Society of Information Technology Management

Socitm is the professional association for ICT managers working in and for the public sector. I was invited to speak at today’s regional meeting in Guildford. The agenda:

09:30     Coffee and registration
10:00     Welcome and introduction (Nick Roberts, Chair Socitm South Region)
10:05     Visual Communications, Saving time, Saving Money and “Saving the earth”, is it too good to be true? (Nick Daman, Tandberg)
10:35    Webcasting – Engaging with the community – is it virtually a reality? (public-i)
11:15     Refreshment break and networking
11:45     Teleworking – Green or Mean? (Tim Dawes and Andrea Claire Smith, Nineveh)
12:25     Socitm Business
12:50     Lunch and networking
13:50     Work, Learn and Play in Virtual Worlds (Roo Reynolds, Metaverse Evangelist, IBM)
14:30     Audience / Panel discussion
14:50     Closing remarks (Nick Roberts)
15:00     Close

I’d already put some thought into what I was going to say, and prepared myself to not just (hopefully) inform and excite but also challenge.

I have always been struck not just how risk averse the public sector tends to be, but also how negative and almost unprogressive is can be. A good start was when the chair introduced the agenda, talking about all the exciting talks coming up. When pointing out that the meeting would be hearing about virtual worlds later in the day, he rather set the tone by saying “you hear that and you think at the moment, what likely use is there for that? Imagine us having council avatars. What a frightening thought.”

My scene was set. But before me, there were some other rather interesting topics to be covered…

Visual Communications, Saving time, Saving Money and “Saving the earth”, is it too good to be true?  (Nick Daman, Tandberg)

  • Video conferencing / visual communications.
  • We’d all seen it in 1998, and it had been crap.
  • One of the brilliant things about working in a Norwegian company is that they are all completely mad.
  • The tech is ready for prime time. Why?
    • IP networking
    • Bandwidth
  • Video needs to get back into the market again
  • By the 3rd time you use it, you forget it’s there.
  • There’s still value to IM, email and face-to-face.
  • video conferencing is most well accepted within education.
  • Scandinavian/Norwegian attitudes are a good fit into the public sector. Not entirely cutthroat commercial.
  • Savings of travel costs, time and carbon footprint.
  • Movi – web based (no client app) webcam based.

Tandberg were also sponsored this event, and understandably used the opportunity to give a sales pitch. I did get a nice demo of some of their hardware during the break, and was actually quite impressed with the quality and range of their products and solutions.


Webcasting – Engaging with the community – is it virtually a reality? (Matthew from public-i)

Interestingly, Matthew got the Web 2.0 ball rolling for me in his talk, citing YouTube and MySpace. People in all sectors tend to point to these as success stories, though in Matthew’s case it was particularly because he was showing popular examples of webcasting (I would later broaden the scope to social software more generally).

  • A web 2.0 generation
  • Why the interest
    • easy to use and immediate
    • accessible and convenient
    • informative and interesting
    • anonymous and sociable
  • Webcasting for council meetings
  • podcasting
  • video introductions for putting a face on websites
  • video magazine for a community and public consultation
    • YouTube-like, getting conversation started and encouraging public involvement through video responses. Hosting and streaming services provided by public-i.

I asked, for the public facing newsletter/magazine/outreach services, where people are already using YouTube, why create new systems in which people need to upload video when you can invite them to share existing content that’s already online? The answer was that apparently their clients want content moderation and a desire to host content themselves. I chatted briefly afterwards, and shared some of what I love about the BBC 2.0 vision of “don’t just build a website, be part of the web”, and do not attempt to do everything yourselves: link to other high-quality sites instead. I also showed Matthew a screenshot of the BBC Radio 1 “sucker” prototype which pulls in content from Technorati,, Flickr, etc. You can still moderate aggregated content. My feeling is that if we want to engage with our communities, why not embrace the bits of the web that already work, and are already being used by the public?


Teleworking – Green or Mean – Tim Dawes and Andrea Claire Smith, Nineveh

  • Green IT has become trendy. What does Nineveh do?
    • undertake research (and research about research)
    • run courses on ‘greening IT’
  • it takes 5x the energy of build a fridge to build a PC (and 1/9th of a car)
  • home desktop PC used for 3 years, 80% energy use in manufacture and shipping, 20% in the use.
  • local government response to IT green agenda is ostrich head in sand
  • home working reduces absenteeism, increases productivity and reduces stress
    • partly because people continue to work while sick?
  • Is teleworking – an environmental saviour?
    • + reduced commuting
    • + reduced office space
    • more equipment for home use?
    • additional energy use at home (PC, heating)
    • additional journeys?
    • car freed up for other people to use
    • living in more remote locations?
  • energy in the balance
    • heating, lighting and computer at home = 173Kg CO2
    • return commute of 28km = 217Kg CO2
    • no net saving if commute round trip is less than 22km
  • per person, heating a house is a lot less efficient than heating an office
  • “I don’t think I’ve ever worked for an organisation that had a weekly departmental meeting” [Really? I have four!]
  • Much greener to support home workers using their own PC

Q: re using existing hardware at home, aren’t there a lot of data protection and security issues?

A: if you take it to an extreme, you can’t allow home working because there might be pieces of paper at home. You need to make choices, have sensible policies.

Q: HR issues of being isolated. H&S issues of furniture?

A: create processes if you need them.


In the section dedicated to Socitm business, I was amused to hear an announcement that since there are some really cheap flights, it’s cheaper to go to Belfast for [an upcoming event] than some places in England. [Yes, this may be the case, but only because carbon and particulates are not yet properly taxed? There were a few chuckles around the room as the irony of this directly following the previous presentation wasn’t lost on everyone.]

After lunch, I gave pretty much a repeat performance of my presentation at Serious Virtual Worlds last week. It was quite interesting to find myself talking to an audience of Southern region public sector IT management people about Kent County Council banning access to Facebook for its employees. It struck me over lunch that people from that council would be in the room, and there were indeed one or two. Sadly I didn’t get to chat with them afterwards, but I was careful to be sensitive rather than confrontational on the benefits of social networking, and also about firewalls. Rather than ranting about the need to give employees freedom to make up their own minds how to spend their time at work, I shared the example of my own corporate firewall and how it’s openness (at least from within; I can get to anything I need or want to without having to request specific ports be enabled or sites be whitelisted) is what allows me to innovate and is part of what keeps me at IBM.

This was followed by a panel session, in which I seemed to get most of the questions. (Actually, the speaker directly before a panel will generally get that response, since the questions they all want to ask are still swirling around the audience members’ minds). I didn’t capture the audio this time, but videos of all the presentations were being recorded, and will be online next week. I’ll update with a link when that happens.