This year's UK GovCamp, held on Saturday, felt markedly different to those in previous years. Still the same warmth, spirit and enthusiasm as in previous years - making it the only 'government computing' conference worth attending. But this time, things seemed much more serious. Partly due to its sheer scale, much larger than in previous years; partly because of the impressively lengthy list of commercial sponsors. And partly because, for the first time, we had a (de facto) keynote speaker to begin proceedings.
Regular readers will have seen various posts in the past couple of weeks about the appointment of Chris Chant, the new ('interim') head of digital stuff for government. One such regular reader, it turns out, is Chris himself: I remember at least two namechecks for Puffbox in the course of his talk. Mind you, I didn't exactly help by introducing myself at the start as being 'Directgov internal comms' - although I'm not sure everyone got the joke.
On one hand, it was the perfect opportunity for Chris to meet the community most committed to the work he's now tasked with, and get us onside early. But equally, the audience's passion could have posed a threat: say the wrong thing, and things could have turned nasty. So it's entirely understandable that Chris seemed to take a while to settle into his flow: the first ten or fifteen minutes were a little dry, and seemed almost scripted.
But gradually, perhaps sensing the warmth in the room, with a character very different to the IT conferences he's more used to - he warmed up. The anecdotes became more personal, the language more emotive and ambitious - not to mention fruity.
I won't go into much of the detail - largely because Chris was at pains to stress he was speaking in a personal capacity, and that much of what he said was provisional, pending sign-off, etc etc. Suffice to say, there's a significant document in the works already, which should see the light of day in a month or so. His focus, as I suspected, was on technology and its management - there wasn't a lot said about the 'digital engagement' side. But I'm perfectly comfortable with that: technology is where the savings are to be found, and the improvements are to be made... and that's where his priorities should lie.
So what did I think? To be honest, I don't think I could have been more impressed. He said everything I could realistically have hoped he would: greater use of agile methods, a restated commitment to open source, etc. And whilst he didn't set the room on fire, he came across as a serious man with a strong track record, experience of the front line, no fear of big projects, and perhaps most important of all - measured ambition. He didn't over-promise, but left little doubt that he was capable of delivering. (Sorry Chris, I'm sure you don't need that pressure.)
Even better, Chris seems to have gone away with a decent opinion of us:
Chris, welcome on board. We're friendly, we're on your side, and we're here to help. Yes, even Puffbox - especially Puffbox. Let's do this.