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21 June 2007

On virtualization

We are certainly great fans of virtual offices. Unfortunately, we have rarely been afforded the benefits of the new technologies (despite how widely they have been implemented even for secure channels, if only to reduce the number of bodies which have to fight cross town DC traffic for meetings). When we have, though, it has always been a most positive experience (even if it involved time in the field under otherwise less than pleasant circumstances.)

We have long believed that the federal side has been the most resistant to teleworking and the attending decentralization that it brings. We are therefore surprised to note the higher percentages of adoption reported recently (and covered here at Web Worker Daily.) Of course, we would think that large portions of the intel community would fall into the “not eligible” category, but we suppose things like the National Virtual Translation Center and the Joint Reserve Intelligence Center serves to even that effect out somewhat.

While we hope to see much more of this sort of thing in the future, at present there is simply too much embedded inertia, and too many complications with security and interoperability to fully realize the potential. After all, it is all that can be done to assure connectivity between various buildings, let alone a distributed workforce in a virtual office. (There is a reason why the fusion center concept has proven so popular in forcing everyone under the same roof, and to bring with them their networks…)

There is also much to be said for the kinds of informal hallway conversations which are the lifeblood of the unanticipated identification of linkages and emerging issues. Right now, the tools of the virtual office simple do not allow for such robust levels of interaction between analysts (especially the more introverted, technical, and task focused sort). As greater adoption of the wiki and the blog progresses, along with even more informal mechanisms such as an IC version of Twitter and fast VOIP enabled telepresence, perhaps this will change.

For now, we are happy to see any progress at all. We are aware of small teams which are effectively managing to do unusual and good things out in the world, relying heavily on virtual offices for both their own interactions and reachback. These models, if given a chance to compete fairly in the marketplace of ideas, will either prove themselves or fail. And from them, perhaps we will find the lessons learned to move to a better way of life than the vault.

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