'Socialytics' to become tech trend in 2012

Analysts predict 2012 will see more focus on mobility and social media use in federal agencies.

Social media and mobility will take center stage as two of the major IT trends that will see more focus in the federal government next year, according to analysts’ 2012 forecast.

With the government IT budget staying relatively flat for the next three years, mobility has become one of the key drivers and encompasses how the workforce will do its job and how government will deliver its services to citizens, said Thom Rubel, vice president at IDC Government Insights, during the firm's 2012 predictions webcast held Dec. 7. The presentation focused on key IT strategies and capabilities within the federal government, with mobility and social media anticipated to get a fair bit of attention. 

The push toward mobility in the public sector will center on content and devices for the workforce and citizen services. All IT strategies are currently on investments that can help quality-of-life issues, such as human and social services, and economic growth and competitiveness within regions, Rubel said.

Mobility will become the No. 1 governance issue, moving beyond the management of devices to encompass broader business issues. Organizations that allow a variety of mobile devices need to have strong governance on all aspects of their use, such as passwords or use of social media, said Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights. And as more devices are added into the mix, there will be greater need for strategic plans and rules on what an agency will allow, he noted.

As mobility rises, social media on the federal level will take a turning point in 2012, moving from an experimental level to systematic information dissemination and gathering, said Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director at IDC Government Insights.

The use of "socialytics" – analytics used to predict peoples' behavior – will grow alongside social media use, and has broad applications in public safety and social services. Socialytics will be a powerful tool for governments to gather information and feedback from the public, Clarke said.

Social networking sites, micro blogs and online discussion forums can enable a better-informed government, she said, and connect government employees and citizens. Whereas defense agencies have been long been using social media sites to analyze users’ activity, Clarke said civilian governments have fallen behind in this area.

However, 2011 opened the eyes for many government agencies in truly understanding the value and power of social media. “It pushed home the idea to a lot of government agencies that they must have social media and act proactively with citizens to gather real-time intelligence,” Clarke said.

But governments “will always be 10 steps behind their citizens unless they engage better with social media, and this will spur new efforts in 2012,” she continued.

Most federal agencies are currently using social media to push out information to the public and employees, she said, but in 2012 more non-DOD agencies will use social media to gather information from citizens and start facilitating conversations in government and connect many groups of people with each other.

More and more agencies at all levels will be more systematic and purposeful in their approach to social media, including creating usage policies for organizational social media, dedicating talent to creating and managing content, using technology tools for automation purposes and considering a social media brand, she said.

“Governments are going to move toward this and to truly take advantage of social media, they need to better incorporate analytics or socialytics to move social media beyond a communication tool to more of a data capture tool,” Clarke said.