Like many Americans, I heard the warnings about how crazy London would be during the Olympics. The taxi queues, Tube trains stuffed like Tokyo at rush hour and restaurants requiring two months advanced notice. I was mentally prepared. “Keep calm and carry on”, as our British cousins would say. So, despite the warnings and the pre-trip jitters, I packed a bag and flew from Boston to London’s Heaththrow airport. My destination was Cisco House, a two-story customer experience center perched high atop the Westfield Shopping center in Stratford, directly overlooking the Olympic Park. My 10 day assignment was to work as the Schneider Electric executive on staff in the House to greet customers, network and provide a continuous stream of information about Schneider Electric, one of 5 headline sponsors of the House.
Ok. Car to Boston – no traffic, no problem. Check-in, no queue. Boarding: On-time and seamless. As I took my exit row, aisle seat, I overheard a flight attendant say that we had fifty people on board this 757. Fifty people? Where is everybody? Well, no worries, let’s get a little work done, watch a movie or two and prepare for the work in Cisco House. Upon arrival at Heathrow, I started to get into a mental “pre-game”. Here come the queues. I walked into the immigration hall and … no one. I breezed through without any hesitation. Same for baggage claim – The bag was waiting for me on the carousel as I arrived in the customs area. Fine. So far, so good, and I’m sure there will be a significant line for the taxis.
As I walked out the door, I saw a queue of taxis as far as I could see. Where are the people? I’ll sum up this part of the story: No queue for the taxi and 35 minutes into my central London hotel. Unheard of. Well, tomorrow will be different, as I’ll purchase my Oyster Card and prepare to be a working Londoner for the better part of two weeks.
As I walked to the Green Park tube station, I saw the normal bustle of London at rush hour. I was able to purchase my card without any hesitation and made my way on the Jubilee Line to Stratford, the end of the line and site of the Olympic park and Cisco House. After negotiating my way through what I would consider a decent sized crowd in the Westfield Shopping center, I arrived at Cisco House.
The first thing you notice is the view: It’s basically a “Royal Box” overlooking the Olympic Park. As you enter, you’ll see a somewhat futuristic briefing center; complete with large format TV’s, touchscreens and what appears to be a London Tube station. The “Business Transformation Experience” is what lies beyond the façade of the tube station. The “BTE”, as it became affectionately known, is the centerpiece of the experience, shuffling visitors through a 3-D journey hosted by Steven Fry, a well know British comedian and social commentator. In the experience, guests are given a glimpse into how Cisco and their partners like Schneider Electric are transforming the way networks move data from point A to point B. We see beyond the traditional computer-to-computer networks and examine a world where networks such as the utility grid, public transportation and physical security in a city, are being instrumented to create the “internet of things”. Powerful and thought provoking as you let your mind wonder what efficiencies we could create if we had all that data about the networks in our daily lives and their performance in real-time.
After the journey, guests are treated to an upscale sports-bar like setting on the upper level with real-time Olympic images provided by the Cisco StadiumVision solution. And then there’s the view. Again. I must have walked on the balcony 100 times in those ten days and it never got old. Watching the throngs of people go in and out of the Park was dizzying and motivational. I’ve tried to describe it for family and friends and words don’t come easily. A sense of a world community. A sense of national pride, as I chanted U-S-A every time we were contesting anything. Tears at the fireworks following the Opening Ceremonies.
As our guests visited for a few hours, you could see the sense of awe and amazement on their faces as they relaxed in an ultra-casual environment. CEOs, senior executives, Olympic athletes and even formal delegations from countries participating in the Games were all treated to unique business/pleasure climate. At the end of the visit, many were treated to an Olympic event and some “late night nibbles” back at the hotel. Beach volleyball at the Horse Guards Parade seemed to be the overwhelming guest favorite. Over a few late-night cocktails, I sensed something in our guests. Something had changed. As they learned about how Cisco and its partners like Schneider Electric are transforming the way business works, maybe something “transformed” in them. They seemed to be speaking differently, as we discussed how we could work together to truly create a better world, or at least our little corner.
Over the course of the Games, Cisco and Schneider Electric will host over 1,000 customers in the most unique business atmosphere ever created. Transformation was the operative word in the House. When it was time to leave, many of our guests wished to stay a bit longer and soak in the environment. Me too. My time in Cisco House was too short and I’ve made friends with some of the most professional and customer-focused people I’ve ever met in twenty years in the IT industry.
So, where were the people? Well, I’d like to think that many of them got to see Cisco House, either from Olympic Park or that second floor balcony.
Thank you London. Thank you Cisco. Thank you Schneider Electric.
Happy and Glorious indeed.