CIO, Government of British Columbia

Social networking outlets such as MySpace and Facebook are offering new avenues of communication for corporations and governments, but are also presenting fresh challenges to CIOs deciding how best to fit them into their business processes. Dave Nikolejsin, CIO for the Government of British Columbia, discusses his own experiences thus far in the world of Web 2.0.

CIO CANADA: To what extent is the B.C. government adopting and using Web 2.0 technologies, both internally and externally?

NIKOLEJSIN: Internally we have blogs and wikis and sharing sites. [Externally] the debate that‘s going on in the government – and there is policy development underway – is how to use those tools to engage the citizenry on the issues of government and policy-making and interacting with government officials. And not surprisingly, some of the issues that are coming into play are privacy and who speaks on behalf of government on what issues. That becomes the balancing act that we struggle with, like everyone else.

CIO CANADA: What kind of Web 2.0-based initiatives are you envisioning for this kind of interaction?

It’s not a question of if we ultimately embrace these tools and use them – it’s how and when. Dave Nikolejsin>TextNIKOLEJSIN: Would we start up a MySpace group around a public policy matter? That’s a different issue and we haven’t taken that step yet…. As soon as government officials begin participating on their part of that, you open up the issue of what is government communicating, and is that done in the proper way by the proper people. Then you cross into the privacy matter of whether you can get into the real substantive things in a forum without crossing over privacy lines and so on. Far from just saying, ‘It’s too hard, we’re not going to do it,’ we’re looking at it and trying to figure out if there is a way to balance those concerns.

CIO CANADA: A particularly tough question that CIOs in both the public and private sectors are dealing with is that of how much access to social networking sites should be granted to employees. How is the B.C. government handling that issue?

NIKOLEJSIN: Should employees be able to participate on MySpace or go to YouTube during work hours? Our view in general is that with those Web 2.0 things, yes, people could choose to waste their time during work hours on them, but they also need access to those tools to do their job effectively and to participate in getting the information they need in the forms that they find useful to do their work. To the extent where it becomes a time-wasting activity, they can waste their time on the Internet today or on the telephone or around the water cooler.

CIO CANADA: Social networking has certainly become an interaction choice of many within society, particularly those under the age of 25. How important do you think it is for governments to offer these capabilities to users of their services?

NIKOLEJSIN: The pressure is there and it will continue to grow. I think it’s inevitable that we will need to do a lot better in the future. I have kids who are going to expect to interact with government in a far different way than my parents expect to.

CIO CANADA: Do you feel the rise of Web 2.0 technologies has been a benefit to society as a whole?

NIKOLEJSIN: My personal view is that it has provided a way for society to come together and discuss issues in a way that’s not in control of a third party. The most powerful social networking sites out there, like MySpace and Facebook and so on, allow groups to come together to discuss things…in a way that you just could not do otherwise. I think that’s a net benefit. It’s hard to conceive of how else you could do that.

CIO CANADA: Where do you envision this form of communication going in the next few years?

NIKOLEJSIN: We’re thinking a lot about the alignment, integration and intersection between advanced communications and collaboration tools with Web 2.0. What I mean by that is taking the unstructured work that people do, the part of their day which is growing like crazy – using e-mail, using the telephone, instant messaging, desktop video, Web conferencing, which bleeds pretty quickly into the Web 2.0 space – and saying, ‘How are we going to, in an organized way, supply our workforce with these kind of tools? How is it all going to fit together so you can start to get those multiple benefits around productivity gains, workforce satisfaction, and bring groupware into play and make it available to people, as opposed to it being controlled by the IT department.

CIO CANADA: Do you have any advice for other CIOs looking at the deployment of Web 2.0 applications?

NIKOLEJSIN: On the public sector side, my advice would be to, rather than take the obvious way out, which would be to block the traffic (to employees), engage the policy and privacy folks and ask them how we get to yes. I really believe it’s not a question of if we will ultimately figure out how to embrace these tools and use them – it’s how and when.

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Greg Enright is a veteran IT journalist and long-time editorial staff member at IT World Canada. He is based in Toronto.

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