Collaboration: A broadening of horizons

While many government agencies are still in the early phase of adopting online collaboration tools, they are beginning to appreciate the new possibilities that these tools provide, according to a recent survey of IT professionals at federal, state and local agencies.

The survey, conducted earlier this year by the 1105 Government Information Group, found that many collaboration initiatives are expected to expand during the next two years, both in terms of the number of users involved and the range of tasks supported. Clearly, agencies that have had an opportunity to work with these tools have liked what they have seen and are looking to capitalize on what they have learned.

In terms of raw numbers of users, the survey found that, on average, that collaboration tools are being used by 56 percent of an agency’s employees, up from 36 percent two years ago. Two years from now, that number is expected to reach 71 percent (see figure 1).

Figure 1


Agencies also are becoming more sophisticated in their use of these tools. Typically, organizations make their first foray into online collaboration by setting up online forums or communities of interest, before trying more advanced applications, such as wikis, social networking and video sharing.

But only 30 percent of respondents said their agencies were still in the first phase of collaboration, which suggests that the vast majority of agencies have seen enough to know there is much more that can be done.


NARA thinks big

Officials at the National Archives and Records Administration don’t need to be sold on the value of collaboration.

In January 2012, they launched a social media-based Internal Collaboration Network designed to serve agency staff working at more than 40 facilities nationwide. The initial feedback was positive, and NARA officials have high hopes about the future of the project.

“Over the next two years, we will continue to explore ways to facilitate greater collaboration and knowledge sharing through the ICN,” officials wrote in the June 2012 Open Government Plan. “By training staff and building their skill sets with online communication and collaboration tools, we will strengthen employee engagement and empower our employees to transform NARA’s culture.”

Here is just a sampling of the capabilities that NARA officials would like to provide employees:

  • Contacts: For identifying other users as “friends,” to track their activity on selected areas, and communicate easily back and forth.
  • Personal blogs: For broadcasting information such as writing about job functions, tasks, projects, etc.
  • Status updates: For sharing information with everyone on the network or just with designated groups.
  • Social bookmarking: For sharing items of interest both on the network and outside of it.
  • Rating: For assigning value to information on the network.
  • Polling: For asking co-workers to vote and/or provide text-based feedback on preferred options.
    Source: NARA



The increased interest is not just a matter of agencies coming around to see the value of collaboration tools. It’s also a function of IT professionals having an opportunity to sharpen their social business skills, according to a recent report from IDC Government Insights.

“As social business skills are becoming well honed, the value of this collaborative technology is maturing, especially when used as an enabler of open transparent government and to facilitate the government mission of service delivery,” the report states.

A collaboration strategy might be depicted as a series of concentric circles. Most organizations begin at the inner-most circle, facilitating collaboration among employees working in a particular office or division. The next steps, moving outward, are to enable employees to work with their counterparts in other divisions, in other agencies, and then with stakeholders outside government, such as contractors, communities of interest and finally the general public.

Many agencies are looking to take some big steps outward from the center, the survey found. For example, 80 percent of respondents said that within two years their agencies likely would be using online collaboration tools to enable interagency work, compared to just 60 percent now. Likewise, 76 percent said that tools would be used to collaborate without contractors or consultants, compared to 64 percent now (see figure 2).

Figure 2


However, the more that collaboration initiatives expand, the more challenging they become to manage. Survey results indicate that some agencies might need to revisit their management strategies before tackling bigger projects.

For example, only 33 percent of respondents said that their agencies are able to track progress toward short- and long-term goals on their collaboration initiatives. Another 41 percent said this was somewhat true, while 26 percent it was not the case at all.

Likewise, only 32 percent said that the leadership roles and responsibilities had been clearly defined for their collaboration teams, while nearly the same percent said it was not true at all (see figure 3).

Figure 3


If agencies are struggling somewhat, it is certainly understandable. Given the rapid evolution of collaboration technology, any large organization is bound to find itself behind the curve, at least for a while.

“The social web is changing user expectations,” according to the IDC Government Insights report, “and this, coupled with the highly connected and rapidly changing global business environment, is forcing agencies to be more innovative in order to meet these changing demands.”

Methodology and survey demographics

Between February 22 and March 18, 2013, 206 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other 1105 Government Information Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about collaboration solutions used by government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those currently using online collaboration tools or planning to use these tools within two years and/or responsible for managing, purchasing, recommending or evaluating online collaboration tools. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Five out of 10 respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 30 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 83 percent came from the federal government (48 percent civilian, 35 percent defense) and 17 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]