Original Post Date: Monday, February 28, 2011

I recently attended the Wharton Aerospace Conference and Federal Networks 2011.  Amid the obligatory discussions about the economic climate and federal budget deficit, an interesting topic bubbled up.  There  was a certain preoccupation with an idea called ‘consumerism.’  According to Webster, consumerism means "...the promotion of the consumer's interests; the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; a preoccupation with and an inclination towards the buying of consumer goods."

As is often the case, there is a difference between definition and connotation. The intended meaning of consumerism at these events was the phenomena of the consumer goods infiltrating and influencing government IT policy.  The IPad was all too visible in the audience as were the comments from CIO staff about their user base wanting to integrate IPad-like products into the work domain.

Like it or not we are all consumers; and consumers are getting more tech savvy.  As the adoption of these products or services increase in our daily lives, the question becomes unavoidable – Why can’t I use these for work? It was clear that for the CIOs attending these conferences this question was top of mind.  While most of the U.S. government is attempting to identify, inventory, consolidate and remove redundancies of IT infrastructure in response to Mr. Kundra’s IT modernization plan, CIOs are also feeling pressure (and criticism) from users about their ability to support seemingly everyday applications.

I’m sure there are many reasons why these aren’t supported; my intention is not to address them here.  Instead I’d like to posit an opinion.  There are  tools supporting new paradigms in how we communicate, at work and home, which are becoming the norm.  They are no longer ‘toys’ for the younger crowd.  For those waiting for this social media fad to pass, I’d suggest another look.  Recent events in the Middle East are real illustrations of their significant impact.  The U.S. State Department is beginning to use a nation’s access to internet and social media as a barometer for civil liberties.  Yet, there is still much resistance in adoption or more fundamentally understanding and embracing these venues. 

I’m encountering resistance and sometimes denial of these forces on a daily basis.  I don’t think you need to have 500 Facebook friends or Tweet until thumbs bleed.  Nor do I think being a LinkedIn Pro replaces human interaction.  It is important though to recognize the shift in communication.  Take just a few minutes to understand the different tools.   You’ll find it’s not unlike a conversation you may have in a coffee room or a hallway if you still have a coffee room or a hallway.  Many don’t.  For those who are time, money or resource constrained, you can access industry experts, thought leaders and practical advice on your own time at no cost.  There are plenty of free introductory videos or articles on line.  You can decide which mediums work best for you. 

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