Week notes: 4-10 December 2023

Massive samosas, fund-related software, "Ding Dong Merrily AI".

Ho, ho, ho. Check out my baubles.

From left to right a sentinel from Phantasm, a strung-up Gizmo, a Pret Christmas sarnie and a pile of Amazon parcels (the true spirit of internet-era Christmas)🌲📦

As I write, it must be a match day because the caff near the BRIT school where I usually knock this note into shape (during Joel’s Saturday film class) is rammed with CPFC fans.

A greasy spoon cafe called Michael's Cafe, with police presence outside. Opposite, a pavement is teeming with football supporters walking to the game

I’ve been relegated to Quik Bite instead – a purveyor of coffee, massive samosas, phone accessories and vapes – where Palace supporters are also now piling in and peering at my laptop. I could hardly feel more incongruous – another reminder of the paradox of blogging as I shield my screen to hide these private notes I’ll later post to the public web.

Speaking of which, should you need one I’ve added a primer here on what week notes are and why I write them

My work week

Lots going on in the death throes of 2023 so this week really flew by. It tended towards the administrative and managerial but I’ll share a few noteworthy bits – and spruce (🌲) it up with some festive, tortured puns for subheadings. 

Simply having a wonderful software supplier relationship meeting 🎅

At the start of the week I joined meetings with Blackbaud, who supply a CRM called (brilliantly) Raiser’s Edge which the BFI’s fundraising teams use to engage supporters for our charity work, and a system called Grantmaking which our funding teams use to distribute lottery money to film projects.

It was useful to get closer to this corner of our tech estate and get to know Blackbaud. They seem like a good bunch: socially motivated with an impressive portfolio (including JustGiving, following an acquisition in 2017) and they’re pulling out all the stops to support customer success.

As with all such systems there’s a balance to be struck between going with the grain of the software versus customising it to fit the organisation’s established routines. My team is preparing to kick off a big piece of work in 2024 to look at all software and tech contracts across the organisation and co-create a roadmap for what we want to double down on, consolidate, retire or replace. 

Hark the herald angels Slack, glory to the newborn Teams ❄️

I reviewed some well thought-through proposals for how we’ll transition all BFI staff from Slack (and Zoom) to Microsoft Teams in the coming months.

There will be readers of this blog with strong pro-Slack opinions but I maintain that Teams shits all over all of its rivals and I can’t wait for it to be rolled out across the org. Come at me, bro!

Ding dong merrily AI 🔔

Another week, another meeting (and several sidebars) about AI. 

My years at GDS inured me so completely to hype technology that I’m having to actively dismantle my defences in order to engage fully with AI and what it means for our roadmaps. I’ve been right so far not to let Blockchain, NFTs or metaverse excitement blow my teams off course from the boring magic of doing the hard work to make things simple

But what’s happening with gen-AI feels completely different – low barrier to entry, wide awareness and take-up, rapid leaps forward, and becoming integrated into popular software at speed. It’s increasingly an area of focus for my (admittedly scant) thinking and learning time.

(An aside: that WiFi Wars event I was at last week reminded me Pacman ghosts had an early form of AI back in the 80s. It’s come a long way, but we’ve also been living with it happily for a long time). 

O come let us advise him ☃️

For months my now page has said I’m setting up a digital board, but it’s been stalled by circumstance and a pivot from full-blown committee to advisory function. It got unblocked this week – so I’m now turning my attention back to the terms of ref and membership. Keen to make it be a useful sounding board for me and my team, and source of intel for my fellow Execs and the governors. Would welcome any steers on steering boards and advice on advisory boards if you’ve got wisdom to share.  

Christmas time, sprint demos and wine 🍷

A slide, that says Digital Donut Time in white text on a black background. The image next to it is an ASCII donut made up of code snippets.

We held our all-directorate showcase this week (it’s 6-weekly, must update the slide!) featuring great presentations on UX work for cinema-related services, the hidden world of database administration, BFI Player ops, and how we and Snapp built the new BFI Player Android app.

I also had a check-in with the Cinema Technology dept, who’ve been performing Christmas miracles to keep the busy Southbank programme and private hires running smoothly despite seasonal sicknesses. 

It’s the most personal time of the year 🌟

A non-work roundup to finish:

  • It’s mine and Mrs Neil’s wedding anniversary tomorrow, hooray for us! This time 21 years ago we were in Vegas watching the Bellagio fountains dance to The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ❤️⛲🎰
  • I learnt I could do with lowering my cholesterol. Feels like a job for January.
  • I’ve written the second post in my SE19 shops series, scheduled for tomorrow.
  • My folks are coming to stay next weekend. I go down once or twice a year but it’s been a while since they came here, and I’m looking forward to it. 

After that, I’ll have a mad couple of days before I break, including this hot ticket. Not my first rodeo but visits to Number 10 never get old and this time I’ll be on co-hosting duties. Fun way to end the year.

My 2 year BFI work anniversary is coming up on 7th Feb. Expect I’ll do some reflecting and refocusing over New Year.

Found/interesting 🤔

Hold it lightly – sound advice from Ben Holliday.

52 things Tom Whitwell learned in 2023 – these are always good. 21 is fun. 40 is fascinating (especially to me given my reliance on photos and family lore for autobiographical memory). 

Service delivery is broken – it’s time to fix it – yass, DXW.

An introduction to the pros and cons of delivering with cross-functional teams

The Wizard of AI – this short doc (made with AI-generated images) is a good watch, in an Adam Curtis kind of way. “Wonder panic” – spot on.

Ten causes of communication breakdown and – what always feels to me the best approach to solving that – why we should work in the open

Terence Edent’s personal 2023 retrospective – interesting and written in a nifty style. 

When you design for everyone, you design for no-one (via PD, Emily and everywhere)

101 hidden gems – films that only one film expert voted for as the greatest of all time 

Watching, playing, reading, listening

In celebration of International Day of Persons With Disability I went to a staff screening of Is There Anybody Out There? I loved it – a powerful, moving doc, by turns sad, enraging and joyous.

I re-watched Whiplash, to show the kids. Loved it every bit as much as the first viewing. That final sequence renders me speechless.

Also enjoyed Bottoms – anarchic, lots of originality, terrific cast. My favourite joke comes near the beginning when it mocks the movie trope of end-of-class bells ringing minutes after the class takes its seats.

I enjoyed Joe Lycett on Adam Buxton’s podcast and Joan Collins on Louis Theroux’s telly programme.

Nick Cave performing A Rainy Night in Soho at Shane McGowan’s funeral 

Not reading anything at all despite a Kindle-full of good intentions.

Distractions

BBC presenter Maryam Moshiri flipping the bird – not without precedent (YouTube)

How The Prodigy pay tribute to Keith during their live show (TikTok)

Matt Jukes’s take on the streamers’ new Christmas films

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