Business Agility And The NSA


Here’s a different take on the recent revelations of the NSA.

How does Edward Snowden, a low-level contractor to the government, recently fired from Booz Allen with a fabricated salary history, get access to a trove of documents about top-secret telephone and Internet surveillance programs? This to me is troubling. Too many years ago, I had top-secret clearances in places like BBN and MITRE Corporation that do lots of contract work for DoD and the three-letter agencies. But I never had anywhere near the broad or deep access to information that this contractor had.

Yet, we need to keep this lapse in governance in perspective. The only way we can beat terrorists is with superior information management. Big data with predictive analytics can make connections that no human can. These tools will form the ultimate weapon of this century and should remain a key investment area where we maintain leadership. How important is analytics? Forrester just completed its second report on business agility, and we looked at what factors can make the government more agile – better able to deal with unexpected outside events. We also studied which of our 10 dimensions drives the most economic performance. Of our 10 dimensions, the two that apply most in this case are analytics and knowledge dissemination.

Competence in analytics was shown conclusively to drive effectiveness in government and profit in the private sector based on our survey. See Agility Performance. A sophisticated government organization, particular where intelligence is the goal, needs great tools to control, manage quality, and govern the use of data throughout the organization.

Knowledge dissemination is the other really critical agility dimension for government. Flatter organizations make decisions more quickly if the necessary knowledge to make those decisions is available. Agile government taps the minds of employees throughout the organization, enabling crisp and rapid decision-making while wasting less time on turf battles. The most agile organizations also use internal social and collaboration tools to disseminate  knowledge rather than relying on top-down communications. With collaboration and enterprise social tools in place, flatter organizations execute better because individuals function and collaborate autonomously with fewer points of control.

So take a rational view. Support government initiatives for advanced analytics and knowledge dissemination. Let’s work the governance and transparency issue, but at the end of the day – who do you trust more – our own citizens or terrorists that have clear intentions to hurt our way of life?


Governance is key.


I was right there with you until the second half of the last line...

I completely agree that better use of data by governments is a powerful force for good in the world -- including catching terrorists. But it can also be used badly, so good governance and transparency is crucial.

Given the track record of how every new surveillance technology has been used throughout history, it would be naive to trust any government without strong oversight -- and it's that lack of oversight so far that warrants a healthy distrust.

It's increasingly clear that there have been abuses, and that big chunks of the NSA apparatus have nothing to do with catching terrorists.

Finally, I'm a European, so have no US legal protection against US uses of my data that are thoroughly illegal in my country. Given this dual standard, I'm sure you can appreciate that the appeal to trust "our citizens" sounds a little more hollow...