit:

    1. The video match recording
    2. The live streaming
    3. Stills photography

Not all of the equipment below is needed although it's all found it's way into my bags.

Most of the points would work with many different makes of cameras.

Video Equipment

Video camera

Canon XA35 

https://www.canon.co.uk/for_home/product_finder/camcorders/professional/xa35/

A great video camera, with strong optical zoom, multiple control points, great audio controls & inputs, and dual HDSC cards for vast storage

Lenses

XA35 standard

Wide angle Canon WA-H58

https://store.canon.co.uk/canon-wa-h58-wide-attachment-lens/8640B001/

Microphone

Quickly I realised it was good to have a directional microphone to focus noise pickup towards the game and action (away from the side-lines), but also to minimise environmental noise (wind & rain). RØDE was an obvious choice re quality, cost & ubiquity (spares, interop etc). The VXLR+ minijack adapter was only needed to use with the pro audio interfaces on my XA35 camera.

RØDE VideoMic Pro+ Compact Directional On-camera Microphone

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0749GV5L3/ 

RØDE VXLR+ Minijack to XLR Adaptor with Power Convertor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B071LNDKBJ/

RØDE DeadCat VMP+ Artificial Fur Wind Shield for the VideoMic Pro+

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07D14L3LH/ 

Tripod

Manfrotto Befree GT Carbon

https://www.manfrotto.com/uk-en/befree-gt-carbon-fibre-tripod-twist-lock-ball-head-mkbfrtc4gt-bh/

Tripod head

Manfrotto MH055M8-Q5 Photo-Movie Tripod Head

https://www.manfrotto.com/uk-en/magnesium-photo-movie-tripod-head-with-quick-release-plate-mh055m8-q5/

Camera Quick Release Plate

Neewer Rapid Connect Quick Release Sliding Plate Camera Mount with 1/4" and 3/8" Mounting Screws for Manfrotto 501HDV 503HDV 701HDV MH055M0-Q5

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00MNA7E7W/

Magic Grip

Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp

https://www.manfrotto.com/uk-en/super-photo-clamp-without-stud-aluminium-035/

Magic arm x 2  (1 for monitor & 1 for mobile phone)

UTEBIT Magic Arm 11 Inch Adjustable Articulated Arm Camera Arm with Super Clamp Max Load 3KG Magic Arm Camera Mount for DSLR Rig Camera, LCD Field Mon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07KS9VVVT/

LANC controller (for remote zoom/focus/record control)

Varizoom VZ-Rock Zoom Controller

https://www.proav.co.uk/vz-rock-zoom-controller

Monitor

Feelworld LUT6 6 Inch 2600nits

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08F9ND8RQ/

Mobile phone holder

Neewer Cellphone Holder Clip Desktop Tripod Mount with Mini Ball Head Hot Shoe Adapter for 14-inch and 18-inch

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07D3K9C8R/ 

USB Capture

DIGITNOW! Video Capture Card HDMI to USB 2.0 Audio Video Capture Cards HD 1080p

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0895N9KM5/ 

OR 

ExtremeCap UVC - BU110 (works well as a more expensive equivalent capture card)

https://www.avermedia.com/gb/product-detail/BU110 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/AVerMedia-ExtremeCap-Uncompressed-Supports-BU110-White/dp/B0745KP298/

You will also need an Android Mobile phone for capture input and live streaming (I use a Google Pixel 4XL but most android phones will work) - Apple phones will not work (I know blame 'Uncle Steve').

Cables

Duttek Mini HDMI to HDMI Coiled Cable 4K 2.5m

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B087T5N9NM/ 

HDMI <-> HDMI Coiled 2.5m

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B087TPD2R2/ 

USB 3.1 (female) <-> USB C (male) 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B077FY7831/

Software

Shotcut - open & free video editing & encoding, for post match video work

https://shotcut.org/ 

Coach-Logic - for post match coding, analysis and clipping to players

https://www.coach-logic.com/

CameraFi - for live streaming of matches

https://www.camerafi.com/camerafi/ 

YouTube - for live stream viewing and restricted on-demand playback

https://www.youtube.com/ 

USB Camera - Connect EasyCap or USB WebCam

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.shenyaocn.android.usbcamera 


Other photography equipment

DSLR Camera x 2

Canon EOS 6D

https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dslr813.html

 Lens x 3 (main use)

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM

https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/ef345.html

Canon EF 500mm f/4.5 L USM

https://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/ef307.html

Monopod

Manfrotto Element Monopod Aluminium Red MMELEA5RD

https://www.manfrotto.com/uk-en/element-monopod-aluminium-red-mmelea5rd/

Monopod head

Manfrotto MH496-BH 496 Centre Ball head - Black

https://www.manfrotto.com/uk-en/496-centre-ball-head-mh496-bh/

Stool

Mini Max Stool

https://www.minimaxstool.com/

Bags

LowePro 

LowePro ProTactic BP 450 AW II

https://www.lowepro.com/uk-en/protactic-bp-450-aw-ii-black-lp37177-pww/



Positioning

For filming, height is good here, both being as high up as possible, and in keeping the camera position as high on the tripod as possible.

For match analysis, most coaches will say end of pitch views are better than side-on views as there should be less camera movement.

If there is a filming tower, and you have permission and know how to use it safely then this is normally the best option - some have camera mounts, some have tripod spaces, some you need to be creative with. But always remember to take a drink with you as it's normally 90mins up a tower.

If the pitch is a fully caged one without a tower (as often found at education facility pitches) I tend to film from a couple of metres behind a baseline corner flag, but paying a lot of attention to the live game and moving balls!

For stills photography, couple of points here

    1. Remember where the sun is in relation to the pitch, to avoid 'wash out' or glare
    2. I tend to find close & very low to the pitch works best for capturing the 'being part of it' aspect
    3. If you're looking for general images the centreline can be fine, but if you want action (or using a long lens) then pick an end of the pitch and shoot from there (I tend to find somewhere around the baseline to 23yr works well)
    4. Always remember to keep clear of the sidelines to allow players, coaches & officials free passage
    5. Always pay attention to where the ball is and where it is going, hockey balls hurt & can be very expensive when you don't avoid them!

Weatherproofing

A good pair of 'mechanics' gloves are useful during the cooler pitch days - thin enough to operate controls but good enough to prevent frostbite :)

But it is key to weatherproof your electronic equipment as much as possible, most good lenses have a good degree of weather proofing, but only the top end commercial cameras tend to have proper weatherproofing needed during a typical hockey season weather. I've already had to send my XA35 to Canon's pro service centre due to rain damage on a zoom control button - great 2 day turnaround CPS service but £180 I'd rather have kept in my account.

For my EOS cameras I use Canon ERC-E5M

https://store.canon.co.uk/canon-erc-e5m-camera-rain-cover-medium/1759C001/

For the XA35 camera I use CamRade WetSuit XA30/35

https://www.camrade.com/products/wetsuits-rain-covers/camrade-wetsuit-xa30-35

For everything else, and for when I don't have the above, I use these bags with a hole torn and elastic bands:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07TXRMVY6/

Filming & Sharing

Always ensure you have permission from all clubs & officials in order to film - this is best arranged via email in the prior week (we do it when the captains message each other re logistics etc)

Always ensure that you following SafeGuarding and GDPR guidelines with all footage - some events, venues or leagues will require that you complete additional paperwork here.

Whenever I film I also offer to share a copy with the opposition coach, and also with the umpires & officials, it's useful for all. Indeed there have been several times where the umpires have asked to review the footage during/immediately after a game, other times where I've had to prepare normal, slow-mo and zoomed versions of footage for people after a game.

Hints & Tips

  • Be careful when filming behind fences - whilst you can easily control the focal length on the DSLR lenses, the auto-focus on the video camera loves to focus on the fence not the pitch. I found this out the hard way when we had a new extension catch fence in front of the camera tower!
  • Remember you're filming the full field of play and not playing "follow the ball" - try and keep as many of the players in view as possible, it's these formations & player positioning that the coach needs to be able to see
  • Manage the optical zoom of the video camera to keep both side-lines in the view where possible - I use the Varizoom VZ-Rock control (mounted on the video head pan/tilt arm and connected to the remote input on the XA35) to make it easier to control the zoom - but this does need practice!
  • Keep the pitch in view, you don't need the skyline, surrounding areas or spectators etc
  • Batteries run down a lot quicker in the cold, in my bags I normally have 10 fully charged DSLR batteries, a couple of fully charged batteries for my video screen monitor, and 6 of so extended capacity video batteries. I tend to find for a full match I might use 3 DSLR batteries between 2 cameras, 1 video monitor battery and 2 video camera batteries. For streaming you also need to remember a power backup for your phone as the streaming is fairly heavy on the battery.
  • Remember you're filming the match not watching it - it's easy to be still thinking / looking at something and not to notice the game has moved on
  • Remember the microphones pick up everything - including the noises you make behind / beside the camera, and also the noise of a DSLR shutter!
Live Streaming
So for me at the moment, the live streaming setup breaks into a number of areas:

  • Camera to Application
  • Application to Platform
  • Platform to Viewers 

Camera to Application

So I use my Canon XA35 camera connected via HDMI to the "DIGITNOW! Video Capture Card HDMI to USB" card which in turn is connected to the Android phone via USB. This then allows the video camera to appear as an input device on the phone. It needs to be Android as Apple devices don't support USB input in the same way at all :(

 Application to Platform

The application I use is CameraFi Live https://live.camerafi.com/ which allows me to take the video camera USB input as a live source, 'top & tail' it with intro effects etc, add overlays such as a scoreboard and then export the stream real-time over the network (using the phone's 3/4G or wifi connection) to a streaming platform (currently YouTube, but looking at https://restream.io/ for multi channel broadcast)

I'm still  very much learning with CameraFi Live, as it's got a lot of functionality.

https://blog.camerafi.com/

https://blog.camerafi.com/2020/02/faq-camerafi-live-faqs.html

A couple of overview links re how simple a setup you can do from Camera to Application:

https://youtu.be/CSB4J53f6gs 

 Platform to Viewers

This is as simple as sharing the link to the user community and them watching it on the device & location of their choice. 


What's next?

Monday, 16 October 2017

OT - Sports Parents

So I'm back to blogging after a longer than intended absence, with a bit of a different post topic this time, inspired by @InkingFeeling , @DrSamThrower , @everyballtennis and Jack Rolfe

So I’m a parent, and very happy about being a parent. We’ve two wonderful children - well not always perfect, despite looking through a parent’s rose tinted glassses - one girl and one boy, rapidly approaching teenagers.

We’re lucky that they’re both fit and healthy and enjoy a wide variety of interests and passions. Our daughter, who was born with hip displacia, is sports fixated - tennis, hockey and running are her main sports; but she’s also a talented swimmer and footballer. Our son, a couple of years younger, is a talented tennis player and hockey player; he enjoys swimming, cricket and is a strong chess player. Essentially they’re like many teenage kids.

Between them they are in three county teams and compete in numerous local, regional and national events both through school, clubs and national associations.

We’re fortunate to be in a position to support our children in their sporting desires; to be able to provide them with the time, taxi services, club membership, fund coaching, masterclass sessions, attending adult national & international matches and supplying relevant kit & equipment - and yes that means over 14 pairs of sports shoes and 10 equipment bags in concurrent usage at anyone time! Coupled with a wish that actually I owned a sports shop instead of just feeling that we’ve purchased one.

Now as parents we’re both competitive, and we really do try and not be pushy parents - but I know I fail every now and then; where the line is crossed between being enabling & supportive and living my dreams vicariously through our children.

Over the last year I’ve been giving more thought and time to this; both in open discussion with our children with what they want from us, taking volunteer roles supporting some of their clubs and competitions (a personally wonderfully educational and rewarding opportunity, even if some other parents can take volunteers for granted), and in progressing my own education qualifications.

So what are my observations over the last few years:
* Many parents read & digest very little of the information provided to them, and certainly don’t go looking for the high quality information many of the associations provide freely online
* That said, GB associations and authorities could do a lot better job at harmonisation and sharing both information and accreditation - when simple things like DBS checks and SafeGuarding courses have to be taken specific to each sports association it just makes things overly complex. Different associations have differing great sets of information, if combined where appropriate this could really make things much easier and better.
* Scheduling and attending the various required / available courses varies greatly between sports association - tennis being well run and structured with clear booking system and availability, sadly hockey less so and with scarce coaching courses
* That there certainly aren’t magic “club pixies” that make sports clubs work - its about passionate people (professionals & volunteers) that work tirelessly hard for the benefit of other people. If you see one this week just say thanks, it’ll make their day.
* Parents that can be very vocal about their perceived issues with clubs, are sadly all too often very quiet when asked if they’re prepared to get involved to assist.
* That parents need to relax and let the professionally qualified coaches do their jobs - a good coach will have seen lots of different children, and be able to see each’s potential and identify their differing motivators. They see things objectively and maybe very differently to yourself, and without the emotional subjective overlay; and they are the ones having done all the qualifications often having gone through it themselves as well.
* That the connection between the child and the coach is absolutely key - we’ve been very lucky to have superb school sports directors, coupled with internationally recognised sports club coaches. The key is the coach adapting their technique & style to each child, to dynamically mixing between mentor, peer, banter partner, disciplinarian, inspiration, grounder, counsellor, sparring partner etc. But absolutely to have a trusted connection with the child.
* That conduct on & off the pitch is the child’s responsibility and parent’s accountability, it is not the job of the coach or club to teach them manners and good conduct - that’s the job of a parent. The parent, club & coach need to have a strong sportsmanship culture and ethos - the child need’s to have clear understanding of accepted and required conduct.
* That sports clubs aren’t crèche childcare, despite how many parents try and use them as such
* That out of any given group of children in a sports sessions the reason for them being there typically breaks into three groups - 33% parents made them, 33% social with friends, 33% passion for the sport. This isn’t bad but understanding it and where each child fits is key to their motivators and activators. Of course which group a child is in may vary over time as well.
* That associations need to take a more child & junior friendly approach to their adult sport, I recall vividly a tennis tournament recently where on a Saturday lunchtime there were two adult football matches being played alongside the four tennis courts. Now I’m no prude, but the language used & shouted by the football players and coaches was enough to catch my attention & concerns, let alone those of the 8-14 year old juniors playing on the tennis courts. If a sport’s culture is one of swearing then frankly I question why it should get any form of national funding or support - it’s down to the sport association & match officials to sort this - something that sadly the bloated/male/stale/pale Football Association really haven’t any form of track record on :(
* It’s really difficult to find the right line between supporting, enabling & encouraging versus pushing people (child and/or coaches) into places they don’t want to, or shouldn’t, be. In this area the LTA and DR Sam Thrower need to be congratulated here with their new “Optimal Competition Parenting” course, I was on the first course earlier this year and it really was useful, putting simple but often overlooked concepts into clear junior sports context and really driving home the “process outcome” focus. If you get chance please attend this course!
* It’s continually surprising and disappointing as to how many tournaments or matches get cancelled through lack of attendees. Judy Murray is pushing this topic heavily in Tennis, as it’s a real issue with junior players over-subscribing then cancelling coupled with a clear set of disincentives to players (minimal rewards for beating lower ranked players, material negatives to losing against players)
* That pushy parents really do consume more club / coaching resources, and this is normally to the detriment of the children. Clubs need to take strong positions here to avoid becoming distracted by the few (for good or bad) to the detriment of the many.
* Well intended, but ill informed, words or actions really can have quite a detrimental effect on the behaviour and mood of a child
* That parents really need to read, understand and follow the parent charters for the respective sports
         LTA Parent Pledge  https://www.lta.org.uk/globalassets/officiate--volunteer/documents/organiser--official-resources/fair-play/parents-pledge.pdf
         EH Parent & Spectator Charter  http://www.englandhockey.co.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=13203

* People do indeed have different levels of natural talent and physical ability, but without commitment and hard work these talents result in little of any real meaning. The often quoted phrase “The harder you practice, the luckier you get“ really is true! Easy initial success is only sustained by intense hard work coupled with listening and learning with and from others.
* It may be obvious, but it’s often overlooked, that sport needs constant practice and an open mind to new things, skills, and techniques. When the world #1 is still training and learning on a daily basis then clearly the same applies to anybody!
* That the conversation and meaningful dialogue with the child is the single most important thing, it is vital that the child is fully engaged and that the goals and objectives are theirs not anybody elses. Simple things are asking them what support they want from you as a parent during any sports, whereabouts they might want the parent to be during the match (does them seeing you add or reduce pressure?), what their goals are for the event, post the event what went well/what needs more development etc?  Ask the child not tell them, use open probing questions, but choose the timing carefully - Dr Sam Thrower has some great advice on the conversation approach & timing in his LTA material.
* That process & commitment are the focus items; progress, improvement and results will come as  a natural consequence and are not to be obsessed over. Discuss approach and goals that are process orientated rather than the event result, discuss the application of things they've been practising.
* This is a tough one, but sadly cheating is still prevalent, and even worse, that gamesmanship is obviously coached in some areas - the best advise I can give is to engage & respect the officials (whatever the outcome) and then breath out, stand tall and move on from it. Cleanse the mind of the incident as soon as possible and move on - rest assured the real person they're cheating is themselves.
* That watching & meeting national and international players has a massive inspiration and motivation affect on children - I have to congratulate GB hockey on this, having the players available after matches to chat with the kids is superb, having the players attend local clubs through things like HockeyFest is brilliant, participating in the many school holiday masterclass academies really drives the children. That the best players in the world are so approachable and accessible really is fantastic.
* That having a ”Parent’s forum” as part of the association can really help  connect the elite side of the sport to the club side of the sport - LTA have made initial steps on this through Parent Advisory Group but they need to drive this harder, and I’ve not seen much else on this in other sport associations yet.
* That many clubs really struggle to join the junior section to the adult section, a couple of good things I’ve seen work are Hockey ‘Badgers’ leagues and matches and Tennis  ‘Parent & child’ doubles matches. But for clubs to build a sustaining model there needs to be active support from the adult section & players working with the junior sections. Personally I’m an advocate of the ‘sailing club’ style model of every member must do a day/session per year as condition of membership.
* That how a child reacts when they lose is more important than how they win, after all in their career they will lose far far far more often than they win; congratulate the opposition, take learning from the event, identify what went well, make of note of the things needing development; but don't use the false crutch of excuses...
* Despite how it may sound above, there are a fantastic majority of supportive parents that are very keen to help, assist and support their children and the associated clubs
* Having fun is key - being fearless to lose, to learn everyday and to enjoy the victories - but most of all to smile and enjoy the privilege and fun that is sport!

Some great words I’ve picked up over the time include

There are some superb information and resources around and available, including:

LTA Parenting site  https://www.lta.org.uk/competitions/parents/
DR Sam Thrower twitter  https://twitter.com/drsamthrower?lang=en
Everyball Tennis  https://everyball.uk/
ThatInkingFeeling  https://thatinkingfeeling.wordpress.com/






Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Phone Notworks

No it's not a spelling mistake or typo - sadly I really do mean "Phone NOTworks"...

Those of you that know me well or personally are aware that I've spent a large part of my career being a customer of global network providers, and as just a long period of time working for & within one of the largest communications providers.

But, this blog entry is not about plugging or bashing any single company, but rather a number of points I think all the companies have missed.

So just what do I care about?

Well that in it's own right is an interesting question, not least of which, despite me spending over $2000 per year on mobile devices my supplier has never once in 25 years bothered to actually ask me what I want from them or what my priorities are!

Yes bizarre isn't it, for all the money being spent on 'big data' and 'analytics' to "get to know the customer better" nobody has ever addressed the elephant in the the corner of the room and actually asked me the simple question of "What are the top 3 things you're looking for?"

It seems many companies would be happier spending hundreds of millions on technology, rather than actually having a personal relationship with the customer.

So despite being a technologist, and an early adopter I believe my needs are fairly basic considering we're in the 21st century....

1. Coverage

I live in the south-east of the UK, I travel throughout the UK and Europe. Sadly, and despite the various maps people will point to and quote, phone coverage is generally poor unless I'm in a major city or within the centre of an urban town.

Get in a car or train, where there's time to use devices and make calls, and this is often & regularly a disappointing experience - dropped calls and not-spots being the norm for 30-40% of the journey time.

Entire commuting routes lack coverage, for parts of the south-east I've been able to drive 10+ miles for the last 20 years without being able to make or sustain a call - let alone high-speed data usage. So this isn't a new problem, or caused by a specific incident.

All I'm looking for right now is basic verbal phone call coverage, high speed data would be nice but get voice working first - please?


2. Updates

Phones nowadays are high powered portable computing devices, running complex software from many sources. We use these for our daily tasks, often sharing our closest details and most intimate data with the device and applications.

Like any modern device, and complex software solution it requires updates - for bug fixes, compatibility & interoperability management, to address the ever increasing cycle of security vulnerabilities. This particularly applies to the operating system and firmware running the device - as this underpins all applications and is shared by everything on the device.

So then why does it take communication companies 18 months plus to allow the software updates for phones to be rolled out and deployed onto devices on their networks?

It's bad enough that the phone networks still insist with polluting the device with their own software application spam and cruft 'customising' the software, but to leave millions of devices with publicly known and documented critical security flaws for months on end appears to be somewhat negligent does it not?

Whilst it will be unpleasant and painful, I'm genuinely looking forward to the first major widespread security issue caused by devices from a network supplier not being able to be updated against long known flaws; specifically the position of accountability taken by the network supplier in the subsequent (and justified IMHO) formal actions taken by customers.

----------------------

Now, of course network companies will say that both of the above points cost money - and yes I know & agree with that but here's my response...

It's no point pushing lifestyle services, more bandwidth and entertainment services if half of the time the customer isn't even able to use the basics. New investments should be made on solid foundations, piling shiny baubles on-top of sand doesn't made for a sustainable long term business!

Security validation does cost money, but you're not doing that! You're simply verifying that the updated software from the OS/Device supplier still works on your network - that's basic hygiene functionality... The less junk 'customisation' you put on the device the less work to do each time! If it works for & with Apple then why not for the other devices? spending resources addressing the ongoing support of the devices and the safety of your customers is surely a priority, and is a tiny cost compared to the billions you spend on spectrum and core network equipment!

And surely it's better to invest to secure (in every sense) your customers and keep them close, rather than have them source devices direct from the manufacture (hello Google Nexus / Pixel etc) and source their comms from a bulk MNVO and fully distancing and commoditising the network company?

So I'll save the communication companies the cost of a call - fix the above and I've be both loyal and happy, ignore the above and I'll find solutions that work for me not you....

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Tenders or Tenderisers?

As you may have noticed by the infrequent nature of updates on here, yes I've been doing lots of new work.

However in my past I've had the pleasure of performing many number of global IT infrastructure tenders, and really the impact on my professional & personal life these have.

Unlike Duncan Fitzsimons not all of us like reinventing the wheel, but for some things in order to make something tender you have to hit it repeatedly...

And finally Philip Clark got it perfectly here where he replied with :-
"Do you find the Tender process to be misnamed? <= No, it's named for how your lower extremities feel afterwards!"
It really shouldn't be this hard or painful for all parties!!!

Now, despite having been involved in global tenders for 10+ years I still get surprised each time, sometimes for better sometimes for worse but always raising an eyebrow - so here's some previous examples - I've personally experienced every on listed - with smatterings of free (and that's rare from me being both Scottish and now a Consultant) advice for suppliers :-

No matter what the customer provides for response formats & template, it appears the vendors will always ignore this and use whatever random & complicated format they feel like. The supplier then complains or is surprised when the customer can't easily locate the information and they get scored low.

Embedding 100+ PDFs into an MS-Excel sheet just isn't fun to read - honest! Nor is providing your submission as 98 individual zip files with 2 files in each... Similarly please ensure that any PDF submission that has further embedded documents includes the full print of the sub-embedded documents not just a picture of an icon.

How many vendors simply somehow miss entire sections of a tender and don't respond to them at all? If this is the level of attention and detail during the romance phase, just what will it be like once we're committed together??

The irony of a vendor signing a full mutual NDA, and marking 'fully comply' to a requirement of providing a documented "18-36 month roadmap", but then refusing to discuss products to be launched in 2 weeks time or leave copies of the roadmap. But the irony isn't lost on the customer - only thing they're never sure of is, is the stupidity, ignorance, bravado or naivety by the suppliers...

Oh and the use of imperial units rather than metric & SI - that gets tends you to the very bottom of the 18th century Luddite pile, either as a customer or as a supplier... We're in the 21st century, please keep up...

How little appreciation from suppliers that providing opaque / oblique / random / monosyllabic answers to requirements really doesn't help them or the customer in any way at all

One word answers to questions are rarely valid - it often feels that a tender response has been written by a begrudging 17yr old teenager at 8am on a Sunday morning, rather than a Fortune500 global corporate. As a hint, if you answer a question 'partially' or 'no' some kind of details explanation as to what & why would be of use. Equally answering simply 'yes' or 'compliant' to every question without giving any further information to provide confidence doesn't help either. I certainly haven't got the time or inclination to get a crystal ball out to establish your thinking behind your cryptic clue of an answer!

If the customer provides a Q&A period of time for the supplier to raise clarification points or questions, then the supplier should - if not then there's no ability to say "oh we weren't sure" or "we didn't understand" later.... You'd be staggered how many suppliers appear to lose the ability to raise clarification questions until after the deadline...

Similarly, during the presentations it also helps if the supplier has a list of questions for the customer, so when the customer asks you "Mr Supplier, is there anything you want to know?" they're not left looking either like a clueless goldfish or overtly smug / distant...

Pay attention to your own staff & presentation - if the vendor looks bored and ignores the presentation then the customer is likely to as well...

Whilst stating to the customer "we're not giving your our best offer now, we're saving that for later rounds & negotiations" may be very candid & truthful, it also shows a certain gaming strategy technique that is less relevant in the world of eAuctions...

Oh and vendor staff arguing between yourselves during the customer presentation - whilst it makes for amusing customer bar stories, but that's not good either!

Nor is having 4 different presenters for different sections but no single 'neck on the block' accountable owner - it should always be clear to the customer who the lead is and that they are fully invested in the response and process.

Requesting an extension for the tender the day before it's submission date? Yup that's the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework" and will just be looked on as amateurs...

Lobbying & making proposals to try and subvert, change or prevent a tender? Have a guess?? You'll certainly not be at the top podium for customer happiness...

The supplier also needs to remember the customer will regard that this is you at your best, and it'll only go downhill from here - so if you're not at 150% of your game and totally switched on expect the customer to look depressed...

How poor some responses are, with many supplier mngt teams resembling a goldfish when asked questions about parts of their response. Frankly I'd swear half of the teams haven't written or read their own responses, in fact sometimes I'd swear they've never met the other members of their response team before.

And just what is the point of the customer providing strategy guidance, requirements documents & templates, specific materials or meeting & presentation agendas if nobody on the supplier's team appears to read them?

How poorly people prepare for presentations - arriving late, arriving without materials, appearing that the presentation team have never met before - all not great sales methods...

How poorly people manage their presentation time and/or content - clearly having not rehearsed their presentation timings, or presentation roles. Spending lots of time on non-valuable content. Having written it on a Mac but never tested it on a Windows PC - that's a disturbingly common one...

How tangential some people try and stretch the scope of their responses into areas utterly unrelated, remember you're there to address the customer's issues & opportunities, not you're monthly sales quota. Waste the customer's time and they won't give you a second chance...

That a supplier actually being honest about their strengths and capabilities and declining an invite to tender can build a stronger and more trusting relationship with the customer, that ultimately will lead to greater revenue for the supplier. Thankfully - that there are still some suppliers that are very candid & honest and decline to respond if they believe their technology & services would not be a productive and positive relationship for all. Every time I've seen this the supplier has within 12 months won more business that the original tender was worth.

When - despite being clearly told by the customer 1.5hrs into a 2.5hr time-slot that 'your presentation has no relevance to our requirements' - it astounds that suppliers plough on regardless, as if somehow a war of attrition through powerpoint will convince the customer that up is now down...

How some suppliers simply fail to follow basic process logistics and expect / demand the right to be 'special', the very purpose of a tender is to normalise the engagement and actions of both suppliers and customers. But still some suppliers prefer to play the management escalation & relationship game rather than deliver on value and quality.

That with the customer having created and given 100+ pages of specific guidance and response templates, just how varied the responses are and in just how complex fashion, I'll not even mention those suppliers that edit or customise the templates...

Each supplier whines & moans about their work for a tender, but they appear to forget how complex & difficult the task is on the customer side and that the customer invests many times more effort in the tender process. From managing many different supplier responses, to creating the structure & process, to evaluating the responses in a clear objective fashion.

The basic quality control & integrity checks on responses - suppliers leaving working notes within documents, leaving markup versions in documents (showing both the response and the document's history), leaving previous customer details / logos etc within materials...

Some very honest and candid responses - "this is too complicated" & "we don't know" being classic responses to specific but common customer questions.

That how few suppliers don't appear to know "why does this product / variant / solution / service exist?", "what is the 3 minute elevator pitch used to justify this product / variant / solution / service development?", "how does this relate & differentiate from your other products / services / solutions?". If the supplier doesn't proactively address these basic questions then customers get nervous. If they can't, or won't, answer them when directly raised then it raises serious material concerns with the customer.

It's also dismaying just how many Forture500 suppliers appear to have account staff that have been ex car / double glazing salesmen in their past, adopting the "I need to phone my boss about that" to simple questions. If the supplier's staff are not able to make accountable account decisions then the wrong staff are in the room and on the account...

I do find it assuming that suppliers seam to be able to count to 14 decimal places when margins are concerned, but can't count to 7 when the maximum number of meeting attendees is concerned - 11 being the record attempted in the few years (naturally the surplus 4 got told to 'go away')

How many 'polite' excuses / explanations suppliers use to avoid being honest in sessions - sometime just saying "we ballsed up" is worth much more than "the dog ate it" kind of excuses

That the podium space for the #1/2/3 spot in any technology domain must be incredibly crowded given just how many companies claim to be 'the best', 'the leading', 'unique' or 'the number 1' - I've certainly never seen any such rankings independently managed,,,

How few suppliers are fully honest, and don't seem to think or believe that the customer will both cross reference the various elements of their multi-part responses but also validate responses via independent means.

Naturally Pinocchio could never be involved in a vendor's tender proposal - as the avalanche of unjustified / unsubstantiated subjective claims would cause his nose growth to drain the blood from his entire body.

So if from the above, you've reached the impression that managing tenders with multiple suppliers is very much like being a school teacher setting homework, then welcome to my world...

But do the basics, do them well and honestly and spend some time thinking about sitting in the customer's seat and good things will happen.

All of the above said, thankfully some companies come very prepared, with clear documents listing all contact details of the attendees and involved parties, even to the point of bringing their own name badges / name plates for desks - all of which makes it much better for the customer who's going through dozens of such sessions and meeting 100+ people within 5 days.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Lifecycle management

So LifeCycle Management is something those of us in enterprise IT think about regularly (nearly all week if you're in the scale of company I am), but do we really expect the average home consumer to understand and do this?

In the office my team spend just as much time looking at and managing interoperability & technology debt for the existing estate as they do scouting, planning and on-boarding new techniques & technologies. Is this healthy? No. Is this necessary? Most certainly is (sadly).

So in my consumer world I've had 3 similar tech-debt related topics :-

1) Panasonic Viera plasma TV that has never got that firmware they promised to add it's smart-TV features and make use of the Ethernet port...

2) SkyTV High Definition set-top-box that has generally worked fine for years, then received an OTA software update automatically. Ever since it has crashed & locked up every day, steadfastly refused to download any on-demand content and been decidedly unreliable. Queue questions to support answered with "oh yes we've fixed those bugs and released a new software version. But not for your box as that model is old. Would you like to buy a new one?". (A more cynical person might suggest deliberate bugs & sales as a 'managing dissatisfaction' technique for revenue boost - but that's crediting businesses with too much intelligence).

3) BT Infinity HomeHub-5 has a reputation of fast internet speeds but poor customer service and shoddy software. Sadly around the festive period just gone BT released & automatically applied a software update to these devices, with a consequence of them rebooting many times each day. Killing internet connections and driving the exchanges to incorrectly cap negotiation speeds (assuming line instability issues). It took many many weeks of denial before a hot-fix roll out finally started, now line stability is fixed it would be good to address the dire WiFi stability. Honestly I've seen more stable "alpha" lab code...

Oh and just don't get me going on the utterly horrendous and farcical process of mobile device firmware & software updating (or lack of), as that may just tip me over the edge...

It's very clear that the topic of duration & nature of software updates needs to be covered in the original purchase - with computer software it's now clear and upfront dialogue. But with devices, if you ask how long they are going to support & update the software in your fridge most retailers look as if you're speaking Martian.

It's also clear to me that there are strong employment opportunities for great release & QA people and ethical product managers in many consumer services businesses.

So honestly, I think we're going through a home innovation phase of chaos - with consumer houses littered with half working, half finished electronic devices; not good for anyone! Clearly this will only get worse with IoT and M2M proliferating semi-manageable elements.

There is a time & place for DevOps and I assure you consumer home electronics & appliances is not one of them!

Ps. Oh and when will I know that IoT is real & working? When either the oven or fridge in my new kitchen always have the correct time showing! My VCR from the '80s could do this so why does 2015's finest tech not??? (Hang your heads @SamsungUK & @BritanniaLiving)

PPs. Hello world, obviously I'm still here :)

Monday, 26 August 2013

Hic :)

So just a couple of additions to the bar this week, one day I'll get around to updating the full inventory - and one very happy week I'll get around to updating all my tasting notes :)

Oh and a quick update to the 'Grail Items' list on the blog - needless to say I've joined the crowd hunting the whisky unobtanium which is Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20yr so I'll be spending less time correcting IT vendor's crud, whilst I search the planet for (the only?) decent Bourbon around...

Laters...

Friday, 16 August 2013

Still Here :)

Well contrary to popular belief (or is that wishes), I'm still around!

Just to prove it, I've done a brief update to the bar http://www.grumpystorage.com/p/bar.html to reflect this month's new whisky additions... When I get chance I'll do a full stock-take and update it properly.

Needless to say I'm still very much involved in large scale global enterprise IT infrastructure, services and cloud - but feel less inclined to shout about it nowadays (more of that in another blog post).

In off-topic areas, we just spent another superb night at Midsummer House in Cambridge, not leaving until 01:30 with excellent service... And the same weekend I seem to have acquired a rather special artwork by James Mylne (warning link includes 'artistic image' http://www.flickr.com/photos/27723218@N00/4080656190/in/set-72157622621453519) - needless to say my wife & bank manager are giving me funny stares at the moment...


Oh and I've taken up tennis (in order to try and catch-up to my daughter & son), so watch out for stray yellow orbs flying in random directions!

More soon :)
Ian