DOD must weigh risk and reward of social media tools, panel says

Officials say new ways of sharing information must balance utility, security

As the Defense Department moves forward with official use of popular social methods of sharing information, policy-makers and military leaders must work together and weigh the benefits and risks that can come from increasingly open communication, a panel of DOD CIOs said today.

“We need all the knights of the round table — CIOs, industry leaders, program managers, academia,” said Hari Bezwada, portfolio integration officer at the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems. "We might not be able to agree on everything, but we can [talk about] the right things to do." Bezwada participated in a panel discussion at the AFCEA Belvoir Industry Days in National Harbor, Md.

That collaboration is yielding significant results for information sharing across DOD, he added.

“If anyone said years ago that 14 services and agencies would give up their hardware and share 1,500 square feet of space at the Pentagon, I never would have believed it,” Bezwada said. “The reason [it works] is virtualization and people putting their differences and agendas aside to do what’s best for the king of that ‘knights of the round table’ — the soldier.”

Social media tools for sharing information, such as those found in milSuite, are opening doors for military collaboration, said Emerson Keslar, CIO and director of MilTech Solutions at the Army Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical.

“We’re finding unbelievable uses for these capabilities,” Keslar said. Tools include MilWiki, which is benefiting the Army Training and Doctrine Command by allowing field communications that constantly update tactics, techniques and procedures.

“The whole concept is turning around doctrine faster, and it’s working,” he said. “The goal is to reach out to the community. The challenge is helping organizations understand how this type of capability can make a huge impact.”

The DOD community’s adoption of open collaboration is driven by more than just best practices, though. It’s also less expensive than traditional licensing agreements that can isolate communications. Saving money is becoming increasingly attractive as federal budgets continue to tighten.

“The budget [issue] is pushing us more toward open-source software; senior leadership is pushing for increasing use,” said Lynn Schnurr, Army intelligence CIO for the deputy chief of staff and director of the Intelligence Community Information Management Directorate. “The budget is not going to allow us to continue with expensive licensing agreements.”

But the use of social media, cloud technology and other open-source capabilities involves challenges as well, not the least of which is security. Although they acknowledged that the security risks are serious, panelists expressed confidence that with due diligence and proper measures, those risks can be minimized.

“It’s not easy. We learned that early on, when not enough time was spent on understanding data,” said Schnurr, who added that with focused effort, better control and deeper understanding, the new wave of information sharing works.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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