Association of Independent Schools (AIS) Case Study
For the past three years, Somerville has designed, deployed and supported a robust wireless network for the annual AIS ICT Leadership and Management Conference in Canberra. Event Wi-Fi had been a big challenge for conference organisers in the past, but Somerville’s network has generated widespread praise from conference speakers, delegates and exhibitors.
The Hierarchy of Needs
There’s a memorable adaptation of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs diagram that has been doing the rounds on the Internet for the last few years (see pictured below). And for any conference delegate, that diagram rings true. Gartner Research VP Steve Blood summed up the experience perfectly in a recent LinkedIn post: “Wi-Fi is an essential service for any event. Without it, my mind wanders. I’m not going to be as attentive, as I search around for other connectivity angles. WIFI is of course the very base of our hierarchy of needs.”
The Association of Independent Schools (AIS) was faced with this Wi-Fi needs issue at its annual ICT Leadership Conference (the ‘Conference’). The AIS is the peak body for more than 464 independent schools in NSW, and its Conference is the premier event for ICT managers and ICT professionals in school education in Australia.
The Conference has been held annually from 2005, with Somerville supporting AIS as a major sponsor for all 11 events.
After a number of years in the Hunter Valley, in 2013 the AIS decided to move the event to Canberra – and poor Internet bandwidth for the Wi-Fi connectivity was a significant reason for the change.
“We first took the event to Canberra and wireless issues in the Hunter Valley were a significant contributing factor,” explained John Clear, ICT Leadership and Management Conference Convenor for the AIS. “The venue’s networking infrastructure and the available bandwidth in the Hunter Valley region meant that our sponsors couldn’t showcase their technologies to their potential, and our speakers and delegates worked with inconsistent connectivity.”
As part of its sponsorship agreement, AARNet provided high-speed connectivity into Canberra’s National Convention Centre and Somerville offered to design and deploy a secure wireless network for the Conference.
Three Years of Wireless Success
After successful wireless implementations for the 2013 and 2014 events, Somerville set itself three weeks to prepare for the 2015 AIS ICT Leadership and Management Conference. In a testament to the capabilities of Somerville’s technical team, a different vendor’s wireless networking solution has been designed and deployed for each of the three events.
For the 2015 Conference, Somerville designed a solution to cater for the needs of 430 event attendees, and capable of handling up to 1200 concurrently connected devices. Attendees included more than 220 delegates and 50 exhibiting sponsors. Wi-Fi connectivity was provided via more than 22 wireless access points covering the exhibition floor, main conference room and breakout session rooms. Wired connections were also provided for each Platinum and Gold exhibitor’s stand and each session room podium. The network was secured, ensuring that any potential threats were either prevented or detected in real-time, and access was blocked to certain sites. Three separate wireless networks were created, one each for the presenters, delegates and exhibitors.
“That way, we could set aside a guaranteed portion of bandwidth for the speakers, so there was never any issue with their presentations, regardless of the amount of traffic on the network,” says Clear.
Good Wi-Fi Goes a Long Way
With the increasing reliance on cloud computing to store data and run applications, Internet connectivity has become critical for conference attendees, particularly presenters.
Chris Betcher was one of the speakers at the 2015 Conference who had a positive experience. “You know the Wi-Fi is good when you don’t even notice it. It’s even better when you stay connected and don’t have to re-establish a connection when you switch your device back on.” Betcher also organises a number of Google Summit events each year, so knows firsthand the challenges in making sure Wi-Fi works well, especially when delegates often bring three or more connected devices with them.
“Somerville has been absolutely brilliant to work with,” said the AIS’ John Clear. “There were people on-site during the whole event, which meant that any issues could be addressed on the spot.”
“Thanks to the quality of the network provided by Somerville, we can confidently fill a program with workshops and sessions that required Internet access. We encourage our presenters to access content online for their sessions and guarantee them that it’s going to work.”
“The Somerville network also allows our exhibitors the freedom to showcase all the technologies and solutions they want to promote at the event,” Clear continues.
Fundamentally, a fully functioning Wi-Fi has made all the difference for the organisers of the annual AIS ICT Leadership and Management Conference. It’s given the senior business decision-makers, IT managers and information services specialists who attend the event the confidence to be away for three days, knowing that they can stay connected with their schools.
“Events are also now starting to extend their reach via social media. Our event connectivity has allowed us to share our conference with a much wider international education audience.”