One of the great challenges faced by operators of any network is the ability to have confidence in their systems’ access management. Without truly trusted identities, systems, and the information contained, cannot be trusted and leave agencies vulnerable.  With Government’s enormous level of complexity of the IT ecosystem and budget processes, both are challenged with ID management issues.  Identity, Access Management and Digital Trust are fundamental to any Information Governance Framework given its importance to security, as well as its (potential positive financial) impact on electronic discovery costs. End-to-end information management must be married to end-to-end employee management to address Insider Threats with “employee” defined as anybody given access to any system, device and/or information asset.


In a recent Market Connections survey sponsored by Unisys, survey respondents said external threats, mobile device use, and vulnerability patching were the areas of greatest concern in their respective agencies. Agencies are confronting these challenges via smart cards, endpoint security software, configuration management software, Network Access Control (NAC) solutions and more.  Nearly two-thirds of the respondents felt identity management systems are very important to secure operations of their agencies.


The proliferation of connected devices, adoption of cloud computing, and digitalization—individually and collectively— are also challenging those responsible for Identity and Access Management to find solutions in a rapidly changing and evolving technology landscape.  Government IT leaders need to ensure their Identity and Access Management teams are enabled to take advantage of the latest technological advances. 


In the last few years, just about everyone has come to appreciate the importance of having strong cybersecurity.  Confronting these ever-changing threats with limited budgets and in some cases very outdated information systems, will keep many Government leaders awake at night.  NIST’s Trusted Identities Group’s efforts are providing leadership and guidance everyone in government can leverage to improve their cyber risk posture.   To truly achieve Digital Trust, it will take government and industry support and enforcement of strict Identity and Access Management compliance. Our confidence in government depends on it.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorteThe Honorable Elizabeth Laporte Latest Judge to Present at DGI

Over the years, Digital Government Institute (“DGI”) has had the privilege to hear from a variety of luminaries from the Judiciary, including Judges Facciola, Lamberth, Peck and Francis. DGI is delighted that United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte from the Northern District of California[1] will be participating (March 22nd) in its 15th Annual E-Discovery & Records and Information Management Conference.

Appointed in April 1998, Judge Laporte presides over civil (patent, trademark, copyright,[2] business litigation, employment, civil rights, etc.) and criminal cases.  Judge Laporte has participated in dozens of educational programs, worldwide, regarding patent litigation, e-discovery, jury trials, etc. and is considered one of the top judges in the country with respect to e-discovery.

Even before the (December) 2015 updates to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,[3] Judge Laporte expected “parties to take responsibility for efficient discovery. She reflected [at a LegalTech event] that justice cannot be carried out if litigation is too costly, and most discovery occurs outside the supervision of the court.”[4]  Shortly after the Rules Amendments took effect, she emphasized “parties’ duties to cooperate under Rule 1 to ensure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every case, and to achieve proportionate discovery under Rule 26 that facilitates a just determination on the merits.“[5] The Northern District of California E-Discovery (ESI) Guidelines & Checklist[6] cover, inter alia, Cooperation, Discovery Proportionality, Preservation, Meet and Confer, etc. Guideline 3.01 (Judicial Expectations of Counsel) details what Counsel should be familiar with, to wit, discovery provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, The Advisory Committee Report on the 2015 Amendments, the Court’s Guidelines, as well as the Court’s Checklist.[7]


The hottest topics in E-Discovery are Preservation, Proportionality and Technology Assisted Review (and other applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence to large data sets). Preservation of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) has always been challenging (for both the private and public sectors) due to the rapid proliferation of technology, communication channels and data itself. Government is obligated to manage/produce its ESI (including within the FOIA context) in the same way the private sector is (sometimes, with fewer resources). Records and Information Management is foundational to enabling the Legal Office of Agencies and other government entities to meet its litigation, investigation and FOIA obligations (and to do so in a timely manner). Join DGI March 22nd to learn more about these topics, including during the Fireside Chat with Judge Laporte.


[2] The work Judge Laporte and former US District Judge Martin Jenkins did defining the boundaries of property rights and contractual rights in the licensing of digital works was so important, they are credited with the “Jenkins-Laporte doctrine.”–Laporte_doctrine.

[3] Summary of December 2015 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (December 7, 2015)

[4] Tara Emory, What the Judges Said: Top 10 Takeaways from LegalTech Judges Panel DRIVEN

[5] Monica Bay, The Circuit: Legaltech New York 2016 ABOVE THE LAW (January 20, 2016)


[7] Ibid.

Every month, Digital Government Institute will profile an Education Advisory Committee (“EAC”) Member. This month’s Interviewee is HHS OIG Chief Information Officer, Chris Chilbert who serves on DGI’s Enterprise Architecture EAC. We hope you join us Thursday, April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC for the 17th annual  Enterprise Architecture Conference.

Chris Chilbert serves as the Chief Information Officer of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). He leads OIG’s efforts to employ modern technology and practices to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in federal healthcare spending. While at OIG, he has overseen the modernization of legacy networking, computing, mobile, and software infrastructure in support of the agency’s mission. Prior to joining HHS, Chris led the enterprise architecture program at the Department of Homeland Security, spent several years as a management consultant, and served as an officer in the navy’s submarine force. Mr. Chilbert holds a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering from the United States Naval Academy and a Masters in Business Administration from the College of William and Mary. He was named a 2015 Fed 100 by FCW, as well as a GovTransformer “for being a federal IT leader who can translate complex IT challenges into mission success.” 


How long have you been at your Agency and what do you do there?

I have been at HHS OIG just over 2 years (since December 2015). My job is to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in the trillion dollar federal healthcare portfolio and protect federal healthcare beneficiaries.   I lead our efforts to employ technology to enable law enforcement, audit, evaluation, and legal operations in pursuit of this mission.  Our goals are to securely put data at our employees’ fingertips when and where they need it and to run a world class IT operation.

What is the hottest topic being discussed at the Agency?

There are two pressing issues for HHS OIG. The first is to protect Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries from prescription drug abuse (i.e., addressing part of the country’s opioid addiction challenge).  We use advanced data analytics tools and techniques to identify anomalies in prescribing drugs and support our law enforcement officers in the field. The second pressing issue is to curb waste, fraud and abuse in Medicaid programs.  We do this by collaborating with each state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and analyzing each state’s claims data.  Getting access to this data is a top priority, and we have made significant progress by working closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

What will people at your Agency be confronted with the next 3-5 years– what opportunities/hurdles (especially with respect to Robots, chatbots, Artificial Intelligence, etc.)?

We will need to continue to maintain a secure, robust infrastructure to support our oversight mission.  HHS OIG is a Law Enforcement agency, Audit Firm (auditing a $1Trillion portfolio), healthcare think tank, and law firm. Each of these functions is supported by data analysis and various software applications.  Some applications are more than a decade old and need to be modernized.  We are aggressively adopting innovative technologies such as cloud computing and open source software as we replace purpose-built, siloed applications with software platforms that can support multiple business functions. We are using agile management practices such as DevOps to systematically build out that robust infrastructure taking an enterprise perspective with each new capability we deploy. We also plan to begin exploring machine learning and AI to further enable our mission. There may also be opportunities to automate some fairly rote back office processes (perhaps using digital robots in the procurement process to be more efficient).

What is your funniest/fondest memory/What are you most proud of during your government service?

My fondest memories are from when I did things that had a big impact. Putting smartphones in the hands of everyone in the IG Department has had important positive impact. In one instance, the ability to leverage search capabilities in real time resulted in arrest (e.g., enabling an Agent to access a Driver License database and then text photo to local Law Enforcement to apprehend the criminal who was on the run and no physical description was readily available).

What are your top three recommendations for others entering the discipline within government?

  1. Have humility- we must remember we serve the citizens of the country. For the time we serve, we need to keep in mind those who came before us and those who will come after us.  While in government, we are stewards of the public trust.
  2. Be Bold- we face large problems and you cannot make an impact unless you take bold action—you have to take risks and take on big things.
  3. Need to be patient and persistent- never stop doing things the right way; always continue to push to make change and stick it out. Change only happens when we have the will to persevere.



As a son of a retailer from Allentown, PA, I witnessed firsthand the importance of providing excellent customer service.  It was fundamental to business success especially with a rapidly changing competitive landscape. Rapidly evolving technology continues to hand consumers growing power to choose how and where to buy products and services, pushing customer expectations for superior service ever higher. 


Federal, State and Local governments are being called upon to provide more-responsive service, improved collaboration, increased transparency, and more-proactive efforts to improve customer satisfaction.  On the Federal level, virtually all previous administrations mentioned the importance of improving government service.  Some accomplished great things, some made major improvements, some talked about it, some had minimal impact.  The ongoing government challenge is to have the capability to provide similar quality of customer service on par with what citizens encounter in the private sector.    


The foundational premise of government is to serve the citizens.  Over the past twenty years, DGI’s coverage of the topic took many forms and aligned with the government solution focus of the time.  In 1998, eGovernment was the ‘hot’ topic of the day and DGI produced educational programming focused on government websites delivering service to citizens. 


Early in the new decade, the focus evolved into Customer Relations Management issues with transitional guidance coming from the Educational Advisory Committee members.  This evolved into focusing on the role, capabilities and importance of government Contact Centers which lead to the management and oversight of multi-channel service capabilities.  In 2007, working with the Educational Advisory Committee, DGI changed the name of the annual event to the Government Customer Service Conference.  As the topic evolves, so does the educational focus of the programming.  The focus the last two years was Customer Experience (CX). 


Digital Government Institute looks forward to delivering a platform to gather the service excellence community to discuss the policy, technology, and applications to improve government customer service for the next 20 years and beyond.

FISMA History

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) was enacted in 2002 as part of the E-Government Act of 2002.  The purpose of this legislation was to spotlight the importance of information security to the security interests of the country.  The Act requires each federal agency to develop, document and implement an agency-wide program to provide IT security for the information systems supporting the operations and assets of the agency including those provided by contractors.  Since 2009, Digital Government Institute has provided FISMA training seminars 2-3 times per year.


There has never been a time when security has been more important; to not just government, but society itself. In our data-driven, globally connected world, economic security is national security. Government performs multiple functions and in doing so, must appropriately protect its systems and data. It must also work with the private sector in critical infrastructure sectors. Given the incredible rate of technological advances and the consumerization of IT, government is struggling to keep up.


One security professional who has lived through decades of IT/Security evolution is Jim Litchko. Throughout his career, including time spent in the Navy and at NSA, as well as working in the private sector (now as a renowned consultant), he has always been on the cutting edge. Mr. Litchko created (and taught) the first graduate computer security course at Johns Hopkins. A few times each year, he leaves his home in sunny Portugal and heads to DC to share his expertise with attendees at DGI-sponsored FISMA training.  Mr. Litchko’s goal is to decrease the complexity of security. Given the number of returning attendees, he must be achieving that goal. The training classes include students new to the subject as well as those with 30+ years of experience.

Important Documents

Two important documents covered in the course are NIST Special Publication 800-53 Rev. 5 (Draft) Security and Privacy Controls for Information Systems and Organizations[1] and NIST Special Publication 800-37 Rev. 2 (Draft) Risk Management Framework for Information Systems Organizations: A System Life Cycle Approach for Security and Privacy (Discussion Draft)[2]—both of which have their next iterations delayed “due to the full integration of privacy-related material”[3] still being in process.[4] He uses the NIST Cybersecurity Framework[5] as an outline for preparing System Security Plans. He prefers one document for Operations and Security—a Security Operations Plan; reasoning that they have the same goals and people should recognize the connection. The course will also cover Metrics,[6] relevant Frameworks (e.g., Risk Management Framework, System Development Life Cycle, System Security Engineering Framework, etc.), DHS activities (e.g., Automation such as Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation,[7] as well as Trusted Internet Connections), and Cloud Computing Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program—FedRAMP.


The course has been offered for nine years.  The materials are regularly refreshed and guest speakers from NIST and DHS provide the latest . Last year’s Cybersecurity Executive Order seemed to provide a key ingredient previously missing—accountability at the Executive level within an Agency. Time will tell whether security has improved as result of that enticement. Agency reports are due to Congress and the Government Accountability Office by March 1, 2018.[8]


For more information, visit



[3]Planning Note (1/8/2018): Due to the full integration of privacy-related material into key NIST publications such as SP 800-37 and SP 800-53, the original production schedule has been delayed.  NIST will be working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish a new schedule of deliverables for all publications undergoing updates and will publish that schedule as soon as it is available.”;    

[4] Planning Note from January 8, 2018 had not been updated as of February 7, 2018.


[6] FY 2018 CIO FISMA Metrics Version 1.0 31 October 2017


[8] M-18-02 MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEAADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Guidance on Federal Information Security and Privacy Management Requirements (October 16, 2017)

Every month, Digital Government Institute will profile an Education Advisory Committee (“EAC”) Member. DGI’s Inaugural Interviewee is FTC’s David Shonka who serves on DGI’s E-Discovery, Records & Information Management EAC. We hope you join us Thursday, March 22, 2018 in Washington, DC for the 15th annual E-Discovery, Records and Information Management Conference.

Executive Insight: David C. Shonka, Acting General Counsel, Federal Trade Commission

David C. Shonka has been the Acting General Counsel of the Federal Trade Commission since March 2016. He has served in that position twice previously (January – June 2009 and October 2012 – June 2013). The FTC’s General Counsel is the agency’s chief law officer and adviser.  He is also the agency’s Principal Deputy General Counsel. In both roles, Mr. Shonka provides legal services that cover the full range of the Commission’s activities, from appellate litigation to internal operations, including counseling on legislation, ethics, and administrative matters.  He has also personally represented the Commission in numerous district court and appellate proceedings.

Mr. Shonka is a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, where he serves on the ACUS Committee on Judicial Review and the Council of Independent Regulatory Agencies; and he is an active member of the Sedona Conference, where he serves on the Steering Committee for Working Group 6 (cross-border transfers of data), has served on the Steering Committee for Working Group 1 (e-discovery and electronic records), and participates in projects for Working Group 11 (privacy and data security). He also speaks frequently on issues relating to privacy, data security, cross-border transfers of information, e-discovery, government investigations, and other regulatory matters. In 2015, Mr. Shonka received the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, one of the highest honors available to members of the Senior Executive Service.

How long have you been at your Agency and what do you do there?

I joined the Federal Trade Commission in February 1977 –so going on 41 years. I am the Acting General Counsel and have oversight of a legal office of about 50 people who defend the Agency and provide legal advice to the Commission. In describing our office to prospects, I say we are 3% of the budget and 5% of the personnel doing 100% of the work.

What is the hottest topic being discussed at the Agency?

FTC has a sweeping mandate within our two mains areas: competition and consumer protection. From my personal perspective, I think the hottest competition issues concern healthcare, pending mergers of all sorts, pharma, and Intellectual Property. On the consumer protection side, I think all of them are interesting, but personally tend to get most excited about data security and privacy and related matters.

What will people at your Agency be confronted with the next 3-5 years– what opportunities/hurdles (especially with respect to Robots, chatbots, Artificial Intelligence, etc.)?

I think our hurdles will be harnessing technology within the confines of limited budget and resources. The greatest opportunity with respect to technology (Data Analytics, Technology Assisted Review, Artificial Intelligence) lies in its ability to improve efficiencies and provide better workflow and security. 

What is your funniest/fondest memory/What are you most proud of during your government service?

My fondest memories are of those times when a small group would be working intensely on a case (long hours, nights and weekends) and would produce a quality product. Contrary to what many people seem to think, the government isn’t a gigantic monolith—very often, it is out-resourced by the other side. A former colleague of mine said it well when he commented (more than once) about the pride he felt in being able to stand up in a federal court and say that he was there on behalf of the people of the United States.

What are your top three recommendations for others entering the discipline within government?

  1. Always look around for unmet needs—my own involvement in e-discovery and security are examples of this. A privilege issue I was asked to look into spurred more involvement in e-discovery, which was becoming very important at that time. Later, when the 2006 Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were about to take effect, I (and many others in the Agency) thought it critical that all of our attorneys take a consistent approach to e-discovery in the scores of cases that we have pending at any one time. We organized ourselves to make sure that happened.
  2. Own and correct your mistakes.
  3. No matter what, keep your eye on the ball—ask, what really matters here


Whether you are addressing record keeping by NARA, focusing agency efforts on IT Modernization, selecting Emerging Technologies for improved Citizen Services or improving IT security, one important common denominator is the need for an appropriate Information Governance schema that is holistic, cross-agency and keeps up with technological capability. Whatever Information Governance an agency has in place (and it certainly varies), there is no question it needs to continually be updated to incorporate all the ways data are being created, shared and stored.

Some recent developments/current events to factor in existing Information Governance processes include:

  • NARA’s Strategic Plan (FY 2018 – FY 2022), scheduled to be published next month, ushers in a new era of government information management. Several of the Plan’s Objectives enable change through provision of policies and processes for the transition to fully electronic recordkeeping, as well as sponsorship of a career development program to ensure proper skills.
  • The Modernizing Government Technology Act (“MGT”) signed into law last month (as part of the National Defense Authorization Act). The MGT “creates a $500 million central modernization fund for agencies to borrow against to update aging and insecure systems.
  •  The US General Services Administration hosted the Interagency Emerging Citizen Technologies Meeting December 2017. The plan is to create a Pilot training and education program around the discussed emerging technologies and target high-need communities including Data Stewards, Contracting Officers and Non-Technical Program Managers.
  • On January 3, 2018, almost a quarter million people received notification letters from the US Department of Homeland Security about a potential privacy incident related to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) Case Management System.

Modernizing Information Governance means coordination and collaboration with multiple agency stakeholders — to include but not limited to Information Technology, Records Management, Privacy, Security, Data Analytics, Legal, Compliance and, of course, the relevant “Business Owners” who ultimately “own” the data and are responsible for it throughout its lifecycle. This level of cooperation and integration of strategies and implementations is no small feat.

In today’s hyper-connected, always-on world, the ability to access and or create information anytime and from anywhere is the new normal.  Agencies will need to ensure they leverage Information Governance best practices to create efficiencies and to protect government data, which includes citizen data. Information Governance, and its attendant rigor in full lifecycle management, will be critical to delivery of citizen services as well as our national security and competitiveness.

Visit to register for webinars and events covering this important topic.




It has been an interesting year in the Government IT channel.  The Presidential election last Fall leading to a new administration in January, a budget process stuck in continuing resolution mode, rapidly advancing technology and the pressing need for agencies to modernize made the first two quarters of the government fiscal year a bit more tumultuous than normal.  With only five months remaining in FY ’17, many want to know what lies ahead.

First, with the recent CR being approved, it looks like government spending will normalize the remaining months of FY ’17 but few know what to expect when new government fiscal year begins 10/1/17.  Both political parties continue to be steadfast in their beliefs and it looks like the threats of ‘government shutdowns’ will dominate the news later this summer and heat up in September.  It is my wish for the budget process to get back to regular order and Congress pass individual appropriation bills.  The ‘omnibus’ process is a disaster and needs reform.

Second, spending for the first two quarters seems to be tracking with FY ’16 based on industry estimates.    Most agencies will be funded near or at 2016 levels with the new CR, and spending should be relatively normal for remainder of FY ’17 thus opportunities for new and increased business are available for the IT vendor community.

Third, the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT) designed to provide startup funds for agencies to modernize legacy IT systems will be introduced to Congress soon and when enacted will create multiple new business opportunities for IT vendors for many months to come.

Fourth, on page 9 of the Comprehensive Plan for Reforming Government (M-17-22) Agencies should consider government-wide contracts for common goods and services to save money, avoid wasteful and redundant contracting actions, and free-up acquisition staff to accelerate procurements for high-priority mission work. To the maximum extent practicable, especially for the acquisition of common goods and services, agencies shall use existing contract solutions such as: Federal Supply Schedules; Government-wide acquisition contracts; Multi-agency contracts; and Any other procurement instruments intended for use by multiple agencies, including “Best in Class” (BIC).

What lies ahead is a lot of opportunity for IT vendors with the knowledge, resume, reputation, contract vehicles and relationships in the channel?  Mark Amtower, consultant and founder of the Government Market Master continuing professional education program, frequently writes about the importance and growing use of GWACS.  He believes GWACS will continue to grow in popularity in FY ’17 and beyond for multiple reasons including (1) the vetting process to win a prime contract spot on the respective vehicles (2) the ease of use for government to use vehicles (3) quick turnaround time.  All three of Mark’s points align with initiatives outlined above.  With the new administration’s active endorsement for agencies to accelerate procurements using existing contract vehicles, GWACs is where a lot of action will be in QIV this year. 

Interested in learning more?  Mark Amtower will moderate a panel of Government IT Subject Matter Experts/Industry Leaders to review what’s new and what lies ahead for Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts and IT Contracting for the current and next fiscal year at Digital Government Institute’s 5th annual 930gov Conference & Tradeshow on September 6, 2017 at the Washington Convention Center

930gov “Where government gathers” is a free, one-day, multi-track training and educational event where 2,000 government IT professionals from multiple technical communities gather to engage, get informed, be inspired and experience a dynamic exhibitor floor full of industry-leading vendors and their respective solutions. Registration is free for Government & Industry

Producing 930gov is a bit like staging an Inaugural Ball.

You plan for a year, the big day arrives, you have everyone you respect in one place, there’s this action-packed whirlwind of activity, and BAM! it feels like the whole thing is over in minutes. As the dust settles, you’re left with a profound sense of relief, satisfaction—and already, the first 5 or 10 items on your to-do list for the next go around.  

You’re also blessed with indelible memories—a mental montage of great moments from all the sessions, as well as discussions with our speakers, exhibitors, attendees. The ideas were flying; you try to take it all in, but it really was a fun challenge to take it all in.  

Some excerpts from my personal “930gov montage”on twitterView the entire story with highlights from each technical community.

So I was happily exhausted (more mentally than physically) as I was walked to the closing reception. And on the way I was compiling a list—of all the people I needed to thank for another successful 930gov event.

I’d like to thank:

  • The DGI staff, for their above and beyond dedication. They thrive on pressure and make pulling off miracles standard operating procedure. 930gov doesn’t happen without what they do.
  • Each of the technical communities who meet at 930gov: Knowledge Management, Records Management, DevOps, IT and Cyber Security, and Government Customer Experience. 930gov is really their conference.
  • Our speakers who brought the depth, substance, experience, and expertise that makes 930gov the gold standard in government events.
  • The exhibitors and sponsors for making 930gov possible—and for all they do to support government technical communities.
  • And finally, I thanked our attendees, who brought their professionalism, open minds, and eagerness to learn to every session they filled. They made great points, asked great questions, and generally challenged our presenters to be at their best.

 It should be clear from all this that 930gov is no one-man show. It’s definitely a team effort, the result of the efforts of a government IT community fully committed to advancing KM, RM, DevOps, Cyber, and Customer Service in the federal government. I’m grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make this year’s event such a success.

We have great things on the drawing/planning table for the 5th anniversary of 930gov in 2017. Join our mailing listfor updates. 

Because tomorrow, we’re going to get up and work on our remaining conferences, trainings, and webinars . 

Image of people at tradeshows 930GOV | DGI

Thirty years ago, the live event government marketplace was a completely different realm. Back then, great tradeshows stalked the earth and the apex predator for federal marketing dollars was an annual “Tradeshow and Conference” filling the prior Washington Convention Center multiple times each year.Fast forward to the present and it’s a very different epoch. The apex predator “Tradeshow and Conference” of old is extinct, with not even a single fossil remaining. Today, the government market calendar abounds with a profusion of small mammals—variously known as single vendor “Summits” or single solution conferences held in hotels and related meeting space throughout the DC metro area—with multiple events scheduled virtually every day of the business calendar.

So what happened to the great tradeshow?

Unlike the dinosaurs, the great government “Tradeshow and Conference” wasn’t done in by a single cataclysmic event—such as the advent of the Internet. Rather, large tradeshows were diminished by smaller factors including: lack of focus and management attention, mergers and acquisitions, and greed. Combine that with the inability of established tradeshows to adapt to changing market dynamics resulting in declining attendance. Meanwhile, tighter ethical guidelines and government travel restrictions made attending multi-day, large horizontal events risky.

But more than anything else, the scale and complexity of the challenges government agencies faced grew beyond the plausible scope of even the grandest tradeshow. Thirty years ago the large government tradeshows were focused on products; vendors used the event to announce new products and services. At a time when agencies were trying to stand up local area networks, connect network printers, and get email to everybody, it made sense to convert the convention center into a giant, one-stop mall for IT products and related services.

With Moore’s law in full effect, computers and other IT products were improving dramatically from year to year justifying annual participation. The large tradeshow enabled buyers to see, touch, and try the full range of their IT options, all in one place, all at one time—it was a win-win for both agency personnel and vendors.

But over time, the focus shifted from the desktop, beyond the LAN, to the enterprise and beyond. Products that were once innovations became commodities. Today, few IT leaders are going to leave their office to address challenges that can be solved by purchasing a product. They can jump online, investigate and click “Buy.”

As the emphasis shifted away from products with vendors using other media formats to make new product announcements, the large events started to decline in exhibit space and attendance. Instead of updating the tradeshow format, show organizers stuck with the old formula of trying to be everything to everybody—using taglines like ‘Technology Unites Us”—leading to lost exhibitors and attendees. The same goes for hard-pressed publications scrambling to replace declining magazine advertising revenue. The transition from an industrial economy to the information based economy continues to destroy many prior successful business models.

Split off from the mammoth-sized exhibition, in the past 15 years “small mammal” sized events filled up the event calendar (small mammal event defined as a one day/ half day solution specific events). The value of these events vary greatly with multiple alternatives happening each week or in some cases the same day. Unfortunately, many are just elaborately concealed sales pitches.

Making tradeshows great again

So how can the classic tradeshow be revived? Should they be revived? The answer is definitely “yes” but only if the tradeshow evolves into a new form and format. Tradeshows must move away from broadcasting information vendors want to convey to building communities, and start facilitating conversations agency professionals want and need to hear. To be of any great value, tradeshows must essentially become a dynamic form of live, in-person social media.

Blog Post Template v2

The new tradeshow is a platform and venue for gathering communities of interest for discussion and networking. It’s where professionals can gather to engage with one another as well as with subject matter—with ample time for deeper dives, face-to-face networking, and nuanced conversations that are difficult to replicate online.

To function in this way, tradeshows must be organized to support the ongoing work of government technical communities. The work goes on every day, all year, in all sorts of ways, in all different agencies. The new tradeshow exists to summarize and surface all of that work for review and discussion among the community as a whole. Following the tradeshow, now armed with up-to-date, holistic perspective, the community can get back to work equipped with new ideas to tackle another year.

The new tradeshow is part of the process of advancing the work. Which means the content, speakers, and formats must be curated by someone who is intimately familiar with the people, projects, and subject matter that truly matter within technical communities. The result of that familiarity is the essence of the new tradeshow: specific, contextual, and relevant. Sustaining that relevance over time is the primary qualification for greatness.

A great tradeshow is one that consistently delivers great value and can adapt to the constantly changing environment.

In this way, tradeshows can resurface and be great once again.