by Libby Christensen and Maria Sadd
The abundance of knowledge-management tools coming onto the market provides structure and knowledge repositories for identifying, organizing and disseminating information. However, KM isn�t only about the tools. In fact, individuals who rely solely on the tools may not be successful in implementing KM. Furthermore, KM tools frequently require a substantial upfront investment as well as costly and recurring maintenance. Not only is there more to KM than just the tools, but there are also less costly ways to implement an effective KM program.
U.S. Army Pacific implemented a highly effective KM program that�s transforming USARPAC into a knowledge-based organization at minimal cost. Our strategy emphasizes business process and tool reuse, which increases effectiveness by using what�s familiar, and contributes to minimizing cost by reducing the need for new tools and training.
One KM challenge facing USARPAC is the organization�s dispersed nature, which today spans 16 time zones and consists of Active and Reserve Army forces in Japan, Hawaii and Alaska, and Reserve forces in Washington, Guam and American Samoa. Therefore, while our current KM effort is focused at USARPAC, it�s designed to enable knowledge-sharing with major subordinate commands and other service components.
KM is a critical enabler as we undergo the Army transformation. USARPAC defined the return on investment for KM as improved product quality and workplace morale. Our goal is to �empower the USARPAC workforce to actively leverage our intellectual capital as a critical enabler for Army transformation and Joint Vision 2020, and to become an effective knowledge-based organization.�
Recognizing that KM is overwhelmingly more about people and processes than about technology, we�ve focused our program on business processes, particularly those supporting our core priority missions. We contracted with the Army�s Information Systems Engineering Command KM group to facilitate a series of focused meetings, or charrettes. To achieve KM buy-in, we included staff members from all levels and functional areas in defining the top program priorities and solicited input from senior leaders, subject-matter experts, action officers, information officers, system administrators and administrative personnel.
The charrettes gathered input on the current and desired state of knowledge-sharing in USARPAC by posing questions on knowledge culture, sources, accessibility and responsibility, as well as tools, policies, business practices and issues. Participants were invited to define how to transition to a learning organization. Through discussion and consolidation, we identified seven top priorities that included issues that both apply to the KM program and that will effectively complement and augment our KM initiative.
USARPAC�s KM implementation is an ongoing process that includes incorporating KM into new and existing programs, modifying business practices to improve efficiency and increase process reuse, and deploying more tools to support business practices. A significant key to our success is the strong support from our senior leaders.
To incorporate KM into the organization�s structure, ISEC analyzed the network information infrastructure to ensure that it would support the required information flow and that planned upgrades would continue to support KM implementation. The analysis addressed the local infrastructure and wide-area networks. This effort included the common-user installation-transport network upgrades to ensure our architecture was optimized to support KM implementation and information flow. The analysis took a total-systems approach, including the Defense Department�s information-technology security certification and accreditation process, training and user support.
The charrettes helped USARPAC knowledge workers identify those practices and processes with the most impact on our core priority missions. Key processes included resource management, strategic planning, suspense tracking and training. A review of these key processes revealed redundancies, inefficiencies and opportunities for process reuse. Many processes were streamlined and improved by using automation and by turning tacit knowledge into guidelines and checklists for routine and repetitive tasks.
After evaluating the business-process requirements and achieving widespread buy-in, we identified KM tools suited to our needs. Some of our tool-selection criteria include low cost, user friendliness, portability and reusability. Because workflow processes are a large part of KM improvements, the Workflow Management System tool (based on Microsoft Outlook) was selected to meet our requirements. In fact, the Office 2000 suite, which minimizes our acquisition costs and training requirements, is already our standard. To implement and customize individual views of the USARPAC portal, we selected the Microsoft Digital Dashboard 2 portal framework in compliance with the Defense Collaborative Tool Suite.
USARPAC KM is an evolving process that can be modified based on changing roles and missions. Our information-management panel is also evolving to support KM implementation, advancement and continued buy-in. Several best-practices approaches, including the IM panel, are discussed following.
Program integration. KM impacts all aspects of our organization, so we incorporate KM into any new or upgraded system. The previously mentioned example is the infrastructure analysis, where the upgrade was evaluated with KM requirements in mind. Another example is the USARPAC command-and-control functional matrix, which provides information on the level of interaction that must be supported between command elements.
The IM panel. The IM panel was previously chartered to support Clinger-Cohen Act objectives for managing the IT acquisition process, and for establishing goals and performance measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. USARPAC staff principals are represented on the IM panel and raise, review and discuss IM issues to disseminate information on initiatives and solicit ideas from their respective staffs. Their activities support the top program priorities identified during the charrettes. The IM panel adopted the KM goal to transform USARPAC to a knowledge-based organization.
A significant IM-panel objective is to transition USARPAC into a KM organization. This cultural impact is often overlooked when implementing KM because of the tendency to focus on new technologies. Because few use these technologies, this can easily lead to a KM program failure. By communicating and representing their functional-area staff, panel members maintain interest and participation in the KM program, promote process ownership and maintain buy-in across the organization.
The IM panel reviewed issues the KM charrettes identified and addressed them. After assessing the ineffective use of email (�pushing� information such as blood drives and social events that are more appropriately �pulled�) and the forwarding of large and unnecessary files, the IM panel disseminated guidelines for email users.
Another issue they considered was the Army Knowledge Management Strategic Plan objective to incorporate KM into individual-performance plans. The panel tackled problems such as measuring the effectiveness of KM practices. In the process, the IM panel determined that a modification to individual job descriptions isn�t needed to add KM to individual-performance plans.
A third example demonstrates cultural impact. USARPAC�s senior leaders proposed sharing and viewing calendar information. When the IM panel members polled their staffs, they discovered people were unwilling to share detailed calendar information. The panel modified the proposed objective to allow only individual-availability information to be shared. Thus, headquarters buy-in became possible, and the KM objective was met.
Assessed environment. The KM effort focuses on USARPAC. However, we recognize that for KM to be effective, knowledge-sharing must occur outside the organization as well as within. Our assessed environment includes higher headquarters and joint commands including Department of the Army, U.S. Pacific Command, Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces. We incorporated plans for interoperabiity and also came away with implementation ideas such as reuse of the Digital Dash�board portal frameworks, Digital Dashboard library, conference-room scheduling software and WMS.
Internally, the assessed environment reflects the fact that different functions have different knowledge needs. The charrettes were organized to ensure that KM requirements were gathered from individual knowledge workers across all the organization�s functional areas. The IM panel ensures those knowledge workers continue to be involved in KM�s evolution.
Modeling. We selected four of the key business processes the charrettes identified, then we developed models of the existing processes as well as proposed target processes. This enabled us to develop metrics and determine whether changing the target processes would produce the anticipated return on investment, develop and validate requirements for appropriate KM tools, and support Clinger-Cohen Act objectives.
USARPAC encourages our MSCs to use KM modules by ensuring our program continues to evolve with interoperability as a critical objective. We facilitate interoperability by selecting standards-based technologies. Extensible Markup Language is one software technology that shows promise as a means to seamlessly exchange information between different applications and databases. USARPAC envisions that files and objects such as Digital Dashboard modules will be ported between external communities of interest using this technology.
We�ll continue to foster the success of our KM program, evolving our KM strategy and objectives to meet our Army transformation requirements. Our long-term goals focus on extending effective knowledge-sharing with the joint community and maintaining awareness of KM programs both within and outside the command. As our KM program, organizational culture and technologies mature, we�ll continue to remain on point in the Pacific.
Ms. Christensen is a systems engineer with ISEC�s Infrastructure Systems Engineering Directorate at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. She and other members of ISEC�s KM group provide engineering support to USARPAC as it plans and implements its KM program.
Sadd is chief of the IT Plans and Programs Division, deputy chief of staff for
IM, 516th Signal Brigade, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. She and her staff are
spearheading the planning, beta testing and implementation of USARPAC�S KM
This article reprinted courtesy of Army AL&T magazine, January-February 2002 issue. The issue features AKM, with several articles on the subject besides the ones appearing in Army Communicator. Access the magazine via http://www.gordon.army.mil/ac/.
Back issues on-line | "Most requested" articles | Article search | Subscriptions | Writer's guide
Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.