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Implementing Enterprise 2.0 for the Federal Government Part Two: Who Drives the Tools?

Posted by on March 31, 2011

This is part two in a multi-part series on how the federal government is implementing Enterprise 2.0.  This was done through extensive interviews with Booz Allen Hamilton who has led many of the efforts for various Government agencies. The full series on Enterprise 2.0 for the Federal Government (which includes additional information and specific examples) can be downloaded(registration required) for free.  I recommend that you start with the first post: Implementing Enterprise 2.0 for the Federal Government Part One: Business Drivers.  Today we are going to be looking at who drives the tools.

The term “enterprise” comes with certain expectations: stability, accessibility, and usability guidelines are just a few things employees will expect with a tool that is released for use across an organization. Therefore, by definition, for the use of collaboration software to be considered Enterprise 2.0 senior buy-in is not simply helpful, it is a requirement.  However, a careful balance between senior sponsorship and organic growth must be met to find an effective collaboration environment with sustained use having met critical mass.

Senior buy-in provides strong base expected with enterprise tools. Historically, the federal government shies away from emergent technologies, generally employing proven best practices to solve business needs.  However, as best practices around social networking strategies have been built and proven over the past five years, interest from the federal government has grown.  In fact, the success of President Obama’s campaign as well as the new site, which both focus around social networking software to engage citizens in open collaboration, have helped to push the envelope in the right direction.  With the stability of these platforms senior leadership has taken interest, and it is important that they have.  The involvement of senior leadership, from the selection process to every-day use, provides many advantages to the collaboration system.

Agencies have an opportunity to provide agency-wide solutions that encompass all employees, contractors, partners and customers world-wide.  They can provide tools that integrate with other systems, based on the needs of the organization, including ERP, profiles, security, email and much more.  Once an integrated platform is in place employee communication blasts can be sent posted to it, not simply to replace email blasts, but to provide an indexed archive for all communications.  Senior managers can also get involved in the community, setting cultural norms by involving teams they are working with in their every-day collaboration practices in the platform as well as posting bulletins/blogs to create an open communication platform with not only their direct reports but other members of the organization.  These open communications often lead to two-way dialogues and help break down many barriers employees find in a typical organization.

Top-down involvement can also lead to more active communities through mandates and incentives.  Managers can push employees to keep profile data up to date enhancing expertise searches for user experts.  They can also include use reviews during employee assessments, giveaways for involvement and provide employees better visibility through an open home for their voice.

Organic growth provides a stronger user base and sustained use.  Unlike traditional systems, such as CRM and ERP, most employees treat Enterprise 2.0 systems as optional – if it does not immediately address their needs and provide value they will find something else that does.  This type of attitude is exactly why organic growth within Enterprise 2.0 platforms is crucial for success.  An organization can announce, mandate and require anything they want, but if employees don’t buy into the solution it’s dead in the water.

One of the stigmas employees have against Enterprise 2.0 systems is that a mandated system is inherently ineffective, adds more work, or is generally bad.  This is the fine line organizations must walk when mandating a system, provide enough tools that users gain interest and, on their own, begin to get other users involved.  These influencers may be part of the Facebook generation, already familiar to the tools available through social networks of their personal life.  They also may be tenured employees who are not as familiar with specific technologies but place a higher value on efficiency and are open-minded towards new technologies.  Identifying and engaging these influencers is key towards building organic, and ultimately successful growth, within an Enterprise 2.0 platform.

Organic growth does not simply build a strong and sustained user base on its own, however, through this growth users become more directly involved and ultimately build pride and ownership into the tools.  Self-defined ownership provides many benefits to an organization’s collaboration platform.  Users who self-identify themselves as content owners are likely to come back and cultivate the content, identifying other users who may be interested in the content and engaging them in conversations and further gathering knowledge.  Self-identified experts will begin to help support the community and users from across many departments, locations and background will begin to ask and answer their own questions.

To cultivate this type of growth an organization must not only provide open tools but also be open with their plans for the tools.  Invite influencers to participate in trials, share their experiences with other employees, and share their needs with the Enterprise 2.0 team.  This lesson has been learned time and time again, from NASA’s Spacebook to Booz Allen’s Hello; APAN  and First Responders : the passion for Enterprise 2.0 systems will be fed by users who are excited to use a toolset and have the backing of senior management to get the right toolset in place; this is a necessary combination.