As easy as pushing a button

Ray Boyd's mandate to get emerging technology to DOD faster led to the creation of Techipedia, a successful example of the government's use of Web 2.0 tools.

As told to Matthew Weigelt

Ray Boyd, retired director of information technology investments and commercial policy in the Defense Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, didn’t set out to build a wiki, but that’s what happened. The result is DOD Techipedia, a wiki-based source of information on DOD's needs and the private sector's research projects. It is closely tied to DOD's Enterprise Software Initiative, which the recently retired Boyd also led. Here is his story of how DOD Techipedia came to be.

My boss asked me to develop a way to get emerging technology into the department quicker. DOD buyers need a way to discover the mature and emerging technologies that can satisfy their current gaps in capabilities. And emerging technology researchers and vendors interested in entering the DOD marketplace need to understand the department’s current needs via an easier window into the DOD acquisition process — one that could navigate them through the traditional defense processes expeditiously.

With Techipedia, the DOD buyers can quickly get their needs in front of a large group of innovators, while nontraditional companies — like those outside the defense industry — and small businesses can compete on an even playing field with the primes.

Here’s how it happened. We developed an emerging technology discovery pilot [program], whose purpose was to provide a way to validate concepts with the idea of bringing together emerging technology researchers and vendors with potential DOD buyers. We wanted to create an environment that allows discovery [of] shared situational awareness for both stakeholder groups. The positive results from the pilot showed us that a tool of this nature was indeed needed.

I thought it was going to be tough because it was something that hadn’t been done before. Plus, we had to get everybody in line to do it. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had to look at various policies that may have been in place and rules that were being developed. We had to look for people who could host Techipedia since the CIO’s office is mainly for policies and procedures.

Techipedia has become a collaboratively produced encyclopedia on DOD’s scientific and technical issues. It’s based on wiki technology and provides information on various technologies for the department. It’s intended to be a systemic solution for personnel to quickly do the research to discover relevant emerging technologies for eventual purchase of commercial products once the technology becomes mature.

The success of the pilot, which is the forerunner to Techipedia, led us to try and find a DOD agency or activity to host an operational version of the pilot. Our discussions with the Defense Technical Information Center led to discussions with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and the rest is history.

It was a collaborative effort between us, and the CIO’s office played a part in getting Techipedia out there. But it wasn’t just us.

To get people to use it, we’re creating an environment that motivates both DOD and industry to participate. To get people involved, it’s got to be a win-win for both parties. Just before I retired, we were beginning to think about how to get industry involved with it. We knew they’re going to ask: What’s in it for me if I put my information out there? Is there going to be a contract coming down the road for me? You’ve got to give them an opportunity to present their stuff and then have people quickly look at it so they know what’s out there.

On the government side, we’re going to be able to see what can satisfy our needs early on. If DOD doesn’t have Techipedia, we’re still going to go after the same things that are out there, not knowing how wide the window is.

To make this work, you’ve got to get a lot of people involved. They’ve got to get their public affairs folks involved because now you’re putting information out on a wiki. You’ve got to get your information assurance folks involved because now you may have security involved. You’ve got to get your whole organization involved. So it’s not just the IT folks who are doing this.

You’ve also got to get it where it’s easy to use, where you don’t have to take a training class to learn it. It’s very intuitive. If I’ve got to sit down and read a manual, it’s going to scare people away.

But I think you have to make it where you can hit a couple of buttons and it tells you what to do, or [have] someone there to help you along. When people start using things like eBay and stuff like that, they didn’t need a manual on how to use eBay. It became something where the user got familiar with it. Whatever we put out there has to have something of that nature — easy to use and not very complicated.

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