Does the government fear innovation?

On October 1, 2008, in development, by Eugene

Yes, of course they do. They’re the government. Nothing moves quickly, and innovation is stifled 95% of the time. But alas, even Uncle Sam can’t hide under the information technology of the 90′s forever. As the web begins talk of Web 3.0 (whatever that really means), the federal government is beginning to look into taking advantage of some of the Web 2.0 technology that has been around for a couple of years.

The launch of A-Space, “MySpace for the intelligence community,” was very publicly announced as a new attempt to foster information sharing and collaboration across agencies. But whenever you deal with sensitive or classified data, security becomes a major hurdle to data sharing.

Anyway, this Federal Computer Week article, “Play it safe on the interactive Web,” caught my attention. It attempts to give tips to federal IT-types on how to avoid taking any risks while trying out some of the latest Web 2.0 tech. I couldn’t help but feel that the author misses the point of interactive, collaborative, service-based systems. It seems more like a list of how to safely give the appearance of venturing into these new technologies.

The very first suggestion is to isolate new cutting edge initiatives from the rest of the organization. Well, doesn’t that defeat a lot of the point? You can’t create a great new interactive, web-based analyst interface to query multiple, disparate databases across various agencies if you are going to keep things isolated (as an example). Tip number two: “keep an eye on XML.” Sorry, but XML is not some newfangled thing that might be useful. I’m positive that it’s already all over government IT systems. Sure, it can present new challenges in sharing data, but it also allows for new, innovative solutions to old problems. (Just remember that XML is not always the right tool for the job.)

I must say, the article isn’t all bad. It does bring out some issues with Web 2.0-type systems, such as the need to really validate untrusted user input. And I can’t argue with the last tip of embedding security into the development process. But overall, I think the government should be more aggressive in adopting new ideas and software technologies. Security should be included, but not a roadblock.


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