Thursday, March 10, 2011

Government Can Embrace Social Media

On Tuesday, 12 October, 2010, I had an opportunity to speak at a FedTalks event at the Sydney Harmon Hall in DC. The theme question for the event was "How can we use technology to change government." My answer was "We're already doing it." See coverage of my speech in the New York Times.

David Dejewski of DOD-Business Transformation Agency discusses from FedScoop on Vimeo.

I chose to address "Beyond Web 2.0 in the Department of Defense" as it is a topic I have some personal experience with, and it fit with the event theme. My message was simple:

1. Acknowledge and celebrate this moment in history. We will face cultural challenges when applying Web 2.0. Acknowledge right up front that the last 40 years have been a ride. Technology has promised over and over again that it will deliver efficiencies and cost reductions - and it has! But it has also delivered a lot of disappointments. Each new release or upgrade promises to be "the one," but we outgrow it quickly, and soon find ourselves looking for the "next one." Our Programs bust hardware limitations. Our processing speed can't keep up with new applications. Semantic interoperability problems keep our data locked up in contextual silos. The list goes on.

These and other challenges live in our collective memories and will slow down new Web 2.0 deployments. It's a mistake to ignore them. Better to address them right up front and throw a "going away party."

In a Web 2.0 world, the focus is no longer on hardware or software bottlenecks. The focus in a Web 2.0 world is on creating and consuming value. Make that distinction clear.

2. Get your security stuff together first. In a distributed environment like Web 2.0, identity management is everything. Whether you're serving data or consuming it, being able to establish identity, protect data enroute from point A to point B, and being able to monitor interactions with the data is critical. In the DoD, we use an ID card, a PIN and a third party authentication service which sits in the cloud to authenticate each person and each system that interacts with us. Without a solid security service, none of what we do would be possible.

3. Create massive value.. Make it a campaign. Bring the discussion into your board rooms. Put it in your publications. Get people thinking in terms of creating value at all levels in your organization. Get people away from thinking in terms of a matrix of program offices, huge acquisitions, Multi year deployments or complicated IV&V. We still have a place for these "old school" techniques, but for the majority of our employees, a simple app that takes 4 hours to create, that grabs a little info from this source or that source, mashes it together and allows the employee to interact with it is all they need. "Old school" centralized program office approaches are costly, rarely hit the mark for the people "on the ground," and take so long that by the time they've deployed a new release, the world has already moved on.

I referred to the idea of getting beyond Web 2.0 (and interactive Web platform that includes things like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Blogs, Jack-be-like mashups,, iTunes,,,, etc) and into creating massive value as Web 2.1. I made the distinction to help people to reset the horizon. The goal is NOT to deploy these multiple platforms. The goal is to employ these platforms with purpose. is a great example. Someone asks "where did the recovery money go?" Web 2.1 minded people understand that the data need to answer that question is all over the country. They employ a Web 2.1 strategy to ID the data, expose the data, subscribe to the data, mash the data together, and display the data for the people who want the answer to the question.

The professionals who created did not try to create a massive database that everyone in the country has to register with, log on to, upload data into, or pull reports from. They simply deployed some Web logic that would work with existing data sources - no matter where it is or who owns it - to provide an answer to the question asked. Simple. Brilliant. Cost effective.

So how can we use this approach to solve more problems? Consider the following questions:

Where's my medical data?
How did we spend our budget?
Where are our people?
Who's gotten what training?
Where are our supplies?
Who's got the best price on bandages (AKA Cling, AKA 4x4's, AKA Gauze, etc)? Without worrying about semantics.

These can all be answered the same way that, or answers questions - a LOT cheaper and a lot more interactive than we can answer them with a monster Multi- billion dollar program..

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