Social Networking Tools Help Government Users Solve Business Problems

SPECIAL REPORT: Transparent Government Solutions

By Jeff Erlichman, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.

The key IT benefit of introducing social computing to end users is that IT can provide the right tools to solve business problems.

All across government, departments and agencies are busy hiring Directors of New Media to facilitate the transformation to a transparent and open government.

As GSA’s Teresa Nasif told 1105 Government Information Group recently, Web 2.0 tools are communications tools; they are not IT infrastructure tools.  But as agency after agency begins to embrace Social Networking and other collaboration tools the question government IT managers naturally focus on is “What is in it for me?”

While no one questions the value of following stimulus spending on, government IT managers must be clear in their own minds of what exactly they are gaining as there is always a tradeoff between collaboration and security, and how to define, accept and manage risk.

There are several ways in which Social Networking tools can provide benefits. For example, the technologies enable users to collaborate on projects or business opportunities irrespective of physical or time separation wrote Microsoft’s Alina Fu in a June 2008 White Paper on the value of social computing to businesses. 

Drawing upon a US CIO Confidence Poll Online Survey1 conducted December 2006, Fu said businesses embrace Social Networking because it” improves the efficiency and productivity of the business, encourages creativity, sets the organization apart as an innovator and addresses a gap with the capture and management of knowledge.”

IDC estimated that information workers spend 9% of their day searching for information.2 Much of this research time is affected by the lack of IT sources that capture the proper data. Today, better information and knowledge management systems are saving time and minimizing redundant inquiries. Thus, the key IT benefit of introducing Social Networking to the end users is that IT can provide the right tools for end users to solve business problems.

By doing that, IT enables users to collaborating effectively and push germane information to the targeted audience. And they can be more than a cost center according to Fu. They can deliver the right technologies to improve business processes.

Other benefits according to Fu are that the IT department is able to directly benefit from the use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies as well. “For instance, IT can leverage wiki technology to create a FAQ for call centers. IT customer service representatives are able to quickly locate responses to commonly asked enquiries as well as refine the standard responses on the FAQ wiki when necessary. IT leaders may also use RSS feeds to push information out and enable audience targeting to distribute different announcements that are relevant to respective product support groups.”

Because the IT department is responsible for agency infrastructure, it has the knowledge and expertise to integrate social computing solutions smoothly into the agency environment.

“IT departments recognize that vendor solutions that offer governance and control are 'enterprise ready',” explained Fu. “Thus, they will be more likely to implement and deploy such environments more quickly and seamlessly.”

Every Workplace Task

Collaboration is at the heart of New Media technologies. And tools are readily available and familiar to most users. Social Networking applications can be applied practically everywhere in the workplace. IT managers will be looking closely at the technologies that allow them to leverage applications that provide the most practical value.

In the areas of oversight and transparency, project managers are looking for IT to provide them with tools that provide strong reporting capabilities, ease and familiarity of use. At the same time program and portfolio managers are looking for IT solutions that provide a complete and accessible investment inventory, enable project reporting, ease of access and support telework initiatives.

If government is truly to be transparent and open, then managers and users need tools that streamline communications, allow them to collaborate securely and demonstrate compliance and accountability.  At the same time IT departments must open up government to citizens through the use of cutting edge technologies that create a new level of transparency, accountability and participation. The good news is they are already doing so. 

1US CIO Confidence Poll Online Survey, December 2006
2IDC, 2005