CIO interview: Jeremy Garside, London Symphony Orchestra

Jeremy Garside started out as an orchestra manager, and turned to technology to alleviate manual calculation and improve financial planning

Jeremy Garside started out as an orchestra manager, managing, booking and paying players for the Hallé Orchestra and the Welsh National Opera (WNO). He turned to technology to alleviate days of manual calculation and improve the financial planning of the WNO.

Garside then moved to the BBC to business manage the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and spent 10 years combining technology and information management systems with broadcast production process for TV, radio and online.

After freelancing in digital project management and web development from 2000, during which time he learned TCP/IP, Wi-Fi, streaming, web, audio and video production, as well as editing skills though experience, he became head of technology at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in 2004.

The LSO is a globally recognised brand that tours the world. Despite its fame and the fact that it transports more than 100 musicians and their instruments around the globe regularly, it has only two in-house IT staff, and Garside is one of them.

“We operate a two-person team supporting our IT systems – a core of Hyper-V supporting Microsoft Exchange and file services plus finance, fundraising and other specialist software,” says Garside.

All the organisation’s arms have specific technology needs, which the IT team advise on and support. The LSO contains: record label LSO Live; LSO St Luke’s; the LSO’s venue on Old Street; its education and outreach team, LSO Discovery; and its marketing team.

The two in-house staff perform most implementation and support, occasionally using external consultants around key migrations and changes, says Garside.

The IT department’s biggest challenge relates to the LSO's international touring schedule, during which it supports the management team with over 40 concerts a year in 20 countries outside the UK.

To support this, the organisation recently signed a mobile services contract with Truphone to enable its staff to have consistent quality in mobile communications at the same cost, regardless of where they are in the world. The logistics of getting more than 100 people with musical instruments to venues across the world, as well as the everyday organisation of matters such as travel and accommodation, make mobile communication critical.

But the growth of data is a major challenge as high-definition media is used to distribute LSO content widely. “LSO Live audio albums generate 30Gb of data each and we have over 100,” says Garside. “We are now involved in video production and in shooting and editing HD and 4K content. Data volumes, bandwidth and digital asset management systems are all being augmented to ensure we remain in control of data and have it securely replicated to multiple locations and formats.”

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Current IT projects include enabling staff to work from any location to support changing working patterns and in case of IT outages.

But Garside says the migration of some or all services to Microsoft Office 365 is likely to be the biggest project of 2014.

The LSO may be more than 100 years old, but it has kept pace with changing trends in how people buy and enjoy music. “We were the first independent classical label on iTunes and we are now present on the majority of download and streaming platforms worldwide,” says Garside.

Determined not to stand still, Garside says the organisation is constantly looking at its digital offering and, through this, ways to spread its brand globally. “We were also involved in establishing the YouTube Symphony Orchestra with Google,” he adds.

A lot has changed during Garside's 10 years at the LSO – and often in unexpected ways, he says.

He believes the role of CIO goes way beyond IT. “In general, I see CIOs needing to understand the core business and culture of the companies they work for, so they can integrate the right technologies with the processes the business needs to thrive,” he says.

IT evolution is also more of a challenge for today’s CIO, says Garside. With new products and services constantly being developed and technology trends changing rapidly, CIOs need to be well-informed, he says. “Picking the right technologies at the right time in their development cycle and avoiding sales-led trends is important. It will depend on each business where that sweet spot is and it is a key skill for the successful CIO.”

Garside says CIOs must also be able to explain how new technologies can transform the business. “Communicating strategy to senior managers in ways that are clear and comprehensible is going to be even more vital as the complex balance between in-house, cloud-based and SaaS changes in the coming years,” he adds.

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