Enterprise learns to teach with social media

In the last few weeks, the U.S. government has made some huge strides in allowing, and even adopting, Web 2.0 technologies. Recent agreements with YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Vimeo and the launch of Milblogging.com may not seem “huge” to the savvy among us, but for an organization as big as the government, it represents significant progress. The inherent value of information is finally being given credence by the highest levels of government and now information sharing and collaboration are not just encouraged – they are required.

Creating Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts are one thing, but think about the last time you tried to get calendar appointments acknowledged from even a handful of colleagues. Government will face an uphill climb as agencies look for ways to implement meaningful collaboration and Web 2.0 tools in much larger enterprise-level environments.

Government Computer News hosted a Web event April 21 focused on just that problem – how enterprise-level government had adopted social networking tools for their operations, and how they continue to evolve with changing needs. A three-person panel was comprised of Tracy Conn, the assistant Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Lt. Col. Mike Hower, chief of Squadron Commander Professional Development at the Air Force Command and Staff College and Eric Sauve, Tomoye Corporation co-founder and CEO.

Ms. Conn spoke about the challenges that face all large institutions, such as the Federal Reserve Bank, in leveraging knowledge and information in useful ways with technology. A solution that the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland had implemented was called Knowledge Bank, which implemented a “phased solution approach.”

“One of the biggest challenges we faced, and every large business faces, involves the access versus risk concept,” she said during the event. For enterprise, open access has always meant high risk – of fraud, information security breach, misuse, etc. – but with evolving worker expectations and technology capabilities a useful way to share and collaborate information has to be developed.

When the Fed first launched their Knowledge Bank in 2006, they had implemented a series of surveys and test pilots that resulted in 200 users. Since then, through continued feedback and adjustment, there are over 1800 users of the application. “One of our lessons learned,” Ms. Conn said, “is that it pays to do your homework. We found that by cluing in on a core group of interested users we able to increase the favorability numbers tied to the application.”

Another large, information-hungry group is the United States Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hower, the chief of Squadron Commander Professional Development also spoke about how the Air Force is teaching social media to its cadets, as well as learning from them. The Staff College works from five basic forum models of social networking – of which, the Air Force has looked to Facebook and MySpace as the experimental guides.

Lt. Col. Hower said the Air Force found their newest graduates were from the “Facebook generation” and needed more places to share ideas and publish their own content. The Air Force wants to tap that content for the inherent informational value that so many individuals have that could benefit the larger group. The Group Forum is based of MySpace in that it fills the need to provide personal space, as well as group space to communicate, but it also allows distribution of that content across the organization, which is important, Hower says.

The most important concept to remember, Lt. Col. Hower says, is to make sure the knowledge created by social networking can be extracted and used in meaningful ways.

The third and final speaker was Eric Sauve, co-founder and CEO of Tomoye Corporation. Tomoye has partnered with numerous government agencies and the U.S. Army Center for Command Level Leaders at West Point. Mr. Sauve spoke to certain design principles needed to grow Web 2.0 learning environments. Some of the important aspects he mentioned to getting the conversation started, included defining levels of participation and creating communities of informal learning in the enterprise.

One of the keys, echoed by all of these social media practitioners, is that having upper management onboard is paramount. Without that, they say, there’s little chance of launching a successful initiative. If recent actions and administration appointments are any indication, support for new technology won’t be a problem. Making sure to follow the rule book that is constantly evolving might be, though.

For an archive of the webinar, click here.

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