An aging workforce, new worker expectations and an embrace from the Oval Office have put the social computing revolution on a fast track, and SharePoint (newssite) in a pivotal role, in a market not usually known for being in step with the technological times.

Government 2.0 

Government is often perceived as a slow moving bureaucratic morass, but when it comes to social computing it’s actually right in the thick of things. In the United States, and the rest of the world, Government 2.0 is now front and centre.

The Obama administration wasted no time in issuing a Presidential Directive stating that the US Government shall be more transparent, collaborative and open and there is a general sense in many Western democracies that as business starts to open its doors and collaborate with their customers, so should Governments.

The SharePoint Relationship

SharePoint has a key role in this transformation due to the broad usage by Government, and in particular, the US Federal Government, of Microsoft technology. While MOSS 2007 and SharePoint 2010 are increasing their deployment of social-style features, the Government’s rapid embrace of social computing and its often unique needs means third party and partner companies are called on (Read MS SharePoint: Social Computing Tools to Integrate for a look at some social computing partners/vendors).

Among the unique characteristics that must be factored into the adoption of social in Government settings:

  • A heavy reliance on collaboration and coordination as an operational advantage (such as in military and disaster management organizations), where mission failure can result in fatality.
  • High staff rotation (particularly in a military context) and a corresponding drive to maintain operational continuity.
  • Higher emphasis on training and development (in the Army, for example, a majority of a soldier’s career is spent training to fight as opposed to actually fighting).

All of this is further complicated by a heavy emphasis on operational security, user privacy and mandated accessibility standards.

( Editor's Note: Read: SharePoint 2010: Experts Dish on the Good and Not So Good )

For Example: SharePoint as an Integrated Hub

Within this context, among the things SharePoint can do really well, is serve as an integrated hub for many different products and end user applications in social computing.

This is the case with a “socialized” SharePoint implementation in use at the US Air Force that dates back to an initiative first begun in 2006. They are using SharePoint as the platform for their Community applications at Air University.

In the US Air Force’s implementation, the SharePoint authentication model, search capabilities and deployment environment act as a base for an over-arching social application that helps Squadron Commanders learn from each other in a peer driven learning environment.

This peer-driven approach is interesting in that as students move through their professional training, online communities -- called professional forums -- provide the young leaders with a way to learn from each other as they go through their training but also as they head out into the world and advance in their careers.

Some of the interesting services offered through the community include:

  • A pro-reading forum, which is the online equivalent of a book club, where users receive professional-reading books which they then discuss online within the wider community.
  • A leader challenge forum which is based on a video approach but also includes a gaming dimension. Users are first shown a real life scenario that a soldier has faced -- a difficult situation. There is a second video of what the real-life soldier did and how those actions played out. In order to see that second video, however, the user must first input how they would handle the same situation.

Social Computing in Government

President Obama was a break through candidate in his use of social media on the campaign trail and has brought that affinity for social interaction and productivity with him to the White House. At the same time, government is acutely aware both of the impending retirement of a large chunk of their workforce, as well as the need to meet the expectation of new staff by providing tools with capabilities they are currently getting from applications available on the public internet.

In response, agencies and departments at all levels are embracing enterprise social computing. Microblogging, communities and mobile are the most popular social technologies on the public internet, and are also leading choices for social approaches in Agencies:

  • Microblogging is emerging as the new discussion, with ease of use as its main asset
  • Communities are a popular way to reach across large and complex agencies delivering on Obama’s directive of collaborative government
  • Mobile allows users to participate at the bus stop and between meetings

In a SharePoint environment, these capabilities are relatively easy to achieve through a mix of out of the box and best of breed third-party social add-ons. (Editor's Note: Read Evaluating SharePoint 2010 as an Enterprise 2.0 Platform)

Look out Government users -- your workday experience is going to change a lot over the next few years!