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But where does DoD fit in? Review of Burton Report: Gotta, Mike. “Field Research: Actions to Take On Enterprise Social Networking”

With the DoD lagging behind in the adoption of social media in general, to include social networking, it is not an area ripe for research. Yet, with growing interest and a handful of innovative projects picking up steam, we have a need to apply what has been done on the commercial sector without much understanding or research into our own environment. Mike Gotta has authored several papers and studies on the use and adoption of enterprise social networking, and all are worth a read for those interested in the subject.

Gotta’s latest field research study makes several recommendations that I would like to review and examine from a DoD point of view in hopes of putting things into the right context. So I will focus on the three high level recommendations with their respective bullet point descriptions from the summary on page four. If the reader is interested, all of the bullet point descriptions offered in the summary text are further defined on pages 14-16 at the end of the study.

To make a business case and facilitate project initiation (p. 4)
• Establish a common understanding of social networking.
• Identify specific business scenarios that can be improved by social networking.
• Be candid regarding the discretionary aspect of the business case.
• Leverage a variety of internal relationships to gain approval.
• Include post-deployment adoption activities within the project scope.

Depending on the tool, there could be a host of different scenarios that make good business cases in the DoD. Some ideas include reducing redundancy in efforts by making it easier to find and interact with people working on similar projects, time based scenarios of getting updates, news, and information rapidly for near real time collaboration, crowd-sourcing questions and calls for participation, streamlining communications and information sharing irrespective of agency or geographical location on a scale and speed never before seen, other network based effects, etc. The article cautions the over-selling of the “connecting to experts” part of the puzzle, but with a large disparate organization just finding someone who knows something is often a valuable starting point.

One difference that is easy to point out is a different equation of risk is more prevalent in the DoD: article discusses financial and technology risk and we are more focused on the security acpects. Let’s face it: the technology is well over 5 years old, some examples scale above 100 million users on a globally distributed basis across networks of varying speeds and latencies. It’s not the technology: it’s a risk adverse culture, often dependent on the “status quo” and “process” where there is safety in following rules and procedures. One observation may be that the system encourages successful risk and punishes failure. Since the normal mode of Web 2.0 technologies and innovation is to fail often, the current reward system punishes these projects. Use of social media in the DoD is often encountered with multiple forms of resistance to its use and benefits: stalling/blocking, criticism and representation of opinion as fact, spreading rumors and paranoia, wielding political influence and the power of the purse to manipulate decisions, etc…

Information Assurance types get all hot under the collar ruminating over all the possible scenarios where a compromise can occur. I think IA people are afraid to walk outside to their car in a thunderstorm for fear of getting electrocuted, or put on their seatbelt for the purpose of protecting them from running into trees falling in the road. We try and put the best security practices in place, but to avoid bending for fear of breaking is not an acceptable mentality considering our adversaries are using and exploiting (consequentially exploiting us) with these very technologies we cannot seem to accept. This act of not only tucking, but forcibly pulling our own tail between our legs has got to stop.

To deal with organizational and cultural dynamics (p. 4)
• Know the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s culture.
• Prioritize the need for a long-term change management program.
• Closely involve groups associated with mitigating risks.
• Bring human resources (HR) strategists into the core project team.
• Be prepared to take on stakeholders who favor the status quo.
• Understand how others perceive the IT organization (both positive and negative viewpoints).

“Organizations that already have a “healthy culture” (by their own assessment) have a greater likelihood of success with social networking initiatives than those whose cultural issues stymie adoption efforts (p. 8).” While we have above discussed, or merely scratched the surface, at the many ways in which innovation is squashed by DoD culture, it refreshing to see the Obama administration take a more proactive approach to making these types of technologies work for government. However, the DoD has made strides in putting out a new Web 2.0 policy, the Social Media still suffers from additional debate as some people are still tightly clinging to the past. Hopefully, we all will not let the talk of “approaching smartly” and “needing to understand more” as well as other catch-phrases fool us from moving on and embracing the 21st century.

I would agree that the long term supportability of any system always falls into question when standing up these innovative projects. In many cases, new tools just come and go, use it while its there and gone tomorrow. Data migration to a new system is often forgotten, and often so difficult that we still use old archaic systems today. Of course, getting new systems fielded is often so painful; we will stick with what we have, only reinforcing the status quo. These issues cannot be worked out here, but it is good to have hope and account for the long tail of maintenance. However, I personally believe that the way technology changes, these systems are great, but let’s not get attached for longer than 5 years and plan for 2 year technology refreshes in conjunction with the POM cycle.

From the DoD perspective, Human Resources seem to be more of an external benefit to using public new media. I think that the DoD HR groups can all use SM to provide opportunities, communicate information, and have an area to create discussion and conversation about educational and professional growth, but it is only to augment their specific agency’s or Service’s programs.

IT organizations within the DoD have many different mission functions, but reliability, security, configuration control, seem to be general themes that abound. As far as delivering new technology is concerned, the whole process just takes forever with respect to the IA controls and standards the DoD relies on. This topic might take several pages or volumes to discuss in its entirety, so we will just move on to what was discussed in the article where the mistake in the perception of KM projects in the 90’s was making them about the technology and not about the culture. I would argue that it may have been more about a technology issue given the infantile, yet rapidly maturing net-centric focus of applications and the market space. Culture was certainly an issue, but the two were tied together in tandem during this phase of the Internet. The difference in today’s context is that the technology maturation has been decoupled and now we face a dragging, lagging culture to accept, adopt, and excel with these capabilities.

To address adoption, application, and technology platform challenges (p. 4)
• Establish a governance framework early in the effort.
• Think in terms of adoption, not deployment.
• Avoid over-associating enterprise solutions with consumer sites.
• Set realistic expectations for employee creation of rich social profiles.
• Be pragmatic about the use of social networking for expertise location.
• Focus on community-based applications as well as social networking.
• Expect vendors with a platform approach to have the early edge.

I dislike the term “governance” for some reason. Perhaps this is due to the fact that within the DoD, governance generally equates to bureaucracy, which means layers of unnecessary “stuff” to go though in order to accomplish the simplest of tasks. There will be armies of people willing to say “no” and few that are empowered to say “yes.” Up to the first recommendation section where the advice was to get approval to stand up something, it is often better to do it and apologize later, or else it will never get done. I believe that all of our acceptable use policies and standards of professional/ethical behavior work fine, and dealing with too many extra rules reinforces the bureaucracy and creates too many headaches in the long run.

Adoption is always a tricky problem. Right now, between the DoD and the Intelligence Community (IC) systems, I see the “usual suspects” (i.e. the same people) in every new social media system we try and pilot. We are slowly gathering more momentum, and I believe this is where the top-down, bottom-up approach needs to come into play as we try and change the way we do business with these technologies. As Gotta points out, “It is also important to for organizations to realize that no single tactic works (or works consistently) all the time (p. 11.)” What is certainly not apt to work is continued resistance to the change: it is here, deal with it.

There are several vendors offering products and I have seen a few for better or worse already. There are also good open source solutions to consider, and doing them in-house might not be a bad idea for proof of concept. My major concern is that the vendors want to sell you the world of integrated solutions when it is possible your environment only needs one thing. You may not need a blog, wiki, SNS platform, integrated with discussion forums, real time chat and messaging, etc… I see the selling of too much getting in the way of the good that can be offered through simple solutions, not overly complex ones. The complex part of the equation is the people and the culture. Working on the value proposition to engage the community, find new stakeholders, and changing the culture is something a vendor cannot help us do with technology alone. The change must come from within, and it is in this aspect that I find the greatest barrier and challenge to enterprise social networking.

And the disclaimer:
(views expressed here are solely the author’s opinions and do not represent those of DISA, the DoD, or the US Government)

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