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Social networking, real-time data feeds -- where does that leave IT?

The District of Columbia has won the 2009 Innovations in American Government Award in Urban Policy for its Data Feeds: Democratization of Government Data project, the first initiative in the country that makes almost all current government operational data available to the public in real-time, raw form. Using social networking capabilities and aimed at increasing civic participation, transparency and accountability, the program has relieved some of the burden on the city’s infrastructure.

Midmarket CIOs can possibly learn from D.C.’s success — strategically opening up data access can mean more grass-roots employee innovation and, for a real ROI, fewer internal and external support calls. So how can IT provide an efficient service to the organization, track its performance and free up time to work on other projects?

In the case of D.C.’s Data Feed project, the office of the CTO led the initiative and supplied the raw data (housed in the district’s Citywide Data Warehouse) to over 320 data feeds. The publicly accessible information has meant less time spent handling questions and requests, city administrators reported. Real-time data feeds on building permit information, government employee credit card transactions, crime data and virtual town halls give D.C. residents access to a lot of data.

The data also provided performance indicators and metrics to measure up against established goals. Residents are able to track the performance of agencies and have the information to hold the government accountable.

How can you make this work in your organization? Internally, a more public help desk (utilizing social networking across IT) could reduce some of the help desk ticket overload. In many organizations, once a request is submitted to help desk, there is no indication of whether or not it is a widespread problem (“Am I the only one without email today?!”). Employees may not pester IT if they already know their problem is being worked on, cutting down on excessive requests.

And externally, sharing more with your vendors may reduce unnecessary workflow. Johnson & Johnson has a social networking community for its top vendors that includes up-to-date delivery requirements, a centralized location to download paperwork and a way to reach out to relevant contacts quickly. Providing information so vendors (and customers) can help themselves reduces time spent fielding the same or similar questions regularly.

But don’t expect the transition to be easy. According to one CIO I spoke with, IT departments may not be as eager to give employees access to all internal data the way D.C. has exposed it to the public.

According to him, IT is not always willing to work as a team with the entire company because there is so much tech camaraderie and “feeling privileged and above the users.”

However, breaking down those silos and reminding everyone that they are part of a team is important to the success and efficiency of IT and could result in a more productive IT shop.

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I find it interesting that one CIO comments that IT is "feeling priviledged". It is usually the IT department that starts using wikis, implements collaboration for the enterprise, ets. Wasn't IT one of the first groups that embraced web 2.0 per Forrester's Groundswell research?