In-Person Conferences Are Back — What Can We Expect?

DevOps Experience

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Annual Conference was held this past week as a live event in Seattle for the first time in two years. What happened, and what’s next?

NASCIO Seattle 2021

For the vast majority of professionals in the U.S., the past 18-plus months have evolved into a long series of online meetings, webinars and virtual events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new work-from-home “virtual reality” taught us more about Zoom backgrounds, WebEx meetings, Microsoft Teams settings, webcam etiquette and how to dress formally from the waist up than we thought we would learn in a lifetime.

The good news from these virtual experiences was that meeting or event participation was no longer tied to a particular region. This global perspective enabled (and continues to enable) much more participation from anywhere at any time by anyone. In one twist, I even participated in an online event in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, the normal pace of “in-person” (and we rarely even used that term before March 2020) conferences and other events ground to a halt as many tech staff seldom went into corporate or government offices, much less attended external events. The pandemic work policy directed us to “do what you can from home.”

But that reality has started to change — finally.

After no in-person events for nearly two years, I attended two in-person events in the past three weeks. In Madison, Wis., I provided a keynote presentation for the National State Auditors Association (NSAA) IT Conference. In Seattle, I attended the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Annual Conference for 2021.

In both cases, masks were required (when not eating or drinking) during indoor sessions. Also, in the case of NASCIO, attendees needed to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

But these minor inconveniences were a small price to pay when compared to the very positive vibe (and even excitement) expressed by the vast majority of attendees. Everyone I spoke with was happy to be back doing in-person conferences, and the networking and benefits to professional relationships was clear. The sentiment from the speakers and the attendees was: “It’s great to be back!”

And these examples represent the tip of an iceberg of events planning to meet in person — assuming the pandemic does not take a turn for the worse. Here are three other examples that I read about:


So what developments took center stage at the 2021 NASCIO conference? Here is coverage of some of the best sessions, topics and white papers released:

  • “NASCIO Survey Shows a New Post-COVID Landscape for CIOs”: “The annual survey, which included responses from 48 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reveals steadfast confidence in telework becoming a more permanent option in state government, as well as redoubled efforts to deploy digital services. Perhaps as a consequence, there’s also great interest in strengthening digital identity tools and cybersecurity structures to make sure those programs can work as intended.

    “When asked which efforts they expect to last beyond the pandemic, the No. 1 answer state CIOs gave was remote work. A large majority also expect work to continue deploying web-based services, as well as to secure those tools and prevent fraud associated with them.”

  • “Why Privacy and Security Are Two Sides of the Same Coin”: “At the NASCIO Annual Conference Monday, Washington state Chief Privacy Officer Katy Ruckle explained that data privacy and cybersecurity are different, but you can’t have one without the other.”
  • “CIO Katrina Flory on Ohio’s Current and Future IT Workforce”: “In Ohio, CIO Katrina Flory noted that the pandemic had the effect of delaying the retirements of many of the state’s technical staff. But whether those jobs open up now or later, Flory wants to be ready to ensure she has a team with the necessary skills to keep the state’s IT systems running.

    “One strategy Ohio uses to help fill the technology pipeline is an apprenticeship program for its IT security team in which people work in various areas of the security operation, in the hopes that they might apply for permanent jobs as they become available.”

  • “Artificial Intelligence Can Improve How People Use Tech”: “In 2019, a survey from the Center for Digital Government (CDG),* the National Association of Chief Information Officers and IBM found that just 13 percent of state governments reported using artificial intelligence in some noncore part of their operations. Three years later, the same survey yielded very different results.

    “At the NASCIO Annual conference in Seattle this week, Joe Morris with CDG presented some of the study’s 2021 findings, and it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic changed how state and local government are thinking about AI. This year, 60 percent of respondents reported AI is currently in use in their enterprise; 6.7 percent said the tech is widely used across the state, up from just 1 percent in 2019.”

  • “2021 NASCIO Awards Honor Innovation in Technology”: “People and projects in public-sector technology were recognized at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) 2021 Annual Conference in Seattle. Winners of the State Technology Innovator Award, the 2021 Thomas M. Jarrett State Cybersecurity Leadership Award and the State IT Recognition Awards were presented earlier this week.

    “The organization also announced a change in leadership. Michael Leahy, secretary of information technology with the Maryland Department of Information Technology, was named the new NASCIO president. Leahy replaces Denis Goulet, CIO and commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Information Technology, who became NASCIO president in February 2020.”


Last month, I wrote about the NASCIO awards and finalists in cybersecurity being best practices that should be shared far and wide among state and local governments.

Seeing the awards ceremony again this year reminded me of the great achievements and best practices in a wide variety of government technology categories. I encourage readers visit the NASCIO awards portal to learn more.

But most of all, seeing all the people from across the state governments and the private sector helped me to realize that it’s time to start meeting in person again. And, based upon what I’m hearing and seeing, in 2022 things should be getting back to more in-person events — even if organizations opt for a hybrid approach to working.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Lohrmann on Cybersecurity authored by GovTech. Read the original post at: