4 technology best practices for large-scale virtual events

A look inside a production studio during the 2020 DNC

Andrew Binns is an expert on technology infrastructure for major events. His experience includes the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Tony Awards, and NFL kickoff, in addition to the last five Democratic National Conventions (DNCs). His role in the DNC goes all the way back to 2004—when WordPress itself was just a year old.

As COO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), Andrew led the transformation of this year’s convention into a fully-remote, high-performing digital experience. This historic event attracted a record-breaking 35.5 million digital viewers and suffered zero security incidents or outages.

WordPress VIP was proud to serve as the official digital platform partner for this year’s convention, and I recently had the chance to interview Andrew and Hannah Flom, Director of Digital Communications at the 2020 DNCC, about their experience pivoting to digital. (Be sure to watch the webinar for the full insights!) Below are a few of the tips Andrew shared to mitigate risk while conceptualizing, building, and managing high-impact enterprise technology productions.

Watch now: Lessons in digital agility from the 2020 DNCC

Plan for every scenario. And then plan for 100 more.

The only way to make sure you’re prepared for every scenario, Andrew argues, is to literally prepare for every scenario. As soon as the pandemic hit, the DNCC team spent three weeks doing intensive scenario planning, where directors organized teams to come up with every possible outcome for the convention itself, from hosting it in-person to going 100% remote and everything in between. This approach empowered stakeholders to make timely and informed technology investment decisions.

“We literally had three teams come in and just come up with all of these crazy, crazy options for us,” explained Andrew. Then, they presented each of these scenarios to leadership, with recommendations for how to move forward. “We said, ‘These are all the options. This is when you have to make the decisions. This is how much money things will cost. This is how much money things will cost if you don’t make the decision on time.’”

The 2016 convention had five video streams. 2020’s had over 850.

Make redundancy a priority.

During the webinar, one attendee asked, “What was the backup plan in case one of the feeds went down?”

“We have backups, on backups, on backups,” Andrew said. “One of the things that we do from the very, very beginning is redundancy diversity on our circuits, on our hardware, on our software, on our programming, everything.”

This is especially important if you’re operating video streams from multiple remote locations, like Andrew’s team was. “From the very beginning we work with major ISPs, and major partners—like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum—to make sure that anything we get in there, we have redundant and diverse networking.”

To optimize reliability and redundancy, Andrew also recommends using multiple paths of travel. In addition to IP-based connectivity, the DNCC coordinated satellite, fiber, and point-to-point setups.

Opt for open source.

The DNCC needed technology tools with best-in-class security and unsurpassed flexibility. For Andrew, that means open source—specifically, WordPress VIP.

“Open source is a good security posture. … WordPress is probably the most successful product tied to open source software out there, and that’s for good reason. There are so many people looking at the code, so many people fixing it when there are issues; I think it helps us on the security side.”

Flexibility is also key when planning a complex project like the convention. Choosing open source software opens up a world of technology integrations that are readily available to confront business challenges. (For more, read our report on the most widely adopted enterprise WordPress technology integrations.)

“Generally, if you have something you want to build, you have the ability to do it either with built-in or third-party plugins or custom coding,” said Andrew. “So across the board, WordPress is good on both the ability to adjust and change and flex, and also the security side.”

As the leaders in enterprise WordPress, Andrew turned to WordPress VIP to power a secure and flexible platform. “The security, the trust, the expertise, is what brought us to WordPress VIP.”

Build to the unknown.

Above all, when planning for any kind of large-scale technology production, Andrew says it’s essential to build toward the unknown. “We never know what’s going to happen. [The pandemic] was not on the list of things that we had expected, certainly, but the process that we had built on the infrastructure side was easily shifted and could take this on.”

For more on the DNCC’s partnership with WordPress VIP, watch our webinar, Lessons in digital agility from the 2020 DNC. To discuss any of these topics further, get in touch!

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