Opening new doors

Be nimble. Be quick. Be flexible, adaptable, teachable, adroit. In other words, you must be prepared for change because things change.

These are watchwords for any successful business today, especially when it comes to making strategic decisions that involve information technology — and what strategic decisions today don’t? The operational realities when you start a project can, and probably will, be very different from those that will apply when it is ready for launch.

Barack Obama and his high-tech evangelists — chief information officer Vivek Kundra and chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra — are now trying to sell that nimbleness idea to government agencies. Good luck with that, Jack, you’re probably saying. Government processes — from policy prescriptions to contracting procedures — are so entrenched in the old, by-the-book ways of doing business that agencies will never be able to invent a new candlestick, much less jump over one.

Their motto might as well be, “There’s a reason we can’t do that (and I’ll think of it in a minute).”

But Kundra and Chopra want to turn this bureaucratic mind-set on its head. They are touting a number of new forces that have emerged from the entrepreneurial world, have gradually crept into mainstream business applications and are now knocking on government’s door: Web 2.0, open-source software, social networking, mobile and ubiquitous computing, blogging, cloud computing, virtualization.

In this week’s cover story, contributing writer Brian Robinson examines the open-source movement and its growing, if still somewhat grudging, acceptance in the government space. If nothing else, his reporting shows that the government mind-set cannot be stereotyped as one, monolithic ogre of passive resistance. In fact, a number of agencies – defense and intelligence units tops among them – are fully embracing the open-source model for the very reason that less enlightened technology managers cite as its drawback: enhanced security.

The phenomenon that makes open source applicable to better security – more eyes on software’s inner workings reveal vulnerabilities that evil-doers will surely find eventually – gets further inspection from columnist Mark Drapeau. He argues that information sharing has become a top priority for national security operations to perform effectively. It’s as much a cultural shift as a technology shift.

No one says this will be easy – or simple. As staff writer Ben Bain reports in his story on sensitive but unclassified information, making mission-critical security information available to those who need it, at whatever level of government they operate, requires a delicate and complicated balance of access and control. Here again, though, emerging technologies offer part of the solution, which means that everyone in the chain of command simply has to remain open to the possibilities.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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