A key to understanding data

Web 2.0 software tools are helping agencies make optimum use of the data they compile

For the U.S. intelligence community, the idea
of using wikis and blogs to share information
seemed radical at first. How could classified
information be analyzed in a Wikipedia-like
environment?

Despite initial concerns, Intellipedia, a system
that uses the same software as the public
Wikipedia, is proving to be a successful means
for intelligence officers to share ideas and
solve problems. Intellipedia exists on three
networks: unclassified, classified and top
secret. It allows anyone with access to those
networks to read the information but permits
only authenticated users to make edits.

Intellipedia is used on a small scale, but its
initial success could prove to be a model for
how other government agencies might start
using Web 2.0 technology.

For example, NASA is using a social-networking
tool in a pilot project to help
employees better share information. NASA
officials hope to incorporate it in the
Constellation Program, which is developing
new space vehicles for missions, including
one that will return astronauts to the moon.

The Constellation Program is using lessons
learned from the Apollo missions in the
1960s and 1970s, and the agency is finding
that social-networking technology is an effective
way to search every corner of NASA for
that decades-old knowledge. NASA is using
the Socialcast On-Demand platform from
Socialcast Inc.

The enterprise social-networking platform
is delivered as software as a service, said Tim
Young, the company's chief executive officer.

"We use social networking as the base
foundation of the application, and then on
top of that, we have knowledge management
functionality," he said. "We're really focused
on employees being able to discover other
users and knowledge that they can leverage
in their day-to-day productivity."

With Socialcast, users have profiles that
enable them to share their expertise, résumés
and current projects, and they can indicate
how they are connected to others in the
organization or agency. The tool also lets
managers take advantage of the collective
knowledge of all their employees to address
specific problems or projects.

Any employee can submit an idea, and
then the rest of the employees evaluate it,
Young said. "Management can then see which
ideas float up to the top. Employees can use
text, images, video, Flash [and] documents to
support their findings and ideas."

As agencies become increasingly dispersed,
social networking helps managers discover expertise across the entire organization. It
also lets managers build virtual teams. They
can search through profiles to find employees
with appropriate expertise and question
them.

NASA officials are trying to close the
knowledge gaps between their geographic
centers, Young said. "They are also trying to
close a lot of the generational gaps that exist
in the agency. They have a lot of baby
boomers, lifelong NASA employees with a lot
of knowledge. They are finding that older
knowledge is extremely important to newer
employees, so they're trying to connect them
and close that generational gap."

RICH EXPERIENCE

Using Web 2.0 tools to take better advantage
of the data agencies already have will be one
of the biggest opportunities for systems integrators
and technology companies, said Tom
Jenkins, executive chairman and chief strategy
officer at Open Text Corp., a provider of
content management tools.

Government agencies are just getting
started with Web 2.0, and Jenkins said he
expects the transition to the new technology
to be similar to moving from a paper-based
world to a Web-based one. Initially, government
agencies digitized documents such as
brochures and forms and posted them on the
Web.

"That's really what the first 10 years of the
Web was about," Jenkins said. "We would
take documents that normally governments
would hand out or mail to people, and we
would put those documents up on Web sites
so people could self-serve."

The new generation is accustomed to
using Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs and
Facebook, for a richer experience in terms of
content. With Web 2.0, people want greater
personalization of the information delivered
to them.

"When I go to an agency's Web site, I want
that agency to know who I am, understand
the information I've already looked at?and
present information that is relevant to me,"
Jenkins said. "Our user expectations are
increasing."

Agencies that deliver such an experience
benefit from better customer satisfaction.
Web 2.0 lets all an agency's employees help
solve a user's issue regardless of where those
employees are located.

"It is what we call candy and aspirin,"
Jenkins said. "The candy part is great citizen
satisfaction, but the aspirin part is you really
have to deal with the fact that more of the
fidelity of the conversation with the citizen is
now being digitized and recorded."

DIGGING DEEPER

One of the first ways agencies will likely start
using Web 2.0 tools is to mine existing data
because they can more easily find and deliver
information from an existing database.
For example, WorkLight Inc.'s server-based
software connects to enterprise applications
and extracts information in a secure and
highly personalized view.

"It is able to deliver that information
through consumer Web 2.0 interfaces like
widgets, gadgets, personalized home pages
and [Really Simple Syndication] feeds," said
David Lavenda, WorkLight's vice president of
marketing and product strategy.

The company recently
launched a new product that
lets employees securely access
and update Microsoft Office
SharePoint Server 2007 information
using Web 2.0 tools.

WorkLight for SharePoint
works with consumer interface
tools such as Windows Live, iGoogle and
Facebook.

"We let people ... get updated information
about their documents, and they can see that
information directly on their own home
pages," Lavenda said. "Instead of having to go
into SharePoint to find a document, it will
appear on your desktop. You can click on it
and drill right down to SharePoint and open
that document."

Helping agencies make better use of their
existing infrastructure with Web 2.0 tools
will likely be among the biggest business
opportunities during the next few years,
Lavenda said. Building Web 2.0 interfaces,
for example, should be a huge opportunity for
systems integrators, he added.

"What we do is make the existing information
easier to get to and more valuable," he
said. "We don't prescribe bringing in new
products to build a Web 2.0 stack."

Doug Beizer (dbeizer@1105govinfo.com) is a staff
writer at Washington Technology.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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