Government Agencies – what does remote collaboration “look like?” – PART I

Probably, the very lowest level of remote collaboration is phone conversation. Thankfully, it seems we have moved on from a time when people needed to hear others’ voices, and, we can imagine, phones were a huge leap forward from a time when face-to-face, in-person presence was required for any meeting or collaboration.

Nonetheless, government agencies find themselves at a time when few alternatives besides “online electronic collaboration” are available. So…what does “online collaboration” look like? How can a government employee know that their flavor of collaboration serves as many purposes as possible? They cannot. And, because the agency has no agreed-upon standard or definition for online collaboration, how collaboration occurs falls to the individual government employee. It is completely possible for any government employee to hold a video teleconference with white-boarding or document sharing or using a host of other collaborative tools. Is the use of the newest and most current tools (with one tool linking to a web-based document and another tool linking to a shared drive document and the presentation served from the GE’s virtual desktop) the standard, though? Or, is government collaboration founded on something else, like the strict organization of government electronic information.

Under normal operating conditions, government agencies use a “hybrid” form of collaboration where, generally, a content management system (SharePoint, for example) is loosely used and shared internally with others. In this hybrid environment, shared drives are allowed to continue roaming free, large in-person group meetings are as common as Tandberg group calls, and email and attachments rule as the collaboration standard.

These are bad habits. And, we all know it.

CMSs/Shared drives/Desktops, where unique and often unreachable versions of content and documents are privately kept, all contribute to a breakdown in real collaboration. Important government records are kept on each of them, rarely in any particular order. These are also evidence of LESS THAN a failed content management program – NEVER HAVING HAD ONE AT ALL!

The good news is that the platforms used for true “remote” collaboration happen to be the same platforms where advanced content management occurs.

Since the default content management system for most government organizations is SharePoint, we’ll address it. (“Default” here means the content management system which exists for all content NOT CREATED or managed in a proprietary “mission-related” or “business-related(corporate)” enterprise resource management system.)

Standards are necessary for collaboration. For online remote electronic collaboration to begin functioning, government agencies must strictly control their content.

A single document should be created for a single purpose and re-used from its permanent storage location as updates are needed. The single document DOES NOT get downloaded, attached to emails and sent out. Links to the document location are provided and users are required to employ AVAILABLE online tools to perform collaborative editing. Alerts are created for users needs to keep track of documents of interest. Check-in/Check-out of documents is turned on to prevent overwriting and allow reviewing. Versioning is turned on in the event a prior document version needs to be restored, and workflows perform automated tasks based on user actions.

Now is the time for government agencies to focus on the elements of their content management systems that could previously be ignored under the “in-office” hybrid content management model. It is time now to investigate…

  • Alerts
  • Custom Columns
  • Custom Content Types
  • Site/List Templates
  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Versioning
  • Term Store Management
  • Enterprise Metadata
  • Workflows

These are almost in reverse order of how they should be performed.

Enterprise Metadata is what agencies discover is the first step to be performed and also where agencies then typically stop in the development of a strict content management. An organizational taxonomy should not be a roadblock. There are only 8 Federal foundational metadata fields required for any government content management system. They are:


Applying them to every single document and every single list item is the next step.

Please come back for PART II.

2 thoughts on “Government Agencies – what does remote collaboration “look like?” – PART I

  • “Probably, the very lowest level of remote collaboration is phone conversation. Thankfully, it seems we have moved on from a time when people needed to hear others’ voices….”

    I don’t think that the author meant it this way, but let’s say I was on Flight 93 and I knew I was about to die. I’d rather speak my last words via phone than text or VTC.

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