Manager, Strategic Management

Every week, LinkedIn kindly sends me a list of “jobs I might be interested in”, which I have to say is an interesting feature, given the data they have to work with. Like the early days of Google advertising, it’s fun to see what the algorithm comes up with as “relevant” to me. And this week I got this awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome entry:

Manager, Strategic Management
The Manager, Strategic Management is accountable for leading the development, maintenance and evaluation of corporate planning, performance management, benchmarking, risk management, and reporting programs. The position reports to the Chief Executive Officer of BC Assessment and works directly with the governing Board of Directors to facilitate strategic planning and risk management sessions. The position exercises considerable latitude and independence to oversee and develop a coordinated and consultative corporate plan, risk and performance management culture across BC Assessment. In this role, the position is expected to manage the corporate planning cycle to achieve a top to bottom linking of mandate and vision of operational business activities including the annual and year-over-year alignment of budgets, resource allocation, performance and risk management programs. This position leads a small team, including senior program analysts and a research officer.

People I trust tell me BC Assessment has so much money, they really do eat $16 muffins for breakfast, but the existence of the “Manager, Strategic Management” is all the proof I need.

FOSS4G 2011 Keynote

Here’s my latest foray into the wild and wacky world of Speaking in Front of Too Many People: a keynote slot at FOSS4G 2011. Fortunately a quick 20 minutes, and well received!

Architecture of Participation

I told a number of folks at FOSS4G 2011 that I thought this year’s event was the “best FOSS4G ever” (HT, Juan Antonio Samaranch) but that wasn’t just tongue in cheek. 2011 was the biggest ever, but only a few attendees more than Barcelona in 2010. Yet somehow I felt more energized, more connected, like I had more conversations, than in 2010.

I think the reason for my impression has a lot to do with venue. Barcelona was in a very large conference center, with the rooms fairly spread out and almost too much room for people to expand into. Further, there were no large social areas near the venue. The result was the attendees dissipating after the end of the day’s programming.

In Denver, many of the attendees were in the Sheraton, co-located with the program venue. The Winkoop brewery provided a space sufficient to bring in hundreds of attendees for the welcome social. The Sheraton building itself included two pubs capable of seating hundreds, and hundreds of attendees did in fact sit there. The gravitational effect was of people walking by, seeing their FOSS4G comrades, and joining in the group themselves. It was hard to drink alone at FOSS4G 2011!

We had a similar dynamic in 2007, though honestly, not as good, since our “main meeting pub” was closed one night for a private event, and we never had the thought to simply book it ourselves for our own group (live and learn). Nor were we able to co-locate the event with a conference hotel (using the Empress Hotel which abuts the Victoria convention centre would have been prohibitively expensive.)

I think the lesson for future organizers is to thing very carefully about venue and connectivity and social gravity. Ensure there is a social space where many can fit and can find each other for fortuitous meetings. Try to keep all the components of the event (venue, rooms, social areas) as close together as possible. Give as many opportunities (welcome social, random social, exhibitors social, event gala) for mixing as possible. Avoid the sit-down event (which locks folks into a handful of interlocutors) in favour of the stand-up (which allows free flowing).

Seeing how well Denver did makes me almost want to try again and see if I can do better. Almost.


A journey of 1000 miles starts with one step, and if you’re wondering whether open source is in your future, the first step should be a trip to FOSS4G 2011 in Denver this year.

My favorite local open source geospatial success story, Pierce County, in Washington, started four years ago, when the GIS manager sent a small contingent north to attend FOSS4G 2007 in Victoria. From the knowledge and enthusiasm garnered there they have been able to start to re-make their infrastructure into a flexible mixed environment of open source and proprietary tools.

But it all starts with the basic knowledge. What’s out there? Who can build with it? What are the best choices? You’ll never have a more concentrated opportunity to answer all your questions about open source geospatial than FOSS4G.

I’ll be there all week, teaching a workshop on PostGIS (sorry, sold out) and giving talks on introductory PostGIS and advanced PostGIS trickery.

See you all in Denver!

Open source is not free (as in beer) ...

Last week, I took the time to ridicule a post at the PBBI blog on open source, which really boiled down to a critique of the very flimsy open source argument “open source is free (as in beer) so it’s a budget panacea!”. I hope not many open source advocates are retailing that one, but I’m sure one or two of us still are.

In my idealistic younger days I read a lot of Chomsky, and one of the general principles I took away from him is the idea that as citizens we have a duty to critique and criticize our own governments first and foremost. Beating our chests about the behaviour of some despot on the other side of an ocean might be cathartic, but if we’re really interested in improving the commonweal it is our job as citizens of democratic societies to make our own governments better first. (Like, why does Canada sell asbestos as a building supply to third world countries when back home we recognize that it’s too dangerous for our own buildings?)

Anyhow, in that spirit, it is really my responsibility, not PBBI’s, to point out the disingenuousness of “open source is free (as in beer)” as a slogan.

So, first the counterargument.

I think most folks recognize that implementation costs will wash out software acquisition costs for any moderately complex system build. But we still, in our lizard brains, feel like the acquisition cost of proprietary software has to be a systemic problem. Perhaps because it’s so painful at a personal level to whip out the credit card and plunk down a few hundred bucks for something like Microsoft Office.

However, when you examine the numbers, it gets very clear very fast that service costs are an order of magnitude larger than software acquisition costs. The BC Public Accounts tell the story for my home province: For the past ten years, ESRI has taken in between $1M and $2M a year pretty consistently selling GIS software. Over those same years, the consulting companies in town I would call “geospatial companies” have in aggregate billed about 10 times that annual figure providing services.

Services rule! The profit margins in services are notoriously lower than for software, and I’m sure ESRI made more pure profit on their $1M per year. But the bulk size of service revenues more than compensates. That’s why IBM and HP are growing into services. Because there’s so much room to grow in there.

Second, the refinement.

While “open source is free (as in beer)!” can be oversold, it is not actually untrue. Open source does actually have a price-tag of $0, and proprietary has a price-tag of > $0. So how to refine the slogan to not over-emphasize price? I have been using a modification which I hope focusses people more clearly on where the price can be important.

“Open source has a zero dollar capital cost.”

So, given that the cost of services out-weighs software for most system building, you might not care about software acquisition cost if you’re deploying the finished product once. But if you’re deploying a system across 10 or 100 nodes, then the capital cost of deployment might be an extremely important economic variable.

In some cases (cough Oracle cough) the cost of just one node can be enough to push people over the edge on initial capital cost. But most proprietary software is more moderately priced, and it takes more nodes before the pure price differential is worth feeding into a comparison exercise.

I lay out more non-monetary reasons for bringing open source to the management table in my talk A Manager’s Guide to Open Source.