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7/2/2009
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Tech Innovation USA: From Resilient Networks To Self-Scheduling Devices

U.S. agencies are driving government IT initiatives that could soon make their way to businesses.

The to-do lists of government technology professionals are long. Cybersecurity, identity management, data management, and disaster planning are their top priorities, according to a recent survey by InformationWeek Analytics. Those kinds of projects may seem straightforward, even mundane, but their underlying technologies aren't always off the shelf. In fact, in many cases U.S. government agencies are early adopters of new technologies that businesses ultimately adopt as well.

The Obama administration's embrace of Web 2.0--blogs, wikis, Twitter, the Data.gov site--is the most conspicuous example of government

applying new tools and techniques, but the Web isn't the only place it's happening. The Defense Information Systems Agency is one of the first organizations in the public or private sector to implement a self-service cloud computing environment. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a leader in electronic health records. At Homeland Security, a project is under way to automatically detect fake documents.

In the U.S. Army, a team of 7,000 users, including soldiers, military police, and medical personnel, bang away on products and services still being developed by Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Sun Microsystems, and other vendors. Some of the technologies put to the test recently include Microsoft's Exchange 2010 and Windows 7, Apple's OS X "Snow Leopard" release, and three-factor authentication.

The Army's director of advanced technologies, Lt. Col. Peter Barclay, cites two reasons for being an early adopter: to influence the design of upcoming products, and to equip Army personnel with the most up-to-date tools. "We're eager to explore technologies when they can deliver a capability that we don't have," he says.

Now, government workers and military personnel aren't always the best-equipped tech users. Old PCs and software, metal file cabinets, and pen and paper continue to be the norm in many government offices. "We're on both sides of that," says Barclay. "Sometimes we're laggards. Sometimes we're on the bleeding edge."

With government in the midst of an historic peacetime spending spree, it has an outsized ability to both shape emerging technologies and put them to use for better government. The motives for government adoption of emerging tech range from increased personal productivity to improved public service to better intelligence and national defense. The following four federal agencies show the range of ways the government's applying the latest tools to better meet their organizational objectives.

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