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8/31/2009
07:39 PM
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GMIS Epilogue: DHS, DC, and The Merits of In-Person

Like every conference attendee, I was way too busy dealing with logistics to deal with most anything else. But now that I'm all unpacked, here are a few things of note that I left out of my conference blog, including advice from the Department of Homeland Security, cloudy goodness from Dmitry Kachaev of the District of Columbia, and why we might all want to be teleconference luddites.

Like every conference attendee, I was way too busy dealing with logistics to deal with most anything else. But now that I'm all unpacked, here are a few things of note that I left out of my conference blog, including advice from the Department of Homeland Security, cloudy goodness from Dmitry Kachaev of the District of Columbia, and why we might all want to be teleconference luddites.

Overcoming vendorphobia

Tom Cellucci gave the keynote on day one, and his message was great: governments need product, right? It's kind of hard to implement an idea or an R&D concept to benefit citizens. So instead of running away from vendor phone calls or putting out massive RFPs, government should welcome vendor contact and work on getting industry to solve the right problems. Cellucci calls this process "commercialization", in which government and private industry partner to achieve a quicker solution that better meets operational requirements -- as opposed to tech specs in a massive RFP. As Cellucci says, "do you want a wall? Or do you want a deliverable that thwarts intruders?"

I've found that many government agencies crater in the operational requirement definition space, so Cellucci's office and associated materials may help you establish common ground if you serve such an agency. See the "SECURE" program and the "operational requirements definitions" section. Seriously. Some of these ideas are so good I actually carried the 3 pound printed book home with me instead of leaving it as a room tip. And, I pack light - it takes a lot to get me to do that.

More Cloudy Goodness

One of the cloud panelists, Dmitry Kachaev, Director of Research & Development for DC's Office of the CTO (I wonder if that fits on a business card?) had a couple of really good cloud insights. He offered this answer to an audience member who asked for a rule of thumb on what type of data should or could be stored in the cloud, given the current state of the industry. Dmitri gave a great answer that I wanted to share : pretty much anything that you'd be comfortable emailing. That makes a lot of sense, given SMTP's completely insecure architecture. I don't think he was saying that you should completely give up on cloud, just that cloud does make a lot of sense in some use cases, but not all: organizations may want to be careful about what use cases they make for cloud architecture, in the same ways that they are now careful about SMTP.

He also described how the district, in addition to using Amazon EC2 and Google Apps, also uses Intuit's QuickBase for small throwaway web applications. The audience all appreciated this and he got a bunch of followup on it. After all, while there are quick-and-dirty tools out there for surveys, whose organization doesn't need quick inexpensive temporary data collection sometimes? This was a nice tip worth sharing.

Teleconference Luddite

During GMIS, an InformationWeek editor emailed me to ask if my session was going to be streamed. Sadly, no, though the final keynote was streamed courtesy of one of the sponsors. But wouldn't it be cool if all sessions were streamed, that way nobody would have to travel. And in some ways, it would be good to never have to travel again. But then again, some of the best information sharing at these types of conferences are due to face to face interactions. Around 9:30 one night, I sat down with some folks from British Columbia and Canada, and, sure, there was a goofy Wii game in the background, and at first our conversations were all about "you're not getting ME near that thing", but as we grew comfortable with one another, the talk turned back to professional geeking. Turns out, the guy from Canda just ran in to some trouble with an, er, building getting in the way of one of his microwave backhauls. Oh yeah, we all laughed, those buildings just sneak right up on ya when you're not looking. But it turns out there's a lot of potential for new buildings in the paths of this guy's public safety backhauls. One of us offered to send his municipality's tall building ordinances that require remediation, i.e. easements on the tops of the buildings in order to install repeaters, and he was grateful that somebody had run into that exact issue before.

That type of story played itself out several times. And sure, folks could have posted to the listserv or tweeted questions or moaned about it on Facebook, but here's the problem.

We're all getting overloaded with more information than we can possibly bear, and with x number of legit emails coming in per day, and y tweets, and z status updates, some of that is going to be lost as noise. Everybody's practically frantic keeping up, and most of us have other things to do like project management and configuring switches and databases and checking budgets and dealing with human resources and, oh by the way, eat, exercise, and see your family now and again. The good old days of low traffic usenet lists with low signal-to-noise ratios is gone, buddy. I'm sure that some budding entrepreneur is figuring out the problem right now of displaying only things that you're an expert on or want info on, but it's going to take true artificial intelligence, and I'm not sure that's coming before you or I retire.

So, I am profoundly grateful that I got to go to this conference, or any conference where lots of smart IT people get together to learn. Massively high signal to noise ratio, and that's what it's all about.

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