DorobekInsider: Intel on the government 2.0 front lines – and a new report assessing A-Space

Wednesday - 7/22/2009, 8:10pm EDT

When the history of government 2.0 is written, the intelligence community will get several chapters. In fact, I’m finishing up a pre-publish copy Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee’s wonderful book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges (set for November release – although there is an active effort to move up the publication date). Anyway, in McAfee’s book, Intellipedia ends up being one of his four enterprise 2.0 case studies — right up there with a case from Google.

First off, a definition for people who don’t know what Intellipedia — or even a wiki — is. Wikis are Web sites designed for collaboration where groups can come together to collect and edit data. Of course, the best known wiki is the enormously successful Wikipedia, the free, online encyclopedia that taps into the wisdom of crowds. Intellipedia started out as a Wikipedia-like wiki for the intelligence community. And Intellipedia has evolved into a suite of Web. 20 tools for the intelligence community — the Intellipedia wiki, which uses the free, Wikimedia software; a photo sharing tool akin to Flickr; a social bookmarking tool akin to Delicious (my Delicious bookmarks)… and on and on…

In so many ways, this remarkable suite of tools has been at the cutting edge of the transformation of how government uses information. Not only is Intellipedia significantly ahead of most government agencies — therefore they are often requested for speaking posts — but I would argue that the intelligence community is well ahead of many private sector organizations.

And one cannot discount the challenges facing the intelligence community. One just has to go back and read the 9/11 Commission’s final report as a reminder, as McAfee recounts in his book: The 9/11 Commission’s “conclusions can be summarized using two phrases that became popular during the investigations: even though the system was blinking red before 9/11, no one could connect the dots.” (If you either have never read the 9/11 Commission’s report or it has been awhile, it is a remarkable piece of work — almost chilling… and a surprisingly readable narative of what happened. And owners of the Amazon Kindle, you can get it for only 99-cents.)

The goal was to create tools that enable dot connecting — that make data visable and more usable. The goal is share data — and, by extension, knowledge — across the traditional and very well established boundaries in the intelligence community.

In Intellipedia team has recently posted a video that describes what this is all about much better then I could.

So out of the mistakes of 9/11… and out of the 9/11 Commission report… developed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed to bring the myriad of intelligence organizations.

There were undoubetedly the organizational and systemic changes, but what also started happening was — to put it simply — stuff. Among the stuff were these tools — and they developed both with some top-down help, but they also evolved organically.

As I mentioned, Intellipedia is way ahead of just about everybody else. So they are fascinating to watch develop because they are facing issues that most organizations will face in the coming years.

Last year, GCN’s Joab Jackson wrote a much discussed story provocatively headlined Intellipedia suffers midlife crisis. When the GCN story can out, I thought the headline was preposterous — after all, these tools have been around for a few years. My sense is the baby is barely walking. Yet the headline was more provocative then accurate — but it ended up spurring a very good discussion around standardization. And Intellipedia is at an interesting place at its evolution. The question at the heart of the argument is: Should these tools eventually be required use within organizations?

One of the tools is A-Space. The more formal definition of A-Space is “a common collaborative workspace for all analysts from the [intelligence community]. That is accessible from common workstations and provides unprecedented access to interagency databases, a capability to search classified and unclassified sources simultaneously, web-based messaging, and collaboration tools.” Think of it more as a Facebook for the intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCWInformation Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now with Microsoft.