CIO Corner

Welcome to the CIO Corner. We’ve gathered some of the thought leaders in government IT to share their insights on what they’ve learned as standard bearers for integrated technology deployment in government. Look for insights from:

Gregg Bailey Skip Bailey is director of technology integration, federal practice, at Deloitte. He is a former CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and was assistant director at the FBI.
Linda Cureton Linda Cureton is the CIO at NASA and previously headed the IT department at Goddard Space Flight Center. She also served as associate CIO, acting-deputy CIO and acting-CIO of the Energy Department.

Social media? Not so fast

Have you been feeling pressure to make Facebook available to your user community? If you don’t tweet and blog and Facebook do you feel like a technological Neanderthal?

It seems that much of the push for Web 2.0 and social network tools is based on the perception that this is what the new generation of workers or customers expects. We hear things like: "This is the way that these people communicate and if we don’t accommodate them, we will not connect with them," etc. The implied threat is that we won’t be able to hire them or they won’t be our customers.

Many people are very passionate about the need for these tools in the workplace. Clearly the use of these tools is high and on the rise: Currently, Facebook has 400 million users, millions of whom log on any given day, according to the site. But, have we definitively examined these tools in terms of their value as a social outlet verses a legitimate business tool?

Let me give you an example. Last year, the president, in conjunction with the National Academy of Public Administration, created the Open Government Dialogue Web site to do open brainstorming of public issues. The number one rated comment was related to getting the president to produce his birth certificate; the third most popular topic is about legalizing Marijuana. You can judge whether these are the critical issues facing our nation.

On the other hand, the value of social networking tools was evidenced in the recent events in Haiti and, to a lesser extent, in Chile. But how is this use like something I would use in my business? Sometimes it feels like the tail wagging the dog. Have we really addressed the business value of such tools?

There are obvious cases where good collaboration tools help teams work more effectively together. And there may be some specialized cases, such as the value to a celebrity to have some place to communicate with their fan base. I don’t want to sound like an old stick in the mud or technological Neanderthal, but I do think this is a very serious question. I also recognize that many tools, like the Internet and e-mail, started life in a very similar way.

Is Facebook the next e-mail or is it an interesting social tool for fun? We all know the critical value of e-mail to organizations, but we all also know the tremendous time-waster of too many e-mails (don’t get me started on “reply to all”). In many cases senior people in an organization force their employees to use social networking tools when they really don’t work in that environment, much to the pain of those that are forced to use the tools. I agree that a sandbox to play in is a great way to promote creative thought and that this process will eventually lead to real uses for many of these tools. However, one must decide if in these tough economic times they can afford this type of research and development.

I would say that if you want to explore the use of a Web 2.0 or social networking tool, make sure you are willing to eat the time used for R&D, or that you have a true business case for the use. Once you make that choice, then set metrics and limits on what you are trying to accomplish so that you know if it is working.

What is the impact to potential hires of no corporate sponsorship of Facebook? What is the best way to communicate with customers? These are all fair questions that have been raised and addressed with a lot of discussion and opinion. But equally important are questions about employee productivity and productivity gains. Ultimately what is the real cost versus the benefits?

So far the opinions about such questions have ranged greatly. There seems to be some anecdotal support for any position you want to take, but good hard evidence is hard to come by. Let’s make sure that in the spirit political correctness we are not lead down the path of poor productivity. We should move forward with our eyes wide open.

Posted by Gregg "Skip" Bailey on Apr 09, 2010 at 7:20 PM5 comments

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