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As a rookie at the MISA BC Fall Conference, I didn't know what to expect. Having attended dozens of other conferences, it quickly became clear that this one was different, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

It wasn't until the end of the first day, during one of the speeches, that the difference became clear: competition.

More specifically, it is the lack of competition among municipalities that makes MISA different. Whether it's a small town, vast district or big city, municipal IT departments cooperate and coordinate with each other to make sure every citizen has access to safe, reliable connected services.

The spirit of openness and collaboration is quite different than we may see at, for example, a security conference.

Measuring what's important

I noted another significant difference in the opening keynote. Rather than being filled with words like network, packet, inspection, IP, and other technical jargon, it focused on the soft skills that IT managers require to do their jobs effectively and influence their peers. The speech encouraged IT managers to approach every personal interaction with the mindset of leaving that person a little bit better off than before. The most important skills aren't fixing a malware infected computer or deploying a new VPN, the key takeaway I left with was the quote, “Who we are is measured by our influence and impact on others".

Later in the day, CIRA presented on our DNS services for municipalities. During our presentation, we went over the usual architecture, features and presented some municipal data on the threats we have seen blocked as well as compared how different municipalities, libraries and police forces manage their various network types and content filtering profiles. For those who were unable to attend, I'll make this analysis and presentation part of a future blog, so stay tuned.

Starting with why: Building a better online Canada

We always begin our presentation by explaining why CIRA has built and deployed these DNS services. Building a better online Canada is something we truly believe in, and it's clear by the close-knit MISA BC community that they believe in this mission as well.

In addition to manning the CIRA booth, I managed to sneak away to attend a great talk by Karen Stewart from the GIS vendor ESRI on What public sector CIOs are talking about. What I found most interesting about the presentation was how it reflected the same soft skills message as the keynote. Stewart believes that IT managers should consider the ways their product can start two-way conversations with citizens. Why? Well, a research study found that every volunteer in the community is worth $24 per hour for the city in terms of what they get done. What a great reason to encourage more engagement. Stewart's talk focused on her analysis of the 130 applications to the federal government's Smart Cities Challenge. These applications came from a total of 225 communities with some being joint applications. Fully 60 per cent of those that were funded had community empowerment in their focus and another 40 per cent promoted healthy living and community. Technical subjects like dark fibre, cybersecurity, or GBPs were nowhere to be found. Technology is the part of the solution but the foundation is improving communities for the people who live there.

I look forward to more great discussion at MISA and interesting presentations to see if this trend continues. In short, if you are in municipal IT or serve that sector then these events are truly special.