What role should web 2.0 play within the U.S. military? Back in 2005, Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright offered his take: “The Napoleonic code and netcentric collaboration cannot exist in the same space and time.” Four years later, adoption of web 2.0 within the military remains uneven. How much? For answers, ExecutiveBiz recently spoke with Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Art Fritzson. Fritzson first got involved in web 2.0-related issues when senior U.S. Air Force generals became concerned their children were organizing their squadrons on Facebook. Fritzson has been weighing in on the pros and cons of web 2.0 adoption ever since. “This is fundamentally not a technical challenge … the move to web 2.0 is about behavior change, organizational change, and changing the mindset of what collaboration is,” he says. So, how might that collaboration play out? Read on to get Fritzson’s take.
EB: How great is demand for web 2.0 adoption within the military?
Art Fritzson: The demand is mixed, it depends upon the recognition by senior leaders as to its value. It also depends upon their particular mission and the level of protection they can provide for that collaboration. Even if you have a visionary leader, if he’s operating in a fairly insecure environment there’s a limit to how much information he’s going to want to share on the internet.
EB: Which branches of the military are showing the greatest receptivity to web 2.0 adoption?
Art Fritzson: Most of the experiments that I’ve seen have been behind the DOD’s firewall. Whether it’s the Air Force, Army, or OSD, they’re experimenting with wiki’s, blogs, and messaging capability that cut across organizational boundaries. Even in those areas there is a challenge in breaking through the command and control that exists.
EB: What’s driving this mixed reaction?
Art Fritzson: I believe it’s a mindset that says, “I shouldn’t be sharing this information until it’s ready — whatever ‘ready’ means.” Let me turn to an internal example: In order to advise the military on this we’re transforming Booz Allen around web 2.0. Our system, which includes wiki’s, blogs, communities, and tagging, is visible to everybody behind the Booz Allen firewall. That was a policy decision that we made when we put this system in place. While we have the technology to restrict the system to a limited audience, similar to what the military may want, we’re trying to change that mindset; we’re trying to get our people comfortable with the idea that it’s OK to put a work in progress online. The military faces the same challenge.
EB: What technologies are you seeing that might be customized for military use?
Art Fritzson: We’ve embraced open source technology; we’ve put together the best of open source that we could find. We wired it so it’s driven by a single profile and we keep evolving the software. We’re on what we call a “two-week sprint.” Every two weeks new features are added and they’re debated internally by a small group of people who look at the feedback from users and see what they want. Use of open source gives us an advantage in that we’re getting the best [feedback] from the largest community of people out there who are experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.
EB: What tips would you offer the commercial sector on helping the military move to web 2.0?
Art Fritzson: This is fundamentally not a technical challenge; we can install a web 2.0 system in an agency probably within a few hours or a few days. But getting people to use it requires policy changes. It requires leadership and behavior changes, such as encouraging people to participate and provide information and not just consume it from the Web. So, the move to web 2.0 is about behavior change, organizational change, and changing the mindset of what collaboration is.
EB: Fast-forward four years from now. Where do you see the military in its adoption of web 2.0?
Art Fritzson: This is an education process, it’s going to go through a pilot phase and people will start to see real benefits. Right now the aspect that I thought might be a hurdle doesn’t seem to exist: There is no tendency to hoard information. Once they are given the ability to post, add content, and share with others they are generally willing to do it — and by “they” I mean the younger generation and some fairly senior visionary leaders. They are all for a common mission and they realize that the information they’re sharing is streamlining the ability to cut across organizational boundaries to help succeed in any given mission.
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