Live Blogging Google’s Innovation for the Nation: Morning Session

UPDATE 2:05 p.m. Well, it turns out the afternoon session is closed to the press. It also turns out that I’m considered one of them. So I won’t be bringing you any more updates. But hey, I hear the morning speakers were more interesting anyway.

12:20 p.m. We’re done for the morning. Thanks for reading. I’ll be back with more this afternoon.

12:05 p.m. We’ll be breaking for lunch in just a minute, but first we’re getting a pretty hilarious monologue from Seth Reiss of The Onion.

11:55 a.m. We’re hearing the announcement that NOAA will be migrating completely to Google apps. Nice.

11:30 a.m. Matthew Glotzbach is the Director of Product Management at Google. He’s talking about the technology and budget gaps at the national and state and local levels.

What is the technology gap? It’s the idea that “consumer tech” is outstripping “business (and academic) tech.” Particularly as we move into the cloud computing era. When you think of innovation, you think of the consumer side. And the things we’re using to do our jobs are often not state-of-the-art. They’re outdated.

Many government employees will tell you their kids have better technology in their backpacks … than they have at their desks at work.

That was a quote by barack Obama, Tech is the means, not the end. It’s supposed to make it easier toserve the public. In fact, if done right, it should become invisible.

Glotzbach gives four reasons to close the gap. And he says the way to do it is through cloud computing. It’s economical, flexible, and fast (to procure and to deploy)

Productivity: It’s about moving from individual to team productivity; creating a more mobile workforce; focusing resources on your core mission in the most innovative and efficient way possible. “Mobile first” is the key. Your kids would go crazy if you said they couldn’t access Facebook on their phones. Soon we’re going to expect to be able to do the daily functions of our jobs on our mobile devices.

*At this point they’re doing a demo of Google Docs. I doubt people are surprised by what we’re seeing here, because we all take Google apps so much for granted. Truth is, though, it’s pretty amazing what you can do. Real-time language translation in g-chat? Wow.*

People: Part of your job is to bring in the best and brightest and get them to want to work for you to serve the public. The next generation are “cloud natives.” Consumer simplicity and user choice are going to be important in attracting and keeping them. You don’t want tech to get in the way.

Security: The elephant in the room. The cloud needs to be secure… and it is. The operating systems we use were not build with connectivity in mind. “They’re fundamentally flawed.” The web on the other hand was built to be secure. We’re doing continuous innovation (think: Google’s two-step verification process). It’s also stateless, meaning there’s no devices to lose or be stolen.

*Now they’re doing a demo of the new Google Chrome OS. Now this is something I’m not familiar with and I can see how we could be looking at the future of computing.*

Budget: There is a bottom line, and the cloud model “is really, significantly cheaper.”

10:50 a.m. Google was kind enough to give us a 30-minute coffee break. We should be back on any minute now, though.

10:00 a.m. Steven Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From,” is on now.

He’s telling a story: It’s 1854 and London is facing repeated cholera outbreaks. Authorities think it’s because people are breathing in noxious vapors. We know now it’s a water-born disease. They were wrong.

John Snow, a doctor, starts investigating and builds a map illustrating where the deaths are happening. He realizes they’re clustered around a water pump and determines cholera must be in the water. Soon thereafter, choera is eradicated. It was like a Victorian episode of CSI! So Johnson decides to write a book about it and discovers… the facts he’s just shared are almost all wrong. Snow had been working on the water-born theory for six years. The map was just the way he persuaded others he was right. Also, he’d had a partner, a vicar names Whitehead. He wasn’t the loan genius and there wasn’t a eureka moment. In fact, it’s a story about the powers of networks and collaboration.

Johnson has several hypotheses about innovation:

The Slow Hunch: ideas happen gradually. Eureka moments are usually myths concocted after the fact. There’s almost always an incubation period that precedes the innovative, groundbreaking idea. So the trick is actually keeping those hunches alive.

The Adjacent Possible: There are a set of possible moves that can be made at any point in time. Those are the “adjacent possible.” You can’t jump straight to a more advanced technology without going through the intermediary steps.

The Liquid Network: Breakthrough innovations in the 18th Century happened in coffee houses! Why? Because that was when people could afford coffee and tea for the first time (rather than alcohol). But also because coffee shops were “multidisciplinary spaces.” Different people with different problems and backgrounds started thinking about collaboration.

Diversity Matters: Innovators have weak-tie connections to a much more diverse range of professions. They know people who do all kinds of different things.

Platforms Matter: A few years ago D.C. launched a competition for people to build apps to make use of publicly available data. For something like $20K they ended up with 47 awesome apps. No way they could have done that the traditional way. It would have cost $10 million and the apps would’ve been a whole lot less creative… and there would have been a lot fewer of them.

9:30 a.m. We’re now hearing from David Girouard, the president of Google Enterprise.

This session is about technology in leadership. David has been reading Churchill’s memoirs from World War II. He says the British leader recognized the potential impact of new technologies for the times, like radar, on the war effort. He had an Oxford physicist who became a confidant and advisor to Churchill. Sounds familiar? It was Churchill’s CIO.

An example of an important technology is Ushahidi, or “testamonial” in Swahili, which allows people to contribute information that will then be aggregated and appear on a map. This way people can see where the data is coming from. Living Social is another example that’s local to D.C. A year ago they were a 33-person team, Today they employ 1,500. And is expected to be a billion-dollar company later this year.

Both Ushahidi and Living Social harness a phenomenon called “swarming.” It requires leadership, and there are lots of examples. Putting a man on the moon was an example. Doing the national census is an example. Google uses it every day. “We have no steady state.”

“We want to be first and best in cloud computing.” Our technology is four things: people-centric, reliable, secure, affordable. It’s about teams, not individuals. We’re shooting for 100.00 percent reliability. I’m proud of our efforts to put together one of the most secure systems out there. And we care about affordability.

Where do we think enterprise tech is going? We think it’s going to be…

Lightweight: fewer datacenters needed; pay as you go; green (low carbon footprint)

Diverse: devices are personal; simply secure; consistent (you-centric, not corp centric)

Invisible: fast, minimal, empowering (more team, less work)

9:05 a.m. I’m excited to be here at Google’s “Innovation for the Nation,” an all-day event at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for government CIOs. It’s in a cool old building and the lineup looks great. We’ll be hearing from people from everywhere from Google to The Onion. And if you just can’t get enough of this subject matter, look for the Twitter hash tag #IFTN2011 as well!

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