In reading about innovation, we have many marvelous examples where successful firms incorporated technology by changing their business model. Rather than digitizing paper, they considered the intersection of organizational imperatives and technology and considered how the business may be done differently. Some firms (and Agencies!) went a bit far. I am still haunted by the story of the Senior Executive at the Department of Defense who saw his secretary replaced by a computer. The professional assistant who knew why papers were filed a certain way, who knew the history for those files, and who maintained an informal network among other assistants that provided the best intelligence operation in existence. Shunted aside (Or kicked upstairs so she could print out some SES's email) because some Executives now had new, mystical, magical machines that would connect the human to all the information he could ever need. This is an example of transforming the office ad absurdum.
Nevertheless, careful transformation can mean everything. Consider the advent of online stock trades. In a famous case study, Clayton Christensen ("Disrupting Class") demonstrates that while Merrill Lynch was slow to provide online trading, it did so using the same brokers who were comfortable in the old models, and did so within existing departments. By contrast, Charles Schwab immediately "created a separate business unit to conduct online trading and made a masterful transition to the computer-centric investment management world - ultimately phasing out its original broker-based business unit...the new unit operated at much higher trading volumes and significantly lower costs than those characterizing the traditional business." [p.78] Merrill Lynch used technology to improve their core business - successfully for a time - but failed to transform and adapt. Or survive, as it turns out.
What does this have to do with the U.S. Intelligence Community? Eight months ago, I noticed this little video on YouTube.
Note how this idea presents an approach for using technology (in this case a simple wiki, in other examples a "Facebook" for the IC) to transform how intelligence is produced. Yes, Intellipedia has transformed analyst behavior, and to some degree appears to be chipping at the information-hoarding, publish-or-perish model - but do we want to be Merrill Lynch or Charles Schwab? Do we want to make the analysts better, or consider transforming how we process and produce intelligence products as a result of this new magic? The true magic of these technologies is the unprecedented opportunity to leverage network effects for faster, better intelligence products in an age that demands them.
What is the strategy inside the Intelligence Community to harness the new magic? I hope we are learning from successful innovations. One must be careful with magic, after all.