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Egham, UK, October 23, 2008 View All Press Releases

Gartner Says Citizen Social Networks Will Complement, and May Replace, Some Government Functions

Analysts Explore Social Networking Impact on Government at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2008, 3-7 November in Cannes, France

By 2011, 70 per cent of social computing deployments in government that achieve business benefits will do so in unplanned or unexpected ways, according to Gartner, Inc. Government organisations around the world are showing great interest in social computing, yet deployment so far is relatively limited.

"The current global financial turmoil bolsters the case for government adoption of social networks as technology-budget cuts make tapping into societal resources, such as voluntary groups, philanthropists, associations and social network groups essential to complement weaker government action in some critical areas," said Andrea Di Maio, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

According to Mr Di Maio, there are plenty of government-initiated networks and – like any such network – they succeed only when they have a clear and magnetic purpose such as Diplopedia, a wiki created by the US State Department that supports collaboration across intelligence and foreign affairs agencies.  “However, the most promising, and yet, most disruptive, communities are those created outside government. Examples in the UK include Netmums, a community of parents dealing with child-care issues, and PledgeBank, which allows users to set up pledges and then encourages other people to sign up to them,” he said.

Today, the primary role of social networks for governments is to facilitate the exchange of information and to establish novel collaboration patterns, often across organisational boundaries. “For example, a case manager in human services is responsible for identifying clients in need through outreach or referral, and conducting a comprehensive social and financial assessment. In the future, he or she will be part of a more complex socio-ecosystem, including a voluntary sector, online communities and individuals who play a fundamental role through all the different phases. Their role will shift from managing a case to ensuring that community resources are complemented where needed,” said Mr Di Maio.

Boundaries in government are blurring at every level and driving the uptake of social computing. Horizontal business processes such as financial management, HR and procurement are subject to increased sharing across agencies and even jurisdictions. This means that government organisations no longer own or control them. Instead they are becoming clients to other organisations leading to increased adoption of social media. In addition, government IT infrastructure is subject to consolidation efforts and will be progressively commoditised and challenged by cloud-computing solutions.

Gartner points out that the benefits of social computing — when accrued — will rarely occur in the context of government-driven initiatives. For example, governments’ desire to retain ownership and control of the network, through restrictive participation policies, will be detriment to magnetism.

Gartner recommends that governments engage selected employees in finding external social networks relevant to the agency and its domain of government. They should also ensure that the use of social computing inside and between government organisations is based on a clear and compelling purpose – which is likely to be something that they cannot ‘engineer’. “Instead, they should recognise that spontaneity is needed for success,” said Mr Di Maio.

Mr Di Maio added that social networks require little investment to start so, at a time when budgets are increasingly tight, such technology is welcome. Social networks have worked well to aggregate people and information to face natural disasters. People look both for peer support and for government when times are tough.

Gartner predicts the execution of many government processes in human services, tax and revenue, health care and education will involve individuals who are neither employees nor contractors. Examples include replacement of some human services functions such as online collection of charitable donations to be directed to people in need combined with online ‘time banks’ through which citizens provide time to help others.

“The future of government is a very different government and, in some cases, no government at all,” concluded Mr Di Maio.

Mr Di Maio will provide more detailed analysis on the impact that social networking is having on governments during the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2008, taking place on 3-7 November in Cannes, France. Gartner Symposium/ITxpo is the IT industry's largest and most strategic conference, providing business leaders with a look at the future of IT. More than 3,000 senior business and IT strategists will gather for the insights, tools and solutions they need to ensure their IT initiatives are key contributors to and drivers of their company's success. Gartner's annual Symposium/ITxpo events are key components of attendees' annual planning efforts. They rely on Gartner Symposium/ITxpo to gain insight into how their organisations can use IT to address business challenges and improve operational efficiency. Additional information is available at www.gartner.com/eu/symposiumfall

Members
of the media can register for the event by contacting Laurence Goasduff, Gartner PR on + 44 (0) 1784 267195 or at laurence.goasduff@gartner.com

Additional information on social computing and government is in the Gartner report “The Business Impact of Social Computing on Government”. The report is on Gartner's website at
The Business Impact of Social Computing on Government

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