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Speeding Military Intelligence via Social Software

by Guy Creese  |  June 8, 2010  |  Comments Off on Speeding Military Intelligence via Social Software

There’s a fascinating article in The New York Times this morning entitled, “Military Taps Social Networking Skills.” It describes how intelligence analysts stationed in Beale Air Force Base in California use chat rooms to warn American troops on the ground in Afghanistan of bombs, insurgents, and other dangers. Continually monitoring drone video feeds, still images, and enemy conversations, the twenty-something analysts send warning messages to ground troops 7,000 miles away telling them of enemy positions, roadside bombs, and civilians in the area.

The chat rooms increase the speed of intelligence distribution. Rather than drawing up a daily report of general conditions gleaned from a wide variety of sources, analysts can describe changing conditions in real time and have a clear impact on ground operations. The article talks about a California-based analyst spotting a roadside bomb on a video feed and then frantically messaging an approaching Marine convoy about the nearby danger. The convoy eventually got the message, stopping 500 feet before it reached the bomb.

While enterprises continue to grapple with the business value of social software, certainly one potential benefit is the one that the U.S. Armed Forces discovered: rejiggering the lines of communication. We’ve certainly seen this within Burton Group, where we’ve used an internal micro-blogging solution for awhile. It came into its own when we were acquired by Gartner and started moving onto Gartner’s systems. Between a new set of logons, systems, and web sites, it got all pretty confusing. Happily, though, someone would message to the group, “I’m having trouble accessing this program over the VPN. Is anyone else having this problem?” and someone else would pretty quickly reply, “Oh, yeah, I had that problem yesterday, you need to alter this setting and you’ll be fine.” (It helps that Burton analysts are pretty IT savvy and often debug the issues on their own.) The good news is that this self-help capability meant fewer calls to the Help Desk and more uptime. In our case, the micro-blogging solution can’t replace the Help Desk, but it can certainly take some of the load off of it.

The takeaway is that it’s not always easy to predict the business value of social software, but if you try it out in different scenarios you may be surprised at the benefits you do get.

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Category: social-software  

Guy Creese
Research VP
4 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Guy Creese is a vice president and research director for Gartner Research, within the Gartner for Technical Professionals division. He covers a range of topics at the intersection of collaboration, content management, and communications. Read Full Bio

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