Blogging from ELC: On PowerPoint, tight budgets and innovation

Steve Kelman offers some initial observations on the scene at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

More to come.

The Executive Leadership Conference (ELC) in Williamsburg is probably the federal IT community's leading conference, with about a thousand participants (about two-thirds from industry, one-third from government). The conference just started Sunday night, and I will be sending at least one more post from Williamsburg, but I wanted to give some very quick initial impressions:

1) PowerPoint presentations are changing. The two plenary presentations so far (one by Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration, and Scott Klososky, a technology speaker) featured PowerPoint slides very unlike the traditional text-based, bullet-point, mini-speech style. Their slides were visually intense, with lots of pictures and even videos – and with minimal text, having no bullet points summarizing the remarks. I have noticed a similar change during the past few years in research presentations by grad students applying for junior-faculty jobs at the Kennedy School.

2) The tight budget environment is on everybody's mind. Martha Johnson noted that around May she started getting calls from agency heads who wanted to talk about how GSA could help them save money. After confessing to being a "tree hugger" (her expression), she argued that the agency's push for "zero environmental footprint" was about reducing waste and saving money in a tight budget environment. For example, reconfiguring federal office space to take account of the fact that half of employees are not in their office on a given day is a way to reduce both energy consumption (environmental footprint) and the amount of office space the government needs to pay for. At the technology innovation session I am attending now, the introductory speaker noted that, unlike industry, government has refused to use IT consciously to reduce the need for employees and to improve productivity.

3) The mood seems to be that government has radically failed to keep up with new applications. The introductory speaker at the technology innovation panel gave the example of Recreation.gov, the site where you can make reservations at parks. Yet the site gives no opportunities for customers to share ratings or other information about the parks or about features at a given park.

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