Friday, July 27, 2007

Social computing for government and business

The Web Standards Group Meeting in Canberra 26 July, 2007 was devoted to applying social computing to business:

Collaboration, innovation, distribution: social computing adoption benefits for government and business, by Stephen Collins, acidlabs.

Stephen argued that social computing can be used for government and business. He confused me at the beginning by putting up a photo of someone and saying they had popularized "Enterprise 2". Apparently this is term for Web 2.0 applied to business. Social networking makes relationships between people visible and explicit and Stephen argues this would help in business. However, it is not clear to me this will translate to all business or social cultures. Web 2.0 social networks seems to imply a very naive view of how social and business relationships work. Stephen argues that organisations can build up the trust needed to make social networking work in government. This seems to have elements of the matrix organisation about it. Stephen suggests that social networking tools can be used, with appropriate security and some short guidelines. It occurred to me that military personnel are trained to use social networks and so are more likely to cope with the online equivalent more than other organizational staff.

However, this assumes that there will appropriate reward mechanisms (such as pay) for those who contribute to the social network and some way to detect and moderate the behavior of those who are unable or unwilling to play the game by the rules. Real world organisations have complex overlapping, fluid groups. Even formal political parties have factions and, as when there is a conscience vote, someone can be in several different groups with conflicting aims simultaneously. Much the same behavior occurs at technical standards meetings. Online systems for running organisations need to take this into account.

Examples: NLA Wiki, AGIMO GovDev, Network of Public Sector Communications NZ.

Goldilocks and the three bears: a story about social computing in government by Matthew Hodgson, SMS Management & Technology

Matthew argued the folk taxonomies to be used by government agencies to better communicate with their clients. Tagging could be used as a bridge between the wording used be clients via topic maps to strictly structured taxonomies. He argued that systems used for records management systems, such as Tower Software's Trim, are too rigid for many work purposes. Tagging examples he used were Technorati, flickr and Blogger. He argued a tag cloud could be used for reporting what client relevant activities the organisation had undertaken.

At question time I asked if semi-automatically added tags could be used, with the same technology as used by search engines for understanding documents. Matthew replied this can be done, but the organisation has to have suitable tools. In one project the technology is being used to reformat information.

What I found most useful was an example web page which showed the formal taxonomic term at the top, a definition of the term and the folkosonomy tags at the bottom. In this way there could be a translation between the bureaucratic formal language and what is used in the real world.

Web 2.0 Research

Also on Monday, Roger Clarke will argue at the ANU that Web 2.0 is a valid area for formal research. Given that the ANU is, in effect, the university for training the Australian Government, perhaps that research can include how to apply Web 2.0 social computing to government. This might be a way to extend government to more remote areas and make it relevant.

1 comment:

Stephen Collins said...

Tom, the term Enterprise 2.0 was coined by Professor Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School. I don't think I had a picture of Dr McAfee in my presentation, but the slides moved pretty quickly, so things can blur.

As for driving use in business, research available suggests that reward isn't a significant nor even necessary driver as users, whether they are active participants in the 10-15 per cent of organisational users who will become contributors to social networks or the remainder who are simply consumers, tend to use social technologies as a support mechanism to informal networks already existing within their businesses.

Where more structured, formal implementations have occurred in organisations such as IBM, SAP and several of the large merchant banks, measurable improvements in productivity, staff satisfaction in role, sharing and distribution of knowledge and collaboration with communities (internal and external) have been found. These improvements, especially for large business can and do have large dollar values associated with them.