Enterprise 2.0: Social Media? Anyone Can Do It

David Needle

Updated · Nov 10, 2010

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — You might not think of the U.S. State Department as a leading edge user of technology, but Richard Boly, director of the department's Office of eDiplomacy, went a long way toward dispelling that notion here at the Enterprise 2.0 conference Tuesday.

Following Boly, several other speakers addressed the impact social media can and is having in the enterprise. But Boly's talk may have been especially useful to those in IT resisting or limiting adoption of social media for security and management concerns because Boly said his group cleared both those hurdles.

He admitted the State Department's need for secrecy and limited procurement options had long ago instilled a “luddite culture” when it came to adopting technology.

“In the cold war, everything was on a need to know basis and we kept information in silos,” he said. “Fast forward to 9/11 and we realized that ‘need to know' was crippling us, there needed to be a better exchange of information.” He credits then Secretary of State Colin Powell for starting to break down the information silos and institute a culture of sharing.

“Thankfully, we had no budget and were forced to go with open source, lightweight tools that allowed us to innovate quickly,” said Boly, who compared the Department's limited budget to that of a startup.

Much as an enterprise isn't like to post trade secrets on a wiki, Boly said his group kept security issues in mind and focused on the “pain points” social media could best address.

For example, Diplopedia, dubbed “The Encyclopedia of the Department of State,” is a wiki that runs on the Department's intranet that's attracted thousands of contributed articles related to procedural and other diplomatic matters. “Before, if you had a question, you had to send a cable to the ambassador, it was a very top down approach,” said Boly.

Boly then turned to a more interactive example of social media, the State Department's community site. “We have 60,000 employees, and the majority aren't U.S. citizens, at embassies around the world,” said Boly. “A lot of them weren't engaging with each other, but we have incredible work experience locked in those silos. Imagine someone in an embassy in West Africa with only six other employees to talk to. We set up these communities and their world grew from six to 6,000 to 60,000 really quickly.”

Boly said his group's use of blogging tools has evolved from static resource platforms to an “ideation platform” where the best ideas submitted rise in the top. In line with the government's green initiatives, for example, users have submitted some 1,600 ideas and made over 14,000 comments. Boly said many of the ideas were worthwhile enough to be implemented. One simple one, someone suggested putting showers next to the bike rack, which led to a big increase in the number of staffers biking to the office.

In a later keynote, Tony Zingale, CEO of enterprise social media vendor Jive Software, said there's a “business imperative” for companies to embrace social media.

“But it's not about ‘Facebook for the enterprise;' can we please stop saying that?” Zingale said, painting what he said is a clear distinction between enterprise and consumer needs.

“In the enterprise, it's about so much more than sharing photos and videos and letting everyone know what you had for dinner last night,” he said. “It's about collaborating with 50,000 co-workers in a protected way and also collaborating with your customers externally. You need to share and scale and be able to work with existing systems that have invaluable information you want to be able to bring into this social community.”

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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  • David Needle
    David Needle

    David Needle is an experienced technology reporter, based in Silicon Valley. He covers big data, mobile, customer experience, social media, and other topics. He was previously the news editor for Enterprise Apps Today, TabTimes editor, and West Coast bureau chief of Internet.com.

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