Although Lockheed Martin isn't keen on employees using public social networks like Facebook or YouTube in the course of their jobs, the high-tech company is rolling out an internal social network designed by its own engineers for business collaboration.
Called "Unity," the Lockheed Martin social network combines blogging, Wiki functions, personal pages and group forums that glitter with the kind of multimedia that keeps youthful employees engaged and their elders agog.
But far from being eye-candy entertainment, Unity is seen as the company's evolving foundation for project interactions and the front-end to a document repository.
Security is paramount, said the young twenty-something managers developing Unity.
"We knew security had to be essential here," said Shawn Dahlen, program manager for Unity, who joined with chief engineer Brian Mayo to present Lockheed Martin's internal Web 2.0 strategy during the Infosec conference in Orlando this week.
One of the main reasons for diving into social networking for business is that "50% of our workforce will retire in 10 years," Dahlen said. "We have a lot of folks we need to hire in. They grew up with these tools." These recent college graduates aren't particularly attracted to meetings, e-mail or PowerPoint slides, he added.
Designing the internal social-networking site over the past few years at Lockheed Martin brought into focus the age-old security question of balancing "the need to know" and "the need to share," Dahlen and Mayo said.
Lockheed Martin -- which builds aircraft and missiles, among other things -- is a company with more than 150,000 employees. It has concerns about keeping information classified, so a small army of legal and security experts weighed in on the question of how to let employees use Unity to find out what was going on with their colleagues while at the same time safeguard the most sensitive information.
For starters, anyone using Unity will have ground rules, and one of them is "no anonymity," Mayo said. "There's no such notion as anonymous access."
So far, 54,000 U.S.-based Lockheed Martin employees have begun using Unity. Built on top of Microsoft's SharePoint 3.0 with Active Directory 2003, along with a Google search appliance, the Unity application allows people to post personal information about themselves, such as hobbies, interests and bios with photos, and link in with others who have common interests.
For business purposes, some material posted is reviewed by "Wiki gardeners" and blogs could be moderated. Some documents, such as those that might raise export-control questions, are locked so that only authorized personnel can get to them.
Network authentication is based on Kerberos, Mayo said, using "constrained delegation," a feature of minimum rights and permissions. Lockheed Martin came up with its own tool, YouSecure, for Active Directory groups. Engineers are also looking at using the open API called OAUTH.
One of the biggest technical challenges so far is trying to get the Google search mechanism to perform at the lightning speeds that individuals expect on the public Web in the internal environment where there are special blocks on documents, Dahlen said.
Although this first iteration of Unity is for US-only employees at Lockheed Martin and doesn't include classified documents, there's growing demand within the company to do more with Unity. "The womens’ group asked for it to be open internationally," Dahlen noted.
For Lockheed Martin, it's still a tough call on how far to take social networking.
While the company has designed an internal social-networking platform, it so far doesn't include outsiders like business partners. Lockheed is working on coming up with a broad social-networking policy, Dahlen said, but today blocks access to most of the popular public social-networking sites.