So, this weekend saw the return of Open House London, an event I very much look forward to on an annual basis as many of the companies around London open their doors to the public and we get the opportunity to see some great sights and architecture. The above image was taken from City Hall.
I am a great fan of this initiative and try to make sure I’m in London for it each year.
I’m also a fan of organisation, and of complaining – so much of this email may be me complaining about the organisation.
First off, the event organisers themselves.
I can’t imagine just how much work goes into organising something like this. Hundreds of businesses agree to open their doors and give tours, and the work that goes into that is immense. However, as the event becomes more and more popular you have to make sure your processes can handle it. Here’s my experience.
Step 1. I pre-order the book from them so I can see what is there and plan for the events I wish to try and secure when their online system goes live. Though there are particular events which are popular and everyone knows about them, there are still other bookable events that I wish to be the first in for to get a spot – and this book means anyone who hasn’t paid will need to find these out online nearer the release time.
So, the book was delivered on the day it was meant to arrive – everything is going swimmingly. Then later the same day I get an email from Open House with a PDF link to the book – they state this is sent in case the Olympics affects deliveries. The Olympics has made logistics in London amazingly good, so they didn’t need to worry. So, I now have access to an online copy of the book, but seeing as how it was just a PDF link and not behind a login screen, anybody can access it (and do, thanks to the power of social media). So essentially my pre-ordering the book was a waste of money as anyone who did not pre-order it got it for free anyway.
Step 2. The online booking system. I knew exactly when it was going live and made sure my holiday to Austria did not clash with it. I also made sure I had freed up the timeslot at work so that I could get in there and make my pre-bookings. The time arrived, I went online, and their system immediately crashed. I’m used to this, as resource allocation for these kind of events seems to be something no company ever plans for (remember the Shard booking earlier this year?). You would expect, however, that knowledge of how many people showed an interest last year, and having 10k followers on Facebook would allow you to pre-empt the fact that this was not just going to be a few thousand people trying to access you at one time. The online system tried and failed to work over a long period of time, and was still not working when I returned from my trip to Austria.
Open House did use the ‘but we’re a charity’ card that so many organisations use (mostly I see it when somebody wants one of my images and doesn’t want to pay for it) but that is no excuse for bad planning.
Eventually they turned it into a ballot system which I very much agree with, it was the best move they made. However, after saying that they would not honour existing bookings made during the difficult period of technical issues, they changed this around later in the proceedings and decided to honour one of the nights that the system was online for a brief period of time for a brief number of people. I thought the whole point of the system was to benefit everyone and make sure nobody was disadvantaged?
They also kindly stated that anybody who had pre-ordered the book would have each entry into the ballot count for 2 instead of just 1 entry. Another good move which does show some benefit to pre-ordering the book.
I didn’t get any tickets in the end, but I had stopped caring by that point.
Step 3. The weekend itself.
Saturday was very enjoyable. I queued up for Lloyds in the morning, and followed this with trips to Trinity House (meh) and Customs House (yawnfest), followed by City Hall. The staff and volunteers in all of these places were excellent; all very friendly and helpful and well done to all of them.
Sunday I queued for the Gherkin. I arrived at 8am to find an already impressive but very quickly growing queue in place. Around two and a half hours later I was in and on my way to the top floor. Now, anyone who follows my blog knows my love of a London view. I have climbed many rooftops and cranes trying to find the best views available, public or not. The view from the Gherkin is one of the better ones I have seen for what you get to see, but one of the worst for being able to see it, if you know what I mean. There are many things that go into a decent view. Location, height, surrounding buildings, weather, interference. The Gherkin has an excellent location, an excellent height and not too many buildings interfering with the view. Alas, the weather had closed in so rain was on the windows decreasing visibility, and the fact you can’t get near the glass, which is both curved and has the triangular windows, means an unobstructed view was hard to get. We were given a few minutes up there before making our way back down, and though it was great to finally get to the top I was very much underwhelmed by the experience. It certainly was not worth a 2.5 hour wait. Again, the staff here were excellent – especially the security guards who had a long day ahead of them and were calm and professional, certainly what I saw of them.
I was knackered after this so just had lunch and went home before having a very long power nap.
Next year I would like to see an actual point to pre-ordering the book. Perhaps give those who pre-order first go at an online booking system if you choose to continue with such a thing. This will encourage more to pre-order and the funds can be used to actually make a system that works.
Otherwise, thanks very much to the staff and volunteers who made it happen, it really is a great initiative and I hope it lasts for another 20 years.