Back to the Future: TechNet International 2000

September 1999
By Lt. Gen. C. Norman Wood, USAF (Ret.)

The fast pace of change occurring in technology and business today has prompted industry and government agencies to explore innovative approaches to conducting business. While old paradigms are not being discarded, they are being reviewed to determine their effectiveness. Organizations that are willing to venture into uncharted waters are encountering successes and obstacles, but regardless of the outcome, they have learned lessons that both they and others can incorporate into future endeavors.

This year, as part of adapting to the changing environment, we determined that it would be beneficial to co-sponsor our annual June conference and exposition with FCW Government Technology Group Incorporated. The reasons for the move to GovTechNet International ’99 were outlined in SIGNAL’s January 1999 Commentary and further explained in the June 1999 Commentary. Because FCW services many of the same agencies AFCEA has grown to benefit, it seemed natural to join forces and provide government and industry with a larger, more comprehensive array of technologies and services under one roof. Throughout the processes leading up to the event, AFCEA and FCW staff members cooperated in the planning, shared the risk, monitored the work and continually learned from each other.

As a result, GovTechNet International ’99, as an event, was successful. Attendees had access to a wealth of diverse information, exhibitors reported that the visitors to their booths were very knowledgeable, and the professional development and technical programs met our members’ high standards. However, while our ambitions were large, our resources fell short of what was required to provide our members, and all attendees, the degree of excellence they have come to expect from our June convention.

Despite dedicated effort, GovTechNet International ’99 cannot be considered a successful revenue generator—an item that is extremely important to AFCEA for the association to continue offering an exceptional level of service to its members. Consequently, after reviewing the business arrangement, AFCEA has decided to part company with FCW for upcoming events and will now begin designing TechNet International 2000 independently. GovTechNet was built on trust, and both parties brought a positive attitude to the partnership. If the financial results had met AFCEA’s expectations, the joint venture would have continued. In fact, the format for next year’s June conference will feature an FCW event co-located with our convention. However, AFCEA’s leaders are dedicated to doing what is best for our association.

The decision to return to an AFCEA-only event was not made solely on a financial basis. In addition to the shortfall in anticipated revenue, long-standing members expressed a general concern that our association has lost its focus. Be assured that AFCEA’s leadership knows what our focus is—serving our membership, more than 80 percent of which is affiliated with the defense establishment. At the same time, AFCEA needs to take advantage of the convergence that is occurring as information technology becomes the common denominator in all government organizations, both military and civilian.

Although the intense review of the June convention took place in the immediate past, evaluations of AFCEA’s missions are an ongoing process. The cornerstones on which AFCEA was built remain as the foundation for the planning and execution of future programs.

Our organization continues to strive to be the most ethical association serving government and industry. To this end, we offer our members an open forum for information sharing and professional development. The purpose of our chapters, conferences and SIGNAL magazine is to give information technology professionals a clear understanding of the current marketplace as they plan for future endeavors.

In the past, information technology was a tool used primarily by research facilities and the defense establishment. This is no longer the case. Today, technological applications permeate academia, industry and the government. As a result, it is critical for AFCEA to broaden its footprint. However, the association’s longest and strongest participant has been the military. The focus of our programs is, and will continue in the near term to be, the defense establishment and the organizations that support its missions. Efforts to reach other government agencies as well as innovators of technologies should be viewed as another means to support AFCEA’s relationship with the military community.

An equally important element of AFCEA’s mission is improving its member services. The decision to partner with FCW for GovTechNet International ’99 was viewed as one way to accomplish this task by offering members, corporations and government agencies a single, comprehensive medium to access a wider variety of resources. As we move forward in the planning stages of TechNet International 2000, we will continue to strive for this goal because we still believe it is an important one to achieve.

Some specific plans are already in place. We have enlisted a new exhibit company to oversee booth management. Because of the success of the advanced technology demonstration (ATD), TechNet International 2000 will feature an expanded ATD allowing more organizations to participate. Members of our staff are developing several other concepts for implementation at next year’s convention. Because our community has a wealth of expertise, we invite our members to offer their suggestions about how to better present issues critical to information technology professionals.

AFCEA acquired a great deal of insight from the GovTechNet International ’99 experience. Now is the time to put that wisdom to work.