60 seconds with BAPCO's Duncan Swan

Duncan Swan, chief operating officer at BAPCO, discusses his career in the critical communications industry
60 seconds with BAPCO's Duncan Swan

How do you spend most of your time at work?

It’s been quite a change moving from a full-time to a part-time role – and in particular from the perspective of leading a team, directing a business and being part of the hustle and bustle of everyday business life. While I don’t miss the daily three hours spent commuting into London, I strangely do miss multiple meetings and conference calls where you get to meet large numbers of people across the day. Being the employee can be a little lonely at times!

Describe your most unforgettable project.

There have been many unforgettable projects over the years, be that from an outcome, people, or place perspective. I’ve been so lucky in the places my career has taken me. If I were to choose one project, it would be with the Ministry of National Security out in Jamaica. With the 2007 Cricket World Cup taking place in the West Indies, the Jamaican Constabulary Force required a complete overhaul of its mobile communications. I oversaw the design and delivery of a 155Mbit/s microwave network around the island, including the building of a new central communications centre and several radio sites. This supported a new mixed mode – analogue and digital – trunked radio network. It was delivered on time and to budget, and I got the chance to work with some fantastic people and gain some lifelong memories.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve seen during your involvement in the business communications sector?

An edict for control room operators to wear cotton underwear as a shortterm measure to reduce static impacting their control consoles. Also, the foundations for a new building that looked way too small. It turns out that feet had been used instead of yards when translating the plans.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting their first job in the industry?

Embrace every opportunity that comes your way. For those working in public safety, the role of IT and communications is critical. By working in that sector in particular, you will make a difference in everything you do.

How has the sector changed since you first started working in it?

Back in 1984 in the ‘systems test’ area in Philips Telecom, you would be inserting ‘select on test’ resistors. You could easily be replacing electronic components and microchips, while test equipment required skill to use and set up. Today, everything electronic is so much smaller and the computing power that systems incorporate is huge. Testing is done by plugging in your mobile device or laptop, with changes made digitally. Plus, everything today is IP-driven. 4 wire E&M; RS232; wiring out analogue circuits. Krone blocks are almost a thing of the past.

What are going to be the main challenges for the sector?

Regarding public safety in particular – and this is a personal view – I fear that the pace of technical change is starting to really cause governments and agencies problems. The time taken to gather requirements, write specifications and carry out procurements can be so long that by the time it gets around to delivery, everything has moved on significantly. A rethink as to how to be more effective and embrace both change and innovation is needed, and needed now.

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