Government Cloud A New Era In Collaboration

Organizational tweaks can supercharge collaboration

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The good news is that government agencies increasingly recognize how they could benefit from online collaboration tools. Their challenge, now, is to position themselves to take full advantage of those tools.

This challenge is not technological but organizational: It’s about getting in place the processes, policies and organizational support needed to facilitate the kind of collaboration the tools provide.

In part, it’s a matter of experience. Agencies will discover what needs to be done as they go through the process of bringing in the tools and putting them through their paces. From that perspective, a lot of work remains to be done.

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In a recent survey by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, 19 percent of respondents said their agencies are at the stage of deploying a full set of collaboration tools, such as customized social networks, wikis and message boards, microblogs and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Meanwhile, a third of agencies are at the very basic level of being able to share files and collaborate on content development, with the primary tools being such things as email and calendar applications, Microsoft SharePoint, and web-based videoconferencing. Just under half have moved to the next level, which includes the use of such tools as third-party social networking, online communities and instant messaging.

But experience itself is not enough. It is also important to have an IT team that sees itself as forward-thinking and allied to business needs rather than simply as an organizational cost center.

“It’s the ones who are collaborating a lot with other departments and offices and also externally, and who view such things as [bring-your-own-device] as global trends, that are going to take advantage of the next generation tools that really empower that kind of collaboration,” said Nick Fisher, Huddle’s product marketing manager.

Additionally, the IT team needs the ability to reach across an enterprise to ensure that collaboration tools are implemented in a systematic way according to a careful strategy, according to a 2013 industry study written by McKinsey and Company. But many organizations don’t have that cohesive approach.

“Instead, many IT departments are contending with a proliferation of collaboration tools that are often deployed on an ad hoc basis,” the study authors said. “Small teams often use consumer or web-based collaboration tools for their work activities, or business units select and implement their own collaboration tools and only then ask IT to support them.”

Few government agencies currently have a strong policy regime in place that would accommodate a broader use of collaboration tools. Only 30 percent reckon they have the appropriate guidelines in place, according to the 1105 study, and less than that say they have policies that define the necessary leadership and responsibility roles.

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Further, only 27 percent have the right policies to track the progress of any collaboration tools they employ, and only 21 percent have the outcomes of such deployments clearly defined. Just over half think they have policies “moderately” capable of that, but a full 28 percent have nothing.

Taking all of that into account, the 1105 study outlines three groups into which agencies fall as far as collaboration policy maturity is concerned.

Just less than 30 percent rank as advanced and have eagerly deployed collaboration techniques. Many of these are defense or intelligence organizations, which have centralized decision decision-making structures and are more technologically progressive. Agencies in this group are more likely to see the benefits of collaboration tools accrue.

At the other end of the scale, 22 percent of agencies rank as novice users that are just starting to deploy collaboration and most of which have fewer than three tools in place. They are more likely found at the state and local levels of government, and are more conservative when it comes to technology deployments.

And then there is the broad middle group—the intermediates that have a moderate number of collaboration tools in use and which make up just under half of the total number of agencies in the survey. They can be found equally at both federal and state level, and are also “somewhat” more progressive when it comes to technology adoption. However, the 1105 study says, these agencies have found it “especially difficult” to demonstrate the value of collaboration tools to their managements.

That speaks to the need for organizations to have a structure in place that allows IT managers and executives to be able to relay their needs and concerns about collaboration up the chain to the decision makers, Fisher said. That’s especially true as the organization gets bigger, because such a feedback loop gets harder to maintain.

Methodology and survey demographics

Between June 25th and June 26th , 2014, 159 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other Public Sector Media Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about collaboration trends in government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those involved with managing, use or purchase of online collaboration tools for their department or agency. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Approximately 55% of respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 45 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 63 percent came from the federal government (31 percent civilian, 32 percent defense) and 37 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Public Sector Media Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Public Sector Media Group Content Solutions, please email us at PSMGCustomMedia@1105media.com