This afternoon I had a very interesting meeting with a government organization that is developing its own social software platform, mostly based on open source software, to be used by several government agencies. The platform supports wikis, forums, social networking and other typical web 2.0 functionalities, and is being used by about 4 percent of the workforce.
During our conversation, I pressed them on the usual subject of what is the compelling purpose that should make their clients use their toolset as opposed to commercial tools, and how the would manage the blurring boundaries between internal and external networking. In several meetings with some other agencies during the last two days, I had been discussing about how the use of consumer social software creeps into internal government processes and often meets some of the internal collaboration requirements.
When I asked quite bluntly what was their value proposition, a member of the team dismissed my view about blurring boundaries and stated quite clearly that government employees are looking for a secure environment for collaboration. He mentioned that young people, even when attracted by government thanks to the size and complexity of the problems it faces, tend to leave relatively early as they feel they are not given the right tools. As their agencies do not allow them to access external social media from the corporate network, a more secure environment that provides the ability to collaborate behind the firewall is a better value proposition. Further, they would not incur the risks that may be faced on external media, such as security and privacy breaches.
My bottom line for that conversation is that the single most powerful value proposition for an internally developed network is just fear. Threatening employees that they could harm the agency and themselves if they go “in the wild” should be enough to scare the hell out of them and make them embrace the internal platform “en masse”.
However the train has already left the station and people use whichever external tool they see fit from home or on their smartphones. Controlling or even policing this is just an illusion. Internal tools can add value to external ones, but not quite the other way around. Only looking at this from the outside in rather than from the inside out will give relevance and a decent lifespan to internal social software developments and deployments.
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