Leveraging the Extended Enterprise: MITRE’s Handshake Tool Builds Virtual Collaboration

“The notion that we were going to crowdsource certain functions really was unheard of,” says Donna Cuomo, an associate director of the MITRE Corporation, a $1.4 billion nonprofit R&D organization. But a social business tool MITRE developed called Handshake is helping make that happen.

The nonprofit MITRE Corporation has a unique role in research and development: The $1.4 billion organization operates federally funded research and development centers. Founded by the U.S. Congress in 1958 to expand military-related work being done in the computer laboratories of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MITRE’s centers today are sponsored by some of the biggest U.S. agencies — including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

MITRE’s R&D centers assist the United States government with scientific research and analysis, development and acquisition, and systems engineering and integration. Nurturing knowledge exchange both within each research center’s community and among the centers as a group is a chief component of MITRE’s mission.

MITRE’s website makes the organization’s role in all this clear: “Congress chartered MITRE to work in the public interest. We have no commercial interests. We have no owners or shareholders, and we can’t compete for anything except the right to operate [our centers] … organizations are able and willing to share data because they know we won’t use it for a competitive advantage.”

One of MITRE’s tools for helping organizations share data is a social networking tool it developed called Handshake. There’s a high bar for Handshake: It has to break down technological barriers and make it easy for players from different organizations to collaborate virtually, all while protecting sensitive information. Since debuting in 2009, thousands of people both inside of MITRE and outside at federal, state and local agencies have used the tool in some capacity. For many people, Handshake has become second hand.

In a conversation with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Social Business Big Idea Initiative, MITRE executives Donna Cuomo, Laurie Damianos and Stan Drozdetski explain how Handshake has influenced business at MITRE and what challenges they’ve faced in its implementation.

Can we start with an overview of each of your roles at MITRE?

Donna Cuomo: Sure. I’m currently the associate director for Knowledge, Information and Collaboration Solutions, which is a division within our IT organization. I led a research innovation area, which was overseeing some research activities in social media, including Handshake. I’ve been with the company 25 years.

Laurie Damianos: I am the associate department head of Collaboration and Social Computing.

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