Government can embrace social media, experts say

If the U.S. Department of Defense can embrace social networking and other Web 2.0 tools, just about any large organization can, said a representative of the agency’s Business Transformation Office.

Other agencies can also overcome long-entrenched attitudes about security, underachieving technology and the cost of embracing new technologies, said David Dejewski, speaking Tuesday at FedTalks 2010, a conference about ways government can better use technology. In the past couple of years, the DOD has rolled out its own Facebook-like social-networking site, its own wiki, and its own blog site and website that hosts dozens of Web applications for DOD employees and executives, he said.

The traditional obstacles to deploying new technology and maintaining it are starting to disappear, Dejewski told the audience of government employees. “You’re not hosting it anymore,” said Dejewski, a division head in the DOD Business Transformation Office. “This stuff is being hosted somewhere else in the cloud. Your whole mission with Web 2.0 … is to focus on value.”

Dejewski’s office can create a new Web app for DOD employees in about four hours, he said. There’s no need for prototypes or lengthy testing — developers upload apps to the milSuite site and users immediately can try them, he said.

The DOD’s milWiki knowledge-sharing site, launched in 2008, now has 90,000 users and more than 11,000 articles, Dejewski said. The site has transformed the way members of the military and other DOD employees share information, he said.

One of the major obstacles for the DOD embracing a wiki and other social media has been security concerns, he said. “The work that we do is literally life and death,” he said. “We take security very seriously.”

But the military has largely overcome those concerns through a strong security architecture, including multifactor authentication. Security had to be addressed before the products were rolled out, he said.

Once a user is authenticated, he or she has access to a range of services on the military’s social-networking ring, he said. About 1.5 million DOD employees and contractors have access to Web 2.0 tools at the agency, he said.

“If we can do it, and we can offer all of our employees access to this thing, so can you guys,” Dejewski told the audience.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs CTO Peter Levin also encouraged the audience to embrace open government, transparency and customer service. For the VA, that means creating portable health records and working to eliminate a backlog of applications filed by military veterans for services, he said. President Barack Obama, speaking on Aug. 4, promised that the VA would make downloadable health records available to veterans, and last week, the VA launched the service, Levin said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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