Buzz of the Week

FOSE: The wisdom of masses

Big trade shows can be fascinating because they are events in which a community can come together, and the big FOSE trade show held at the Washington Convention Center last week was no exception.

These trade shows, which bring together some 23,000 people and hundreds of exhibitors, amount to something akin to the wisdom of the masses for government information technology. Yes, there are opportunities to get endless numbers of freebies or see some guy dressed as a penny — we still don’t quite get that — but these trade shows are an opportunity to be wowed by technology and take a peek at what is possible.

This isn’t exactly the best of times for many trade shows. There have been a number of huge — and successful — shows that have passed into the history books. Remember the massive Comdex trade show that used to take over Las Vegas and then evaporated in 2003? And so it is an interesting — and challenging — time for FOSE, the granddaddy of government IT trade shows.

Now in its 31st year, FOSE has evolved. It originally started under the name Federal Office Systems Expo. Now the show is known merely as FOSE, and office systems can mean anything from copy machines to elaborate information systems designed to share mission-critical government data. As FOSE enters its 30s, the trade show has to keep up with a market that changes quickly.

And this year, FOSE was under new management. In December, 1105 Media, the parent company of Federal Computer Week, bought PostNewsweek Tech Media,which included the trade show among other properties. 1105 Media officials said the new management would have little impact on last week’s event, but they promised that FOSE 2.0 would debut in 2008 with new ways of tapping into the wisdom of the masses.

Trade shows such as FOSE can still provide important market intelligence that allows government IT decision-makers to have a good idea of what is out there — and they can get it in a day at a single place. If nothing else, that still seems to be valuable.

An editor’s note: FCW is owned by the 1105 Government Information Group, which also owns FOSE. FCW editors are keenly aware that this publication cannot become a FOSE marketing arm. That being said, the magazine also needs to pay attention to the important issues in this market. We note that we used this space last year to talk about FOSE. As always, we seek to maintain our objectivity, and when there are potential conflicts, we will be upfront with them and allow readers to determine our objectivity.

The Buzz contenders

#2: FOSE bag wars
The battle of the bags has a long history at the FOSE trade show. But this year, they were handing out bags that are bigger than many New York City apartments. Best Buy, which is well-known in the consumer market, stepped into the government market in a big way with a big bag. Not just big — enormous. We measured it — 30 inches across, 24 inches tall and almost 8 inches wide.

Mark Amtower, a government marketing consultant and founding partner of Amtower and Co., has tracked the bag wars over the years. According to his statistics, the Best Buy bag was considerably bigger than the bags in years past. “These dwarf those,” he told us. “These are McMansions.”

The custom-made bags were the brainchild of William Shafley, who was a driving force behind the bag wars years ago.

The goal, of course, is to create buzz — and, given the fact that we are writing this and most FOSE attendees either had a Best Buy bag or wanted to get one, it seems to have worked.

#3: Networx… No word yet.
We wrote about it two weeks ago, but once again, as of late Friday, there was still no word on when the first of two Networx telecommunications contracts was going to be awarded. Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, speaking March 22 at FOSE, said the contract would be awarded in the “next few days.”

#4: Groovin’ at GSA
Doan’s speech was a heavily attended event at FOSE. The audience included the two Washington Post reporters who have been following her every move. She didn’t take questions after her speech.

Doan insisted in her speech that GSA has “got its groove back.”

Meanwhile, her rescheduled invitation to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been rescheduled for March 28.

No doubt GSA would like some separation between Doan’s hearing, which is guaranteed to garner a lot of attention, and the Networx award so that the contract doesn’t get overshadowed.

One vendor recalled that back when the FTS 2001 contract was set to be awarded, attendees were told that the award was delayed because President Clinton had to give his speech about Monica Lewinsky.

#5: Vista’s horizon
Microsoft officials were sent scurrying after press reports that federal agencies were banning Microsoft’s new Vista operating system. Microsoft officials said agencies were doing precisely what they should do — taking some time to assess how the new operating system will work with the agency’s IT environment. The scrambling stems from a memo from the Office of Management and Budget asking agencies to move to a standard desktop configuration by Feb. 1, 2009.

#6: The Waxman bill
The House approved a supplemental spending bill March 23 for war and domestic spending, which included the Accountability in Contracting Act language. (Editor’s note: The story on Page 77 about the bill was sent to the printer before the House vote.)

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