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Social Networking in Government Agencies: Pipedream or Imminent Reality?

How your organization can adopt social media tools internally to drive results and become a social business.

Wading into Social Media

The terms “enterprise social networking” or “social media” often conjure up images of hip, savvy startups. But many of you are on the forefront of using applications like GovLoop to share best practices and discuss systemic issues that span organizational boundaries.

Let’s face it – social networking initiatives can be met with a lot of head-scratching. Top-down approaches requiring or restricting access are challenging, in part because social networking makes organizations open and transparent. Governments are especially susceptible to the risks which social networking may pose to the protection of personal information. Any safe-to-use collaboration services would need to adhere to FISMA, along with an ever-expanding slew of compliance requirements developed to maintain security and minimize risk.

Agencies need to balance the beneficial results that are possible allowing networks of employees to engage internally to improve the performance of the Department, access information across the enterprise with an intuitive user experience, find expertise quickly, just as they do using social media tools in the consumer world. All while providing an environment that protects the integrity and confidentiality of the conversation and information being exchanged.

Meanwhile, the current U.S. administration is heavily focused on increasing transparency through social media – President Obama has even taken to Twitter encouraging federal agencies to capitalize on social media services to improve organizational efficiencies.

Still, many struggle to formulate plans that produce results and are left wondering, “Where do I go from here?”

Not Ready to Take the Leap?

Amidst tightening budgets and competing resources, getting your agency to operate like a nimble and engaged social business can seem like a pipedream. You may also be evaluating your telework policies to determine if you can provide additional access to your agency social network via mobile devices. It is likely that your staff is pushing you hard to request access to each other in order to interact professionally as they are accustomed to doing so in their personal worlds — and that this will enhance their productivity.

The use of social media as an approach to improved agency communication will also help you attract and retain key talent. It is a preferred method of communication for many recent college graduates and other connected professionals. Using social media internally becomes a differentiator for your organization.

Increasingly, agencies want to interact with other agencies and directly with Citizens using consumer social media tools. Imagine a “Facebook-like” capability, on your external facing web site, where citizens can provide confidential documents and agencies can begin to create a holistic view of citizens. A person’s profile could focus on history or expertise, where blogs allow for collaboration and discussion, and information is easily searchable. The benefits could be significant and traditional “case management” practices could be improved dramatically. Agencies want to get more engaged directly with the citizen and become part of the dialog.

Consider this:

Improved IT efficiency
: Cloud computing wins the prize for most buzzed about phrase of the decade. Both the former and current Federal CIO have encouraged a plan for federal agencies to seek a cloud solution before looking elsewhere. Agencies are working to upgrade their infrastructure to support this change and determine which are the appropriate applications to move to the cloud.

: Make sure you adopt a cloud offering with support for mobile devices. As we enter the era of “bring your own device,” it’s becoming increasingly important to acknowledge that achieving your mission may mean increased opportunity to connect mobile devices to existing cloud applications. Employees will expect the same “anywhere, anytime” access they’ve been getting in the office.

Citizen services
: At IBM, we find that social business tools are a vital way to enhance customer satisfaction. Agencies gaining faster access to the latest social technologies can improve citizen services and interaction. Several of our government customers have created innovative yet simple ways to connect with the public, in order to listen to citizen feedback in cyberspace, and provide additional transparency for data and decisions.

Simply put, using social media will improve the performance of your organizations. Using social tools to collaborate internally can significantly alleviate the burden of internal processes. For example, the state of Vermont has used cloud collaboration services to cut costs and reduce reliance on paper products. With about 80 vendor contracts to process monthly, speeding up the process has allowed Vermont to achieve efficiencies that leaders had not expected (think weeks to minutes).

Next Steps…

Industry pundits are predicting 38% growth for social networking software for the enterprise over the next five years – and issuing words of caution for the laggards who still haven’t taken the leap. This is a linear change; once people begin to integrate social media into their efforts, they tend not to stop. It’s a myth that “social” capabilities come at a high cost and drain precious resources.

What are you waiting for? If you aren’t already doing this, it’s time to get started. For those of you who are using social media in amazing, innovative ways, please share your real-world experiences!

Mark Gruzin, vice president, Software Sales, Public Sector and Government, IBM is based in Bethesda, MD.

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