IT Over the Sea // by Martin Nice

Martin Nice is the Virtualisation and Storage Infrastructure Manager for the Systems and Network Support (SNS) department based at BGS Keyworth. He has worked in the department for over 20 years and has worked on projects in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan and Mozambique.
The entrance to the Geological Survey, guarded by a marabou stork

I’m currently in Kenya, working on a project funded by the UK Government’s (DfID) Partnerships for International Development Programme. Through the programme BGS are providing technical assistance to the Kenyan Geological Survey as it implements a National Geodata Centre. I am responsible for installing and maintaining the IT equipment required for the Geodata Centre.
Martin Nice, pictured in the server room at the Kenyan Geological Survey

As with other similar projects I have been involved with, the main purpose is to take the current analogue data (printed books, maps, journals and reports) and catalogue and digitise it into a searchable system that improves access to the information holdings of the Geological Survey for investors and other stakeholders.

GDC staff being trained in Arc GIS software

This is my 7th visit to the country since the project began back in 2015. During that time we have installed three servers, eighteen desktop PCs, ten laptops, three ruggedized tablets and other associated peripherals such as scanners and printers, along with the required software. This enables the digitising of all available data, and it is my job to ensure that the hardware and software purchased are properly managed and configured so that the resulting data is stored in an easily accessible way on systems that are resilient and secure. This is done by employing many of the procedures and practices that are in place at BGS, such as having backup power supplies, centralised file storage, daily scheduled backups (including offsite backups), secure file access, password policies and ensuring that all users are aware of their responsibilities when using the systems.

It is essential to have at hand any items you may need in the day such as satellite phones, medical kits, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, local mobile phone and laptop

As I am often the only IT member of staff in country I have to get involved with all aspects of IT rather than the specific areas I am normally responsible for back at BGS. This provides a welcome variety to my day-to-day job but can also be stressful when faced with some of the many issues working overseas can create, such as an unreliable power supply and variable internet access, which is at times very slow and often unusable (software developers please take note). The work can often be very difficult and frustrating but there is a huge level of job satisfaction, especially when comparing the ‘before and after’ picture, which highlights the positive impacts the project has made. 

Oh, and last year, monkeys broke in to our car and stole our stash of bananas which is something that doesn’t usually happen at BGS.

When the project leader is not in country it is often necessary to attend senior level meetings in his absence. In this photo, Tom Bide of BGS, and myself are meeting with the Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the director of the Geological Survey and the Head of the Geodata Centre to discuss the project progress and goals.