Speeding the delivery of Web2.0 capabilities into government

IT leaders in government are wrestling with several competing forces in the Web2.0 world. The greatest force is a push for change towards more user-focused computing.  But a resisting counter force threatens to delay this change.

The counter force here is institutional inertia. Big organizations are just slow to change, and the larger, more complex the organization is the slower it can be to change.  Change in IT is particularly hard since new IT must work with the old IT and since users have varying degree of control over the organization’s IT budgets. All this adds to inertia in the adoption of new Web2.0 service models.

There are ways to address inertia and speed the delivery of Web2.0 concepts in large organization.  Here are a few proven methods:

1) Stay mission focused
2) Make fast gains that scale to the size of the enterprise
3) Leverage out of band networking
4) Address security and policy concerns up front

Here is more on each:

1) Stay mission focused. The greatest cause of inertia in large government organization is the need to keep everyone focused on critically important missions.  Use that fact to help speed the delivery of your Web2.0 project by ensuring everyone understands the mission-focused nature of your project.  You can build an overwhelming case for your project if you logically show a transformational improvement to your agency’s ability to accomplish its goals and support the mission. I’ve seen the power of staying mission focused help small teams make dramatic change at some of the largest agencies in the government, so this is a force you definitely want on your side.  

2) Make fast gains that scale to the size of the enterprise. Make your first Web2.0 project one that will serve a great number of users and help them all do something better.  For example, hosting a blog or wiki server is something that can reach all ends of your enterprise for a relatively low cost and will help you prove to management that you are focused on the mission. By fielding capabilities that can be used by the entire workforce you will be demonstrating to all that Web2.0 has incredible potential.  After fielding blogs and wikis you can move to secure enterprise mashups, a way to bring the true power of Web2.0 to every user in the enterprise. 

3) Leverage out of band networking.  The chain of command is very important in government organizations and all large enterprises, and I would never advocate going around it.  But direct contact with users, vendors and other mission partners is also critical to success of modern IT.  So why not use modern IT to help with your networking?  Interact with your users in their collaborative environment.  And meet them where they connect online… Does your agency have a database of experts?  Sign up.  Do your users and vendors use capabilities like LinkedIn.com or Second Life?  Meet them there. Don’t limit yourself to technical interactions.  Direct face to face connections via conferences and executive networking (like through our own ExecutiveBiz, of course) are critically important to ensuring strategic alignment between IT programs and the workforce.

 4) Address security and policy concerns up front.  A huge concern in all agencies today is the need for protection of the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.  Web2.0 capabilities can be built with security, but only if that security is planned in from the start.   Policies for Web2.0 capability usage are also important to address.  Management will feel more confident in the program if you can propose sound policies that will accomplish the role out of new capabilities.  For example, what type of postings will be considered appropriate to your agencies internal blogs? And which ones will be considered appropriate to those that face your agencies customers?  Policies associated with Web2.0 capabilities, like all policies, are only effective when made public.  For a good one see the policy for the public facing blog of the US Government at http://blog.usa.gov/roller/govgab/page/policies

All citizens and the entire government workforce can benefit from the introduction of Web2.0 into government IT.  But we should all understand the government IT workforce faces some daunting challenges in fielding these capabilities.  It can take lots of work and lots of prior planning to succeed in this environment.  Success will come sooner by focusing on the mission, delivering early successes, staying connected with all mission partners, and by addressing security and policy issues up front.

Bob Gourley is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency and is the co-founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC.  Bob blogs on enterprise IT at http://ctovision.com

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