Wyatt Kash | Editor's Desk: Pure serendipity

Wyatt Kash

Technology breakthroughs are often not rooted in the invention of new devices as much as they are in the exploitation of new insights into the way people and processes work. All those white ear buds sprouting from commuters' ears offer one case in point.

To be sure, product engineers'and the ingenuity that gives birth to great product design'rarely get the credit they deserve. But in many regards, it was the creation of a smarter business model for distributing music that launched a generation of iPod users and, serendipitously, a wave of byproducts'including the podcast.

Serendipity isn't something that flourishes easily in the highly defined world of government computing, especially given the push to standardized architectures and the constraints of Byzantine contracts.

But as Microsoft Corp.'s Ray Ozzie notes in this issue's GCN Interview, ser- endipity is a potent element in driving productivity.

Rather than forcing people to work together using top-down, prescriptive solutions, success is likelier, Ozzie says, when technology can foster grassroots approaches that leverage human behavior to improve collaboration and connectivity.

Ozzie's perspective isn't surprising, given his experience developing Lotus Notes. What's changed, he said, is that data has become a platform in and of itself. Combine that with XML-based programmability over the Internet, and what emerges is a new wave of software capable of performing real services.

The Defense Department's Net-Centric Enterprise is already taking advantage of these services and the collaboration they enable.

But as government workers rely on more devices, the need for these software services will likely grow exponentially. Their real value, however, will only be unleashed if federal IT leaders can preserve room to allow for greater collaborative serendipity.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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