Government use of Web 2.0 requires caution

Agencies should adopt Web 2.0 eagerly but with care

Help! I can't keep up with my LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, Twitter and Biznik messages, status updates and friend requests. Add to that the client I can't locate in Second Life, and I'm reminded of that old saying, "All that Twitters is not gold."

Many of my younger information technology government colleagues are all atwitter about the benefits of the adoption of Web 2.0 applications. I definitely understand and approve of the increased need for transparency in government. The potential for enhanced performance and knowledge sharing is enormous. But without some degree of oversight, how long can Web information anarchy and regulatory compliance really co-exist — especially in the unclassified environment of many civilian agencies?

Some of the security, productivity and privacy implications include:

  • Information vulnerability.
  • Regulatory violations.
  • Loss of productivity.
  • Network penetration.
  • Privacy violations.

I would add the "breakdown of civilization as we know it," but I suspect this might result in some angry letters to the editor.

New federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said he is “looking at some of those technologies and embracing technologies that make sense while at the same time preserving the unique mission of the government in terms of security and protecting privacy for the people."

I wonder if the next public-sector generation's vision of widespread, technology-enabled social interaction, by its very nature, is in direct opposition to the commonly held principles of governance. How long before a bottom-up implementation of a professional collaboration network results in a serious privacy violation or the release of vital security information?

As agencies experiment with this new technology, executives need to make sure they mitigate the potential problems — not to slow things down but to make sure this new exciting step forward succeeds. It would be unfortunate if a highly controversial public event results in a knee-jerk reaction away from social networking. Given the present political demand for increased regulation, this is not an unlikely occurrence.

I believe one cost-effective solution to mitigate these risks is the creation of a new policy and oversight model. I would recommend that the new CIO, while exploring these challenges at the national level, require each federal department and agency to form its own interdisciplinary and, when appropriate, interagency — and intergenerational — committee to expedite the necessary governance and culture changes to both foster and regulate the implementation of new collaborative technology.

Each Web 2.0 Council would be chartered to ensure that quality service is not negatively affected, to identify who will be responsible for new applications development and integration into the agency's infrastructure, and to measure the success of new applications and services. The resulting oversight and increased coordination should make networks less vulnerable while reducing regulatory and privacy violations so that agencies can take full advantage of the transparency and productivity promise of Web 2.0 solutions.

About the Author

Michael Lisagor founded Celerity Works and is the author of "Winning and Managing Government Business."

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