(cross posted on CG-LIMS Project Blog on Intelink-U)
I’m going to try to boil down three days of learnings from the Gov 2.0 Expo into a single post. It is written from the perspective of a person currently serving as a Project Manager on a major IT system acquisition for the Coast Guard.
My three big takeaways centered on three areas: the power of the link, the need to connect to customers, and the common challenges we face.
1. The Power is in the Link.
I missed the first day, so on the first day my expo experience, I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, all you need to know is what Andrew Krzmarzick said:
His 10 minute talk was great, and it’s on YouTube here.
The talk from Sir Berners-Lee got me thinking to a book I’d read about 10 years ago that influenced my approach to a project I was leading at the time. That book is called Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor. Mighty audacious, but hey, if you’re then inventor, you get to take credit.
Even thought it was written in 1999, several of the passages that were important to me then and relevant to the work in what we call Gov 2.0 today.
The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. They ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world.
For people to share knowledge, the Web must be a universal space across which all hypertext links can travel. I spend a good deal of my life defending this core property in one way or the other.
This notion of the power of the link was driven home in the “Shifting from Need-To-Know to Need-To-Share” session. In describing the real power of Intelink, one of the panelists made the point quite simply that the power of Intelink is in the ability to link. That ability to link is what makes it different document storage systems that merely make content electronic so it can be shared more effectively than a paper document can. Electrons are fine, but the ability to link is where the power comes from. Without the ability to link, there is no web. With that perspective, it helps me understand why I like Intelink and hate the shared folders that seem to surround me. It helps me undertand why e-mailed attachments drive me insane. E-mailed attachments will never be part of a web. They can’t be linked.
In that same session, one of the panelists described how Intelink is a great way to build a personal brand. The fact that there is no easy way to share information across DoDTechipedia, Intelink, milSuite, and soon FedSpace means that the brand has to be built independently on each site. If the content isn’t linkable across systems, we’ll never be able to achieve the benefit of knowledge sharing that’s fundamental on the internet. Sir Berners-Lee spent a good deal of time defending this property. Will anyone defend it within government? Maybe our declining budgets will force federal agencies to look across government and not create another stovepiped web if one exists that meets the need.
2. Nothing is more important than connecting to customers
Over and over I was reminded that it was core in any IT project to know your requirements and know your customers. Any IT professional knows this, but it was good for me to be reminded of it in so many different ways by so many brilliant people. It was a good personal reminder to me that even though so much time is spent “managing upward” and dealing with the bureaucracy in the DoD/DHS major system acquisition world, I need to spend more time connecting to the folks who will ultimately use the system we’re delivering.
3. It’s hard everywhere. Do it anyway.
It was good to be reminded that I’m not alone. There aren’t many challenges I face that aren’t faced by others I met. On a personal level, it was good to hear from people using wikis within Intelink and GSA that they too have to dump the content to another format for review by people who can’t edit the wiki or to serve as a finished product. I thought I was alone in that frustration after an experiment we did in my team using a wiki to write acquisition planning documents that had to be turned into MS Word docs before they were deemed suitable for finished product. Someday we’ll push out of this “great for collaboration, but not for finished product” rut we’re in for the time being.
In meeting those challenges, I was reminded of a few things I know, but which are easily forgotten when spending day after day slugging away in the trenches of a major acquisition.
Price Floyd, currently serving as the Special Advisor for International Comms at DoD reminded us of something that everyone in the military knows: it’s easier to get forgiveness than ask permission. I was also heartened by the sentiment from Peter Levin, the CTO at Veterans Affairs who has been charging forward to get things done with a basic approach that as long as it’s ethical, legal, fair, and transparent, he’s got the support to move out.
I was reminded over and over of the imperative to think big, start small, deliver quickly. The final speaker shared a story that was a great example of doing just that. Alec Ross told us the story of the three people at the State Department responsible for implementing the system to take text donations after the Haiti earthquake. The afternoon of the earthquake, they asked what they could do so folks could do something tangible first thing in the morning when they heard about the tragedy. They decided *right then* to get the program in place by the next morning. It went viral and created an outpouring of support that exceeded all expectations. All of us can take on the challenge to either be the innovators who implement ideas like that, or create the frameworks that allow them to flourish.
Yes, we all face many of the same challenges in government, but we’re also capable of having big ideas that we implement a step at a time. Starting right now. That’s my challenge for me.
Those were my three biggest takeaways. Here’s where you can find more:
2. Keynotes: The folks at O’Reilly did a great job sharing the keynotes. You can find all of them here:
For anyone who works in Government Acquisitions, I recommend you spend 10 minutes watching Mary Davie’s talk. She’s the driving force behind the BetterBuy project and wiki based requirements development.
For the folks on my team, if you want to see just my tweets, you can search by @SimplyDan and #g2e. That’s the way I took most of my notes during the two days.