Army knowledge management

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Knowledge is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as expertise, and skills acquired by a person by means of experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Management is simply the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives set by an organisation. Knowledge Management consists of a range of practices used in an organisation to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of insights and experiences. The practices are used to connect those employees who know and those who need to know by leveraging knowledge transfers from one-to-many across the Global Enterprise

In today's age of networking and globalization, adaptability to change is inevitable. The environment is such that opportunities and rivals are highly prevalent. Successful operations in the environment depend on both innovation and the organizational learning. Success demands exceptional speed in learning, transforming, implementing and applying that expertise to innovation.

The challenges facing the US Army and the national security community cut across agency missions, organizational boundaries, and rapidly changing political and military environments. Army Transformation is all about transitioning itself from information-based to knowledge-based operations. Achieving the Army Knowledge Vision will provide the US Army with the ability to achieve decision superiority.

CURRENT KM SITUATION

The current KM system used by the U.S army involves three levels: Individual level, community/group level and organizational level. Army Knowledge Enterprise (AKE) is Critical to Army transformation is the Army Knowledge Enterprise (AKE) - the combination of infostructure and knowledge. It provides for the integration and the interoperability of processing, storing, and transporting information over a seamless network allowing timely access to universal and secure Army knowledge across the enterprise.

Individual level

Train and educate KM leaders, man­agers, and champions

  • The U.S army has created a culture of collaboration, the army educates the next generation of KM change agents who understand KM principles and technologies and can effect change to accelerate meeting mission objectives.
  • They have a new curriculum structure and have improved their in­structional delivery methods to train and educate the force in KM competency at all levels of the army.

Reward knowledge sharing and make knowledge management career rewarding

  • When there is a reward for a particular job, it gets done faster. The U.S army has a planned reward structure which guides organizational and individual behaviour.
  • They have established KM career fields, wherever it is appropriate and have inserted performance elements into National security personnel system (NSPS), Officers

evaluation reports (OERs), and Non-commissioned officer evaluation reports (NCOERs) to evaluate knowledge sharing contributions of individuals.

Establish a doctrine of collaboration

  • The U.S army has created a collaborative environment which fosters new ideas, understanding, and ways to execute the commander's intent.
  • Leaders have incorporated the core principles of collaboration into their business pro­cedures and human resources practices.

Core Principles of Collaboration

  • Responsibility to Provide - "need-to-share" should be replaced by "responsibility to provide".
  • Empowered to Participate - Soldiers and Civil­ians are empowered to participate and share insight in virtual collaborative communities without seek­ing prior permission.
  • User-driven - Collaborative communities are self-defining, self creating, and adaptable. Users own the collaborative community, not IT providers.

Use every interaction whether face-to-face or virtual as an opportunity to acquire and share knowledge

  • They have made continuous learning a day-to-day activity. Learning faster than competitors' yields better short and long-term results.
  • They have a framework for day-to-day activities to acceler­ate knowledge acquisition and transfer. They also promote learning in teams and in informal and formal social networks.

Prevent knowledge loss

  • They understand that knowledge is perishable and that it has a life cycle. The life cycle can't begin until it is docu­mented and assessed for its value.
  • They assess what is valuable from past activities and experiences, document it, and share it with those who need to know.

Group/community level

Protect and secure information and knowledge assets

  • By denying enemies access to key infor­mation US and coalition forces have the decisive advantage to securely communicate and collaborate across geographic and organizational boundaries.
  • Leaders of knowledge communities are required to comply with relevant information assurance regulations and policies.

Embed knowledge assets (links, podcasts, videos, documents, simulations, wikis...) in standard business processes and provide access to those who need to know

  • They have influenced their digital media to add context, understanding, and situational awareness relating to opera­tions and business activities.
  • Their leaders are required to use digital media (podcasts, videos, simulations) in training routines and operations. They also make ideas and best practices accessible to every individual in the organization.

Use legal and standard business rules and processes across the enterprise

  • They have established business rules and pro­cesses, thus reducing learning curves and promoting consistent quality products and services.
  • The individuals follow standard business rules and processes set by the army and the department of defence (DoD). They are allowed to modify the rules to meet the commander's intent and quickly adapt processes to meet or anticipate emerging threats or opportunities (situational aware­ness).

Organizational level

Use standardized collaborative tool sets.

  • They have standardized training procedures by using common collabor­ative software tools and creating a common platform for data, information and knowledge sharing within the organization and also with partners.
  • They use col­laborative tools sets approved by the army and DoD. They also provide access to structural capital to accelerate learning curves and adopt/modify best known practices.

Use open models to permit access and searching across boundaries

  • The U.S army has created seamless service-on-demand where one client application can request one or more services from another application which provides complimentary services.
  • Their KM applications are de­signed and operated with an enterprise focus- permitting access and searching across systems and organizations without technical or structural hurdles.

Use a strong search capability to access contextual knowledge and store content for discovery

  • With the exception of classified infor­mation, knowledge bases have been made accessible and searchable by search engines that deliver contex­tual knowledge and information.
  • In the design and operation of KM systems, leaders ensure that there are no organizational or technical barriers blocking access to digital media residing in knowledge bases.

Use portals that permit single sign-on and authentication across the global enterprise including partners

  • The U.S army's enterprise portal for access and authentication reduces confusion for users and provides a standard process for access­ing enterprise knowledge assets and also reduces total cost of ownership of other portals, websites or knowledge networks.
  • They use AKO as their portal of first choice. AKO is centrally fund­ed by the HQ and is available to army commands and organizations at no additional cost.

OBJECTIVES

Army knowledge management is an integral part of the Army for transforming it into a net centric, knowledge based force. The Army Knowledge Management Strategic Plan focuses on five objectives mentioned below:

  1. Adopt Governance and Cultural changes to become a knowledge based organisation: It's impossible for the army to transform it fully without addressing its basic operations and corporate culture. It is necessary to have new policies, management structure and strong leadership at all levels to manage knowledge and information structure at the enterprise level.
  2. Integrate knowledge management and best business practices into Army Processes: It states the need to implant knowledge management into its processes. It's necessary to establish collaborative work environments and find new ways of doing business in order to improve army decision making and operations. By trying new ways to share information across boundaries and by applying breakthrough thinking, the army can achieve greater performance and cohesion in its activities.
  3. Manage the info structure at the Enterprise level: It addresses the requirement to manage the infrastructure hardware, software, networks etc holistically. A single authority has been designated to manage the Army's information structure at the enterprise level.
  4. Scale Army knowledge online as the enterprise portal This states the Army knowledge Online (AKO), the Army's ambitious enterprise portal. It is a powerful tool that is revolutionalizing the Army. It is a portal through which all army business will be conducted, both in peacetime and on the battlefield.
  5. Harness human capital for the knowledge organisation: The Army is people. It needs to provide its military and civilian personnel with the learning opportunities, career building tools and mentoring relationships in order to improve their value to the Army and the Nation. This goal targets the people, getting the message out and making the US Army a truly learning organisation.

The commanders need to have relevant information and knowledge for making informed, timely decisions. The main objective is to enables effective collaboration by linking the various organizations and Soldiers that require knowledge thereby enhancing rapid adaptation during dynamic operations.

Possessing knowledge is not power, but sharing knowledge is. Knowledge management is important for the Army to conduct its operations effectively. The development of the electronic IT brought new capabilities for the creation, organisation, application and transfer of knowledge.

The US Army has made a clear commitment to Business Intelligence and knowledge management. There are a whole lot of reasons why KM is a key means to achieve the targets of the US Army. It's of critical importance to the US Army that in order to win future wars, it needs to have superior knowledge over the other armies. Knowledge is a timeless and changeless principal. The strategies, methods and tools will undoubtedly change, but timeless principles will, of course, remain unchanged. By developing the appropriate knowledge management strategy, the Army can move ahead to transform itself into an organization that aims to being knowledge superiority to the battlefield. It has been able to move into the future through the launching of its knowledge management strategies and recognition of the knowledge management.

Each goal has a series of specific objectives that further define it. The first goal focuses on the fact that no enterprise can truly transform itself without addressing its basic operations and corporate culture. The second goal addresses the need to embed knowledge management into its processes. Goal number three addresses the requirement to manage what the Army calls its "infostructure" -- hardware, software, networks, etc. - holistically and not as stovepipes. Goal number four talks to Army Knowledge Online (AKO), the Army's ambitious enterprise portal. Lastly, the fifth goal targets the people, getting the message out and making the Army a true learning organization.

GAP Analysis

The strategy of the U.S Army's KM is to transform itself into a net-centric, knowledge-based force and to become an integral part of the Army's transformation to achieve all its future goals. They are looking to improve their delivery of structured information so that soldiers and business stewards can act quickly and decisively. Their main goal is to break the barriers and transform from an industrial era organizational structure to a complete knowledge based enterprise.

The U.S army took the decision to transform very recently, in 2008. It still conducts its KM on an ad hoc basis which does not ensure that the end objectives are met. They implement KM in a makeshift manner, it is used only when necessary and not at all times.

KM Enablers

One of the main enablers of KM in the U.S army is Battle command knowledge system (BCKS). This is the platform from which they are launching all their KM activities. BCKS is being developed as the U.S army's enterprise-level KM organization. BCKS is responsible for developing and implementing KM products and services across the Army. BCKS grew in its abilities and capabilities to better assist both Operating and Generating Forces and to better manage the tacit and explicit knowledge within the Army.

BCKS serves as the AKM lead agent for Combined Arms Centre (CAC), who is designated Functional Proponent for AKM. BCKS has developed the Army's first KM doctrine manual, launched KM training, and built numerous knowledge networks and professional forums. These capabilities greatly improve the flow of Army knowledge from those Soldiers who have the knowledge to those Soldiers who need it.

Knowledge management continues to be an area of rapid growth and ever increasing potential. As within academic and business communities, Army leadership at all levels are beginning to realize the importance of knowledge management and is making strides in the implementation of KM processes throughout the army. The military and civilian members of BCKS work within this environment to maximize the benefits and overcome the challenges of harnessing the knowledge resident within the Army.

Today BCKS is combining People, Processes and Technology to help Soldiers share what they know, solve problems and grow professionally.

Barriers to their KM

Lack of commitment in top cadre

The top management is responsible for every activity at all the levels of the army. One of the most common beliefs is that to possess knowledge means to possess power but the real power is when this knowledge is shared with all individuals concerned. This is one of the most critical barriers for effective and successful KM implementation.

Methodology

KM is a group of clearly defined processes or methods used to search important knowledge among different KM operations. The Methodology used by the U.S army is one that is followed by common business organizations throughout the world. They have to understand that an army requires a different methodology as it involves sensitive information.

Organizational structure

The U.S army should adopt an organizational structure (OS) which matches and supports its strategy. Organizational structure includes division of labour, departmentalization and distribution of power which is necessary to support the information and decision process of the organizations. Lack of structure can discourage the KM activities which certainly hinder the prospect of KM in the army.

Lack of culture

Organizational culture defines the core beliefs, value norms and social customs that govern the way individuals act and behave in the army. Culture is the largest barrier in creation of a successful knowledge-based army. Absence or minimal level of collaboration hinders the transfer of knowledge between individuals as well as between the groups.

Staff retirement

Staff retirement is the major barrier in the KM implementation. If any employee retires from his/her job, it is very difficult to get a substitute with the same level of knowledge. His/her experience and expertise will be lost by the organizations. Organizations are less vigilant about protecting their human intellectual capital.

GAPS in the U.S army's KM

Minimal Situational understanding

The U.S army has a wonderful knowledge acquiring structure and its distribution is also quite effective. The soldiers have easy access to most of the knowledge and are also trained on how to act in real life situations but when they are faced with a new situation they have minimal situational understanding. They might have information about how to handle the situation but they do not have prior experience which is most required.

Differing operational practice

The army is not operated as one big unit. It is divided into a number of smaller units based on their geographical location and their specialities. Different units will have different requirements. The U.S army provides generalised knowledge on how to perform operations without keeping the exact situation and requirements.

Delay in decision making

In situations such as a war decisions have to be taken in a hurry. It takes a lot of time if the soldiers have to access their knowledge portals, understand and implement the appropriate strategy. This delay in knowledge transfer and decision making could prove very costly for the army. When any new knowledge is acquired and has to be implemented the generals and leaders who have to approve it might take a lot of time in understanding the information as they do not have current situational experience.

Need to enhance organizational learning during operations

The U.S army encounters new situations during every operation. They don't have any system which records and streamlines this new information to enable the entire organization to benefit from it. The entire organization can learn from this information which in turn helps them in acting swiftly and correctly in an emergency situation.

Improve collaboration among personnel

The army currently has a KM structure where the knowledge of all personnel is gathered, processed and made available to everyone through one single portal - AKO. To achieve better sharing of knowledge and for a more efficient KM structure the personnel can be given a networking platform where individuals from different units of the army can directly share and gain abundant knowledge on how to perform designated operations.

Leaders and soldiers are not adaptive

KM is fairly new to the U.S army. People who have been in the army for a long time are still rigid when it comes to changing the way they work and perform specific operations. The army has not yet convinced these personnel about the use of KM. Army Knowledge management will not be effective until the entire enterprise is involved.

KM doctrine needs to be modified and developed constantly

The U.S army's KM doctrine is a detailed document which shows how to go about acquiring, processing and sharing knowledge effectively throughout the army. This doctrine was first prepared when KM was introduced into the army years back. KM has evolved since then but the U.S army has not amended their doctrine. This reduces the effectiveness of their KM as they are still following an older structure.

Globalization of the enterprise

The main job of the U.S army is to protect its country and to do this job effectively they need the help of their allies. Their current KM portal is only in English which cannot be used by all their allies. This makes it extremely difficult for their allies to understand the strategies and plans that are used by the U.S army. This will create problems and contradicting styles in a situation where both the armies have to work together in an operation

Technological Advances

The U.S army is easily one of the most technologically advanced organizations in the world but when it comes to KM they haven't updated or changed their technology as often as required as it involves massive amount of information to be converted and formatted to fit into the new technology.

No searchable central repository of documents

The army has an online knowledge portal which contains all the information that is needed by the soldiers and leaders. All individuals have easy access to the portal but finding specific information is a very tedious process as the search engine of the AKO does not efficiently lead you to the specific document.

No "push technology"

The U.S army does not push appropriate information and knowledge to the people who need it the most. The individuals are made to pull the knowledge out when they need it. A push technology which puts the required knowledge to the respective people who need it makes them use it more frequently and effectively compared to a pull technology where they have to take the initiative to extract the knowledge by themselves.

Limited accessibility

Army KM has a major drawback because of the secrecy that is to be maintained with certain documents. These documents are there on the AKO but have limited accessibility.

Recommendations

Globalization: The army includes soldiers from different background and different cultures. The knowledge has to be passed effectively and timely across them. Using technology can cause problems because the languages cannot be translated exactly and may lead to misinterpretation. Training the soldiers and creating awareness about different cultures and languages will help bridge this gap.

Streamlining: The army must stream line its organization by minimizing overlapping of processes and people. Centralizing the processes and changing the thinking process may help to a great extent.

Continuity: The soldiers are made to constantly change their bases which lead to loss of continuity in the knowledge learning process. This criterion can be satisfied by setting aside dedicated time for educating and training in the schedule. The online portal may help to a certain extent. All the knowledge that is being passed must be noted and placed on the portal on a timely basis.

Spontaneous capturing of knowledge: During a problem solving process soldiers might discover new knowledge and the analysts need to spontaneously capture it and pass it on to the entire organization for further use. Since there is no time during the process, the information has to be authored by making batches and have sessions once a week or end of the month. Thus by integrating the knowledge creation and problem solving process the army can simplify the process of adding new information to the knowledge base quickly.

Refinement: The army needs to have a knowledge management system that can track how often a particular knowledge is being used and then push the most frequently used solutions down to the second and third tier experts. Further these experts can check and refine the solutions to make it useful for future.

Communication: Communication is a very powerful tool to carry out the vision and transform the message to all the units of the organization in order to achieve the desired goals. There must be active communication with the allies and the department of defence to keep others updated on the latest developments. Through this exchange process the army can attain horizontal integration of knowledge throughout the organization.

  • Updating Allies: Wars are not won by army alone. They are supported by the Navy, Coast Guards and Air Force who equally contribute. Also, since the US Army has allied with other countries, the knowledge has to be passed on and shared to keep them updated.
  • Central Repository: To overcome gaps such as collaboration tool and unavailability of central repository of documents, the army must set up a knowledge centre with restricted access and a certain level of security. This should include advanced search capabilities; send personalised notifications and tutorial screens.

In order to ensure maximum and optimal transfer of knowledge, all the five objectives must be worked in parallel. The knowledge can be transferred more effectively by creating virtual teams and using collaborative processes. Information systems can help working groups from different cells interact constantly and thereby forming teams to resolve critical KM issues. With the help of integrated KM processes build a knowledge network that enables all units to rapidly share tacit and explicit knowledge. Coordinate with external knowledge sources and integrate them into the knowledge network. All the KM plans must be tailor made for each unit depending on their requirements and understanding.

Currently the US Army is following the After Action Review (ARR). We further recommend that the process must include the following rules:

  • Desired State: Along with all the contributors and facilitators, review what was the desired outcome was supposed to be.
  • Actual State. Determine the actual result of the execution with the help of records and reports describing the flow of events. This is vital for an effective discussion.
  • The Right and the Wrong events: Determine what went right or wrong during the execution of the process. Figure out the weak points of the performance.
  • Determine how the task should be done differently next time: The facilitator must help the soldiers determine how to perform tasks next time keeping in mind the loop holes of the previous execution and bridging the required gap. If successful, the same can be applied for future operations as well as circulated as lessons learned.

Finally by streamlining the review process, the administration cost can be reduced, bottlenecks can be eliminated and the knowledge base can be made more relevant and useful.

  • Involve seniors: Involve senior leaders in the transformation process. By assigning a leader to each of the five objectives and challenging them to evaluate their progress towards achieving those keeps they involved in light of vision to transform into a knowledge based institute. All the senior leaders must be given opportunities to formulate new successful strategies.
  • Update Strategy Plans: The governing body must keep updating the AKM strategy plans to include robust goals to meet the information and knowledge needs of the soldiers.

The majority of the Army's internal business must be conducted through the AKO portal by:

  • Making the portal available to the lowest level.
  • Enforce soldiers to use the portal as it is the best way to market new applications thereby maximizing application acceptance.

Finally, a successful knowledge management depends on a mixture of technology, processes and people. Failure in meeting any of these elements can result in loss of money, time and implementation that will fail to meet desired objectives.

Conclusion

Implementing the above recommendations will help the US Army in reducing the gap between their current and desired state of knowledge management without technological and structural barriers. It will further create a culture of collaboration and a platform where knowledge is shared effectively and appropriately between those who need it and those who have it and finally meet the objectives.

References

  • Ghaziri, H. M. & Awad, M. E. (2004). Knowledge Management. Prentice Hall, New Jersey
  • Awad, Elias M. and Hassan M. Ghaziri. Knowledge Management. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004:
  • Thomas, D.H. & Prusak, L (1998). Working Knowlwdge: How Organizations Manage What They Know. Harvard Business School Press
  • http://www.army.mil/ciog6/policy/docs/AKM_Memo_1_Signed.pdf (assessed on 3rd Dec 2009)
  • http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/Repository/Materials/KnowledgeManagementFM6-01.pdf (Accessed on 3rd Dec 2009)
  • http://www.chips.navy.mil/archives/02_fall/index2_files/army_online.htm (assessed on 6th Dec 2009)
  • http://lawyerkm.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/the-us-army-on-knowledge-management/ (assessed on 3rd Dec 2009)
  • http://www.army.mil/-news/2008/08/11/11588-new-army-knowledge-km-management-principles/index.html (assessed on 6th Dec 2009)
  • http://www.army.mil/ciog6/docs/AKMPrinciples.pdf (assessed on 5th Dec 2009)
  • http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r25_1.pdf (assessed on 8th Dec 2009)
  • http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/BCKS/History.asp (assessed on 8th Dec 2009)

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