Amidst the Pandemic, Government Still Gathers: How Professional Events Are Adapting

The events market was among the first industries to feel the impact of the coronavirus and will continue to feel its effects for months to come. GovEvents looked at the impact on the government events market and found that 22% of events listed on the site were canceled with no plans to reschedule in 2020. This means many missed opportunities for professional development, best practices sharing, and introduction to new technologies for public sector professionals. But as with many industries, the events market is quickly adapting and finding ways to provide education, development and collaboration for government professionals hungry to learn.

The event Is Canceled, but Learning Is Not.

Organizations that had events planned for early March through this summer had to decide whether to cancel, postpone, or move their events online. For many, canceling their government events was not an option. They had enthusiastic government speakers with stories to share and an audience thirsty for information. In fact, 26% of live events on GovEvents scheduled for March 16 or later moved to virtual.

DataRobot's AI Experience conference was scheduled for March 19. This one-day, in-person event brought together government leaders to discuss how they were using and how they wanted to use artificial intelligence (AI) to further their mission. DataRobot had planned to live stream the event as early as February since they were already getting news that registrants would not be able to travel so they had a streaming company and equipment ready to go. On March 11, gatherings of more than 250 were prohibited and DataRobot already had 550 registered so they began moving to a virtual format. A few days later it became clear they would not be able to get the speakers to the venue either, so they pivoted once again and moved it all to a remote stream.

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Exposing the Supply Chain is a Matter of National Security

The phrase "Supply Chain" may make you immediately think of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart or manufacturers like GM and John Deere, but government is highly reliant on security supply chains. A supply chain is the network of all the people, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, to its eventual delivery to the end user. In government, supply chains have come front and center with the Trump administration's rulings banning government use of products from certain Chinese manufacturers citing security concerns that products could contain ways for the Chinese to spy on the U.S. Companies selling technology to the government have to be able to trace the source of all elements of their products to ensure nothing originated with the banned distributors.

Being able to do this requires a mature supply chain process and solution. Interagency committees have been established to determine best practices in securing increasingly complex supply chains. Understanding supply chains is an expensive undertaking and one survey found that small and mid-sized businesses are opting out, counting on the fact that they will not be the ones called out to defend their supply chain to government. This mentality may not be an option for long.

DoD is getting more and more prescriptive in their security and supply chain guidance, adding the review of contractor purchasing systems as part of bid reviews. GSA has also explored banning the use of refurbished IT, since that includes products where a supply chain cannot be re-created.

The rules and regulations around supply chains can seem just as complex as the chains themselves. Luckily, it's a topic of discussion at a number of upcoming events.

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Tracking the Media Habits of Highly Effective Feds

Market Connections conducted their annual Federal Media and Marketing Study and released the findings at a breakfast event on Halloween serving up a number of treats for those involved in marketing to the Federal government (it also happened to be the morning after the Washington Nationals won the World Series, so the crowd at the DC event was in a jovial mood despite being sleep deprived). This annual survey aims to take the pulse of the media habits of those involved in buying decisions (whether they be decision makers or influencers) in the Federal government. Each year the survey looks at where Federal decision makers turn to get information related to their job and also looks at how they consume media more generally for their personal lives.

This year's survey found that event attendance is holding steady, as it has for several years, and even growing in some areas. One reason for the steady event performance may be the Feds trust in associations. Sixty percent of respondents show a high trust in professional organizations. Peers and colleagues come in a close second, with 57% trusting them as key sources of information. Events, especially those backed by a professional organization, give Federal decision makers a trusted place to interact with their fellow workers to get needed information.

Webinar attendance is increasing, with 78% of people who "attend" webinars doing so in real-time. Another 47% report watching recorded webinars during the workday. The best time to host these webinars? Anytime before 2:00PM works well with the 11:00AM to 2:00PM time block being the most preferred.

Podcasts are also gaining in mindshare in the Federal market with 48% saying they listen. However, the majority of those respondents listen to podcasts for pleasure rather than work (68% vs 32%). Also, when listening to podcasts, the majority of people (48%) skip the ads embedded within them.

In terms of what respondents want to hear, whether it is an event, webinar, or podcast, the survey found that appealing to Federal decision makers as people first rather than potential consumers of a product or service has the greatest impact. The survey found that the biggest concerns of this group were around employee morale and recruiting employees as well as funding and budget issues. They are interested in hearing how work can be made better both from a financial efficiency perspective and a day-to-day employee experience perspective.

This connection to the employee experience can impact who you invite to attend and speak at events. The panel discussion that followed the survey results talked about reaching out to the high ranking C-suite officials and continuing to invite them to attend and speak but also asking them, "who are you mentoring in your organization?" and "who else in your organization would be a great speaker or resource on this topic?" By helping Feds cultivate and showcase talent in their organization, companies can begin to earn that "trusted partner" moniker so many aspire to achieve.

For more results of the survey, visit Market Connections.

No More Poker Face – Decoding Attendees’ Real-Time Reactions

We've written here about how the government is looking at facial recognition to improve security and make access to places and data more efficient. While the policy and technology challenges are worked out within multiple government use cases, event planners can look to the same technology to improve how they deliver content and education.

As this article points out, surveys provide a snapshot of audience reaction to an event, but they do so in days, even weeks after it has wrapped. Additionally, there is a lot of effort that goes into getting survey responses back and analyzed, and even then, the sample size may not be statistically valid.

Good speakers and planners know the power of reading the room and adjusting on the fly to keep and increase audience interest and participation. But bright lights, sheer audience size, and general logistics make that problematic. Tracking social media can also provide a real-time pulse on how attendees are digesting and reacting to content. But getting this feedback is dependent on attendees using these platforms and using them in real-time. With facial and biometric technologies, event planners and marketers can remove these challenges and dependencies and collect attendee feedback without having to ask anything of those attendees.

Audience engagement tools using biometrics can identify attendees' emotions without identifying the face or person. In one implementation, video cameras mounted at the side of the stage film the facial expressions of the audience. This feed is run through AI-powered software to identify and track expressions of the people watching the stage and what emotion they are expressing (fear, anger, happiness, etc.). A raw look at this data is available, but within a couple of minutes the software can more fully analyze it and provide a quick view if the audience is reacting positively or negatively.

Following the event, speakers can go back through the data to see where there were emotional peaks. From there, speakers can update their content based on the points that made the most significant connection with the audience.

Pricing can vary depending on the type of technology used and the analytics being run. On average, costs fall in the $5,000-$10,000 range. Some companies offer pricing per attendee, and others have a flat fee. While this can be a large investment, if you weigh the cost of facial recognition against the costs associated with speaker fees, and the event budget in general, spending money to find the effectiveness of sessions makes a lot of sense for future planning.

What are your thought on using facial recognition technology for event planning and management? Have you tried it? Do you want to? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Acquisition and Procurement: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

With another Government Fiscal Year ramping up, we're starting with a whole new year of budget and contract opportunities in the government market. As we've written here before, the acquisition and procurement process in government is evolving to adapt to the technologies and services being procured as well as changes in the workforce that supports it.

The federal government has been rolling out a number of changes to modernize the procurement process. The Government Services Administration (GSA) is taking steps to streamline their scheduled offerings from two dozen into one. The goal of this consolidation is to remove overlap between schedules and eliminate confusion around what schedule should be used. This shift is happening in three phases:

  • Phase 1 -- Issued a consolidated schedule solicitation with a simplified format, streamlined terms and conditions, and new categories and special item numbers (SINs) This phase is complete.
  • Phase 2 -- Mass modifications of existing contracts. Finishing in 2019.
  • Phase 3 - Final consolidation. Slated for July 2020.

In other efforts to be more efficient, procurement teams across government have been looking at implementing emerging technologies to automate manual processes, plus speed up and secure the overall acquisition lifecycle. For example, the use of blockchain is helping buyers "comparison shop" for pricing as well as closing out contracts.

Finally, acquisition groups are playing a big role in ensuring new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are consumable by the federal government. GSA is partnering with the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to advance the efforts of the AI Center of Excellence, employing tactics that have worked in other agencies including the Department of Agriculture.

We've pulled together a number of events that are applicable to the procurement community as well as industry and government looking for ways to introduce new technologies and services into the government.

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