by Patrick Swan
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service) � A �random thought while running� has led to more than 800,000 soldiers and Army civilians getting �www.us.army.mil� portable email accounts and access to a host of Army web-based information.
That random thought belonged to now-retired GEN Dennis Reimer, who explained the details of his inspiration during a Jan. 28 visit to the G-6 Chief Technology Office at Fort Belvoir, Va. � home of Army Knowledge On-line.
As the Army�s chief of staff from 1995 to 1999, Reimer wanted an informal and timely way to convey his intent to the Army�s strategic leadership. He explained to the CTO staff how he found the solution through email. This then-emerging technology allowed him to educate and mentor the Army�s general-officer corps with minimal fanfare.
�What we needed was something to supplement the regular information channels during this period of enormous and fast-paced change,� Reimer said. �Initially, it was one-way communication, from me to the field. We knew this system had the potential to grow to be a virtual think-tank. But first we had to get our people comfortable with the fundamentals � we literally had to change the culture. I was fortunate there were some real experts available to work out the tough issues, and my part was relatively easy.�
Reimer forced that comfort level by sending his newly titled �Random Thoughts while Running� to general officers only through email. To keep informed, the 300-plus general officers first had to become comfortable using Army-issued laptop computers.
Later, when addressing precommand classes at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Reimer encouraged students to submit questions on their critique sheets that contained their return email address. The former chief said he sent back personal, emailed responses in just a few days.
From basic email mastery, Reimer then pursued the use of online-chat sessions on specific relevant issues with the new brigadier-general selectees. He noted that email input from the general-officer corps even convinced him to modify his position on the Army�s new officer-evaluation report, first implemented in October 1997.
�Emerging technologies need champions,� Reimer said. �This cannot be a one-shot deal. The younger officers are comfortable with this technology, but some of the older officers needed a little push to get on board.�
In 1999, the Army established the Army Portal, also known as Army Knowledge On-line, as a one-stop-shopping site for Army information. Building on Reimer�s work, in August 2001 his successor, GEN Eric Shinseki, and Army Secretary Thomas White mandated all Army (active, Guard, Reserve and Department of the Army civilians) personnel to obtain unique email accounts through the portal�s address: �www.us.army.mil.� These accounts stay the same no matter where soldiers and civilians are stationed worldwide.
The AKO portal is a central part of the overall strategy to transform the Army into a �network-centric, knowledge-based force� through something called �Army Knowledge Management.� AKO customers use the portal for a broad range of both business and tactical processes and services, including those in the personnel, logistics, acquisition and e-learning areas.
�AKO provides a series of useful tools for the Army�s knowledge-management tool set,� said COL Robert Coxe, the G-6 chief technology officer.
Today, the AKO �tool set� is recognized among the military services � and around the world � in applying KM concepts and technologies to the enterprise level of the Army. InfoWorld recognized the AKO portal as 10th in the nation (out of 100 organizations) in November 2001 for its innovative performance in using cutting-edge technologies to improve mission performance. And in December 2001, CIO Magazine selected AKO as one of the top 50 websites based on ��usefulness, ease of navigation, business value, survival prospects, design and credible content.�
None of this seems surprising to Reimer, whom the CTO staff briefed on the progress of his �random thought while running� concept.
�The pace is only limited by imagination and how fast the whole Army becomes comfortable doing business this way,� Reimer said. �Our movement toward enhanced situation awareness on the battlefield, which relied so heavily on information technology, convinced me we had to implement this system during day-to-day operations so that the transition from peace to war became as seamless as possible. I knew that once our leaders started using it, they would find ways to take it far beyond anything I could imagine. And that�s exactly what the CTO has done.�
Mr. Swan is a public-affairs liaison officer with the Army�s chief information officer/G-6.
See also: Army Knowledge On-line brief in "Circuit check" and LTG Peter Cuviello's symposium speech.
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