In 2012, the federal government is getting into the social business game.

On May 23, the White House issued a government-wide plan for providing better digital services to citizens, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People."

In an accompanying memorandum, President Obama wrote that, “the innovative use of technology is fundamentally transforming how the American people do business and live their daily lives.” Further, he charged all federal agencies with, “implement[ing] the requirements of the Strategy within 12 months.”

If a social business is one that embraces transparency, connection and open engagement, then we as citizens stand to benefit tremendously from the government’s efforts. The White House is asking federal agencies to use technology to “lower costs, decrease service delivery times, and improve the customer experience.” In other words, to make a difference in the lives of Americans.

In particular, the Digital Government Strategy highlights the need to use technology to more easily share information within agencies, across agencies and with the public. There are several key trends driving this need, including:

  • Mobility and the consumerization of IT. Citizens are demanding a say in crafting their own information experience -- and that means the ability to build mash-ups on exposed data sets, subscribe to RSS feeds and engage government Web portals using smart phones. A Web billboard is no longer an acceptable way to deliver information.
  • Recession. In times of economic volatility, it is necessary to be agile enough to maintain sustainability. This has always been true in the private sector, but governments are increasingly seeing that their agility needs to move beyond emergency response. Agencies without aggressive technical capabilities won’t be sustainable or even relevant. Government IT departments are moving beyond the speeds and feeds of performance and are looking at ways to more quickly get from a great idea to a successful end result.
  • Cloud. There has been a big push for several years for federal agencies to move to the cloud. Cloud solutions can certainly serve the purpose of lightening immediate information load -- but there still remain some questions regarding governance and standards.
  • Mastering complexity. A wide variety of applications and disparate IT operations complicates just about every agency environment. Government agencies have tended to rely on heavily customized systems developed to solve very specific use cases -- or legacy monsters, as I like to call them. This leads to problems because the degree of customization makes it difficult to share data between systems, difficult to find developers who can keep the lights on and difficult to manage support costs. Agencies are increasingly recognizing the value of standardizing in mastering complexity.

In terms of what the government’s transformation will look like, there are four overarching goals outlined in the White House’s strategy document:

  • Information-centricity: Moving away from managing “documents” to ensuring that all information, regardless of its format, is accurate, available and secure.
  • Shared platform approach: Preventing duplication of effort and investment by sharing ownership of common service areas, along with IT infrastructure and systems.
  • Customer-centricity: Making it easy for citizens to find and share information and accomplish important tasks by providing anytime, anywhere information access on any device.
  • Platform of security and privacy: Ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of information.

As my colleague, Even Anderson, mentioned during a Web briefing on this topic a few weeks ago, proper records management is the backbone of digital government because it ensures that the right information is reliably delivered to the government and citizens alike in a secure and customer-centric manner. Treating all content (documents, videos, e-mail messages, etc.) as data, and associating it with relevant metadata, makes it easy to find and share regardless of the presentation layer.

While state and local government organizations have been working to drive social business principles through their operations for a number of years, I am excited to see that the federal government has embraced the idea of social business as a strategy. By working to achieve the four overarching goals in the strategy document, federal agencies will be become much more effective at achieving transparency, enabling collaboration and increasing their agility. I look forward to seeing the benefits of this approach materialize as federal agencies begin to execute on the White House’s strategy in the coming months.

Editor's Note: You might be interested in other articles by Kimberly Samuelson including How To Get to Enterprise: Engaging the User in Defining Organizational Needs