This post originally appeared in the Canadian Government Executive Blog, November, 10, 2013.
Over the years I have had the chance to reflect upon lessons from quite a few successful and unsuccessful projects. One of the more significant things that I have been lucky enough to be involved with is helping to bring the Government of Canada GC2.0 Tools (GCPedia and GCConnex) to life in 2007. Since then, I have continued to work on enterprise collaboration and knowledge management efforts including several environmental scans of best practices world-wide.
One of the more important insights I have gleaned from this research and experience is that when it comes to an enterprise collaborative solution, open is important. According to McKinsey and others, achieving the potential of enterprise collaboration requires a culture of sharing, and sharing is a characteristic of open.
Any solution that claims to be enterprise must be available and open to all employees, anything that imposes silos or mirrors existing hierarchies degrades the potential for emergence by limiting the number of participants. This is not to say that there cannot be private spaces, only that the creation of private spaces should require a business case if you are serious about open by default.
Secondly, the information architecture needs to be open so that users can discover content and other users, both intentionally through search and serendipitously by accident, this enables the self-organization and relationship components of a complex adaptive system. Open information also means that you have to classify responsibly, declaring everything confidential is usually wrong and significantly decreases the value of the information assets.
Using open source software is important because it allows a small internal team supported by a global volunteer network, to quickly adapt the technology to changing needs as they arise.
Outsourcing solutions means buying into someone else’s product roadmap and the cultural paradigm that goes with that roadmap. This might make sense in a mature market with global best practices like finance or human resource systems, but web-based collaboration is young, and governments are still learning what they need.
As government reinvents itself we cannot predict what will be required. Using open source software allows the organization to remain agile in a sustainable way. Keeping the expertise to develop and maintain low cost, light weight technology also serves the innovation agenda in ways that outsourcing never can.
In the Government of Canada we are entering an era when outdated systems are being replaced by outsourced solutions. In many cases this is a good thing, but Enterprise Collaboration is one space where I believe this strategy would be a mistake. The reason is not technical but cultural. The GC2.0 Tools (GCpedia and GCconnex) should remain, low cost, open source, internally managed collaboration tools. Their very existence speaks to the innovation and skill of the public service. Attempting to replace what passionate public servants have collectively built with a third party solution clearly sends the wrong message.
p.s. Writing this post, I am reminded of a favorite quote, “A mind is like a parachute, it only works when its open” – Frank Zappa, (according to the internet).