Now that I’ve cleared the backlog from spending last week at GOVIS 2009, here is my impression of it: two. There were two clouds, two topics, two presentations, and two conferences.
From the opening keynotes to the closing ones, GOVIS was overshadowed by two clouds: the recession, and cloud computing.
In his opening address, Hon Dr Richard Worth, Minister of Internal Affairs and Land Information announced that the NZ economy is expected to lose $50 billion in the next few years, and that permanent budget cuts would be made across the state sector. This meant a move towards front-line service-delivery, enabled by collaboration between government agencies, including the sharing of data and IT services.
The shadow of this cloud could be see in the half-empty auditorium, and the cancellation of the keynote from SSC with a “not ready to talk” note. GTS had already been moved from SSC to DIA. Rumours were that further restructuring of the SSC would affect quite a few of the ICT people there.
Cloud Computing, and its web of data was mentioned by pretty much every presenter as a major disrupter, both by reducing the cost of enterprise IT, and by opening up new data-sharing possibilities. It seems that the horror of locating government data somewhere in the sky, and paying by the minute, is being eroded by talk of 80% cost-savings.
The two hot topics at GOVIS were open data and public engagement. These are two sides of the same coin. Broadly, one allows government data to be used by the community, and the other enables government to hear what the community think and want.
The open data message conveyed by Laurence Millar in his last blog post as Government CIO was echoed by many speakers at GOVIS. If you have the data, and it’s easy enough to open it up, there is no reason why not to. And if you do, there’s a chance that someone will do something innovative with it, maybe even something that generates income and tax revenue. At least other government agencies will be able to get it without bothering you, and you might just increase your transparency.
Of course, it is not always easy to open up data, or even to share it between agencies, and there were many conversations about the problems and solutions around this. Ironically, most of the stands in the trade show were focused on data security and protection.
The second major topic was public engagement. The public are using social media, so government can too. Forums and other social media can be used to let the public see the human face of government, and to increase dialogue between government and the public. The message here is pretty much Cluetrain for government.
There were two main presentations at GOVIS: “it’s alright to use social media” and “you’re a dinosaur if you don’t”.
The Thursday morning keynote from Fergus Hogarth of the Department for Families and Communities (Govt of South Australia) provided low risk but effective effective examples of the use of social media for engagement, mainly within the department. I expect that these made sense to many of the government folks who are relatively new to these concepts. Matt Crozier of Bang the Table also provided several examples of effective online consultations.
The message from Stephen Collins of acidlabs was more urgent: participate or be hyperisolated. Joanna McLeod and Matt Lane, both of SSC also gave engaging demonstrations that if you aren’t doing social media now, you are starting to be bypassed by the real world.
The most exciting part of GOVIS for me, however, was to be in the #govis09 Twitter backchannel. Whatever was happening on the stage, there was a lively conversation in the audience. What do you think of this? What’s going on in the next room? What do the people who are not at GOVIS think of this? These conversations liberated the participants from the usual constraints of passively ingesting whatever the sage on the stage is saying. You didn’t even have to be at GOVIS to participate. This heralds a new model for conferences. The conversations in the corridors are happening the whole time, and the corridors have no boundaries.