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Dorobek Insider: GITEC starts to embrace change

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Change is never easy. Despite almost becoming the mantra for 2008, we all know that change is very, very difficult. So whenever I watch other organizations evolve — and let’s be honest, none of us do it particularly well — I always watch with a large amount of empathy. GITEC seems to be one of those organizations right now. And, frankly, the leadership deserves a certain amount of credit because many people thought that the organization simply wouldn’t be able to make it happen.

First, some background…

GITEC is the Government Information Technology Executive Council (GITEC). (To be honest with you, I’ve always been confused about the councils and how these organizations work, their relationship with the American Council for Technology (ACT). As far as I understand it, the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) is also one of ACT’s councils. AFFIRM is also among them. To be completely honest, I’m unclear about how they work and I’m unclear why they are all necessary. But… maybe we can talk about that later or somebody can explain it to me.)

GITEC’s big event is the annual IPIC, which is one of the big government IT conferences of the year and has been held in Orlando, Fla. for some time in the late winter. IPIC 2009 will mark the 25th anniversary, so it has been around for some time. But these are different and challenging times. There is so much competition for people’s time — and money. And then there are so many conferences out there these days. So GITEC and IPIC have been facing a growing chorus of grumbling for the last several years. And there was some quiet talk about whether GITEC and IPIC were necessary these days. (There were a number of people at IPIC 2008 earlier this year who had not attended in a number of years and were shocked that conference had not evolved.)

Somewhat paradoxically, much of it came to a head just before the start of the GITEC IPIC 2008 conference earlier this year. (Perhaps somebody could have predicted that given that the theme of GITEC’s IPIC 2008 was “Transforming the infrastructure: Managing and protecting data for the future.”)

As they traditionally do, the GITEC board met on the Saturday, March 1 before IPIC started for one of its regular meetings.

These meetings are traditionally largely a formality. This one ended up being a more… how do they say it over at the State Department… a more frank and honest discussion then I gather typically happens at these gatherings. During that session NASA Goddard CIO and GITEC board member Linda Cureton gave a presentation, which she called, “Heroes needed for GITEC.” You can see that presentation here.

[I should note specifically that I did not get this presentation from Cureton. I should also not that I did not get it from Anne Armstrong, president of the 1105 Government Information Group and my former boss. Armstrong serves as a member of the GITEC executive advisory board. I generally have not spoken to her about the issues facing GITEC and IPIC — either when I was at FCW or since — because I felt it put her in an uncomfortable postion as a GITEC executive advisory board member. All of that being said, there were many people in the session.]

In her March presentation, Cureton essentially says that IPIC — and by extension GITEC — need to change.

It’s interesting because when I spoke to many of the board members and the executive advisory board, at that time there were fairly sharply divergent opinions about the state of the GITEC and IPIC. (The GITEC board is made up of feds. The Executive Advisory Board has no voting authority. They provide advice to the GITEC board.)

Essentially, Cureton said that GITEC is “dying and needs to be saved.” While she highlighted a number of the organization’s strength, she noted that GITEC has a weak management infrastructure, has been unable to expand beyond IPIC, and lacks a strategic focus.

One of the obvious issues facing the GITEC board is the length of IPIC. There have been ongoing complaints about IPIC’s length — Sunday through Thursday — and cost — the Renaissance Sea World hotel just across from Sea World has proven to be expensive.

Cureton recommended shortening IPIC, selecting a location that is closer to Washington, D.C., and having GITEC leverage the ACT infrastructure. (ACT and IAC have full-time, paid staff; GITEC does not. I believe the recommendation would be to have ACT/IAC essentially run IPIC the way the ACT/IAC runs MOC and ELC.)

Again, at the time, there were very divergent opinions on the board. At the time, the consensus of the board seemed to be that, while they agreed with Cureton’s viewpoint, they thought the timing was wrong coming just before the start of IPIC.

Then there is a contingent of GITEC board members who don’t think GITEC nor IPIC is broken. One board member noted that attendance is up — I heard a range of number of government attendees, all of them between 150-165. This board member noted that they have been doing well with sponsors and getting companies on the exhibit floor. And, this board member said, the conference agenda has improved in recent years. And IPIC has given away a lot of money to charities over the years.

By contrast, there are a group of board members — and a number of the Executive Advisory Board — who believe that IPIC simply has not evolved. And there are many people that I spoke to who believe that GITEC is… broken may be too strong, but it may not be that far off.

Unfortunately the board does not hold its meetings in public, so there is no open discussion of these kinds of issues. Several board members said that Cureton raised issues that the board has known about and discussed. Again, the meetings are not held in public, so there is no way of knowing. My sense is that GITEC’s issues have been acknowledged, but they have not been discussed in a truly public way. Instead, they have been discussed around the edges. Again, I should note that I am not in the GITEC board meetings.

I give Cureton a lot of credit for bringing the issues front and center, opening it up to discussion.

And, in fact, I think it had an impact. GITEC is changing. I don’t have any official word from GITEC board members. The current GITEC president, who I believe is FBI’s Gail Scavongelli, and the former president Scott Craig of the Department of Vetarans Affairs, did not respond to various e-mails. I have, however, spoken to many of the board members as well as many of the members of the advisory board. If GITEC officials want to talk, I will certainly post their comments.

What I have been able to cull from those semi-official sources is that there IPIC — and GITEC — are changing and evolving. From what I hear, this will be the last year that IPIC will be held at the Renisance hotel. GITEC is also actively considering shortening the conference — perhaps following the model used by many of the conferences these days where they start Sunday and finish up mid-day on Tuesday. The board is also looking at whether there needs to be a show floor. And, in a significant move, GITEC has also decided not to renew its agreement with Jim Dean, who had run IPIC’s operations for several years and has proven to be very controversial.

Over the weekend, I got a note from Dean:

I have resigned and Technology Forums will be handling IPIC 2009. I will be with GITEC until December 31 working with Mark Hamilton on transition logistics and with Gail Scavongelli, GITEC President, with Admin support.

I will certainly miss relationships established over the years, and working with such notables as Ann Armstrong, Linda Cureton, Elaine Dauphin, Bob Bruce, Bob Woods, Faye Shepherd and so many others too many to mention.

As Dean mentioned, GITEC has apparently hired Technology Forums, apparently without putting the opportunity out to bid. I have no doubt whatsoever that there would have been several bidders. My former employer, the 1105 Government Information Group, has an entire events team — and there are many others out there. Joanne Connelly’s ConnellyWorks, for example, helped me with FCW’s Government Leadership Summit earlier this year and has run the state of Virginia’s Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS) for several years. And there are others… the Digital Government Institute… or Hosky Communications. I don’t fully understand why one wouldn’t put the conference management out for competition.

So… stay tuned. I hope we will hear more as IPIC and GITEC evolve. And a big kudos to Linda Curtin for saying to the board what many have been saying privately.

There are other issues here, but… more later.

Written by cdorobek

September 24, 2008 at 9:03 AM

Posted in Circuit, community, Government Groups

Tagged with , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » Earlier, we told you about the changes at GITEC — slow changes, but changes, or so it seems. Many of those changes have been spurred by Linda […]

  2. […] been getting shorter as it is just difficult for people to carve out so much time from work. As I reported earlier this year, IPIC, for example, is considering shortening its four-day […]

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