Navy CIO Robert Carey has a personal motto: “Make a difference every day.”
So when he saw the rise of social media over the last few years, he started thinking: How could the technology be leveraged to make a difference within the Department of the Navy? The result was trailblazing. In 2008, Carey issued a policy allowing the Navy to use Web 2.0 technologies on a more public scale. He went on to host a public blog, becoming the first CIO at any government agency to do so.
The move paid off.
“It allowed me to put ideas out to the Department of the Navy and, of course, I could literally get worldwide feedback if I wanted,” says Carey, seated in his spacious office in Crystal City, Va., where numerous awards, from “Department of the Navy Meritorious, Superior, and Distinguished Civilian Service Award” to “DoD Executive of the Year” hang on the wall.
Carey has found the Navy blog to be a “good mechanism” to get ideas from sources he might otherwise not have reached. “People who either work in the department or are contractors associated with the department provided feedback — mostly pretty good and some constructive — such that we could feed it into what we were doing,” he says.
Carey’s move speaks to the growing push to increase collaboration and transparency across government agencies — and to engage the public as well. Much of that push has coincided with the Obama administration, of course. As far back as the presidential campaign, Obama’s team heavily utilized social media tools, helping give rise to the term, “Government 2.0.” The term rests on this underlying premise: More ideas mean better ideas — and those ideas can sometimes be found beyond the four walls of government.
Carey agrees. “It’s an exciting time to be involved in IT,” he says. “When I [joined the staff of the Department of Navy Chief Information Office] in 2000, I was way out of my comfort zone,” says Carey, who had previously served as a test director for small arms and automatic weapons with the U.S. Army. But Carey broke through his comfort zone — and the rewards proved great. “I must admit,” he says, “this is one of the more dynamic and exciting places I’ve ever worked because information technology does touch everyone.”
Web 2.0 Adoption: Carey’s Advice for Agencies
Thanks to Carey, the Navy’s Web 2.0 efforts have since come to be viewed as a potential model for other government agencies. What’s Carey’s advice for other agencies to do the same? “Use your friends,” says Carey. “No one has all of the answers,” he adds, “but collectively you have the right set of minds to weigh the pros and cons and the various strategies into a bite sized piece.”
Encouraging collaboration within one’s own team is also essential. That’s where Carey’s own mentors have offered guidance. Carey has called Dan Porter and Dave Wennergren, both former Navy chief information officers, personal mentors. “Both of them, I think, trusted me and allowed me, if I saw there was a problem, to come up with solutions and then implement them … the whole strategy of how to manage at this level has been heavily influenced by those two gentlemen,” says Carey.
Carey tries to use a similar model in his management as CIO. “The trust model is really important here … that’s the model that I ascribe with the staff here: ‘Your job is to find the problems that I never knew I had and solve them.’ They’ve allowed me succeed. They’ve allowed me to stub my toe and fail and as long as I learned from it. You sort of get to understand what you’re good at and what you aren’t good at. What you’re not good at, go and find people who can help you with those weaknesses.”
Accessibility and Security: Finding balance
One of the major challenges in information technology is balancing accessibility with security. Carey strives to find that balance. “As you manage it as a polarity, you have to have both,” he says. “Generally,” he adds, “we do one or the other, we actually buy off on that fact that increased security means some ding on accessibility or some ding on convenience … I think that sometimes it’s true but it doesn’t always have to be true … You actually have to weigh them both.”
“At the end of the day getting to a website, going through security layers to get to the website, signing emails — the extra steps are worthy,” he says. “We are very convenience-based so we like to have three clicks and we want to be on the web. We don’t want to do extra steps to do certain functions even though in reality it’s literally seconds of our day. The security layer has to be in placed and the accessibility has to be in place. It forces us to look at security differently – maybe to the data element shining light on things like identity management and those technologies far brighter than we had been in the past … that’s the key to the balance.”
Navigating Cybersecurity, Sharing Strategies
The question still remains how far to push social media adoption. One of the major challenges in any wholesale adoption is cybersecurity.
“It’s important to realize that when you sit down at the computer a condition of employment, if you will, is that in today’s day and age you are a cyber warrior,” says Carey, who’s made the Navy’s Cyber Security Education Mission a key focus as CIO. “The minute you plug in your common access card and you log into the network you are either an asset or a vulnerability because you aren’t doing the things you should be doing. We create the two layers of the users and the people that run the network to run in a homogenous like manner to assure information arrives when it’s needed — and in the right format.”
Information sharing, idea sharing, and engaging in new dialogue among various organizations in the private and public sector is also a focus for Carey. He’s spoken about cyber security tools with various social networking sites including Craigslist, Facebook, Google, and MySpace in order to strengthen the Navy’s own cybersecurity posture.
“We’ve talked to a lot of the IT companies and some of the web 2.0 companies about how they do security and we’ve found that they’ve done some things that we haven’t done because their business model is a little different than ours,” says Carey. He adds: “We’ve done some things that they haven’t done because again we are a little different from them. We are learning from one another. We actually have a good dialogue going and we are sharing. National security is at stake here so when you are involved with big business and certainly the IT companies — the defense mechanism and the intelligence mechanism — into an aligned state you realize that national security is the answer. So we are sharing to the point that it’s not about making money anymore. It’s about raising the bar for information security.”
Government 2.0: What’s Ahead
As Carey develops new strategies, policies, and procedures for the Department of the Navy he comes across many new obstacles. But he continues to reach for order out of the IT structure. The issues he deals with on a daily basis are complex to say the least. But if the past is any indicator, Carey will continue to foster growth and help the department find new ways to accelerate their world using new tools.
It all comes back to his personal motto: making a difference each day in the lives of warfighters. “Now everyone can be a user of the internet and more of a content manager and generator, so you can make a difference, you can communicate on a broad scale that you couldn’t do three to five years ago,” he says. “These tools,” he adds, “will only expand and make it easier for us to do our jobs.”