Army retools knowledge culture
- By Brian Robinson
- Sep 05, 2008
The Army is trying to broaden its knowledge management capabilities to embrace the network-centric, joint forces operations that promise to define the battle operations of the future.
To that end, Army officials recently approved a list of basic guiding principles for the discipline.
The Army published its first official memo on knowledge management in 2001, with an emphasis on the information technology demands of knowledge management. The new one, issued in August, is the start of an effort to shift the Army’s knowledge management culture.
The culture has historically protected information closely and released it on a must-know basis. Now, Army managers need to learn to see broad information sharing as a natural military skill.
“It’s all about increasing collaboration, and that has huge implications for warfighters,” said Bob Neilson, knowledge management adviser to the Army’s chief information officer. “It’s about not only sharing information but having the responsibility to provide knowledge across the enterprise.”
The creation of a collaborative culture is embedded throughout the list of 12 principles and was the major rationale for the expanded approach to knowledge management that Army Secretary Pete Geren and Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey offered in a memo they sent in July introducing the principles.
They firmly embrace an Army enterprise perspective, they wrote, and “will create an Army where good ideas are valued regardless of the source, the existing knowledge base is accessible without technological or structural barriers, and knowledge sharing is recognized and rewarded.”
This change in focus has been a long time in coming, said Jane Maliszewski, president and chief executive officer of ISKA. A former Army officer, she was one of the authors of the 2001 memo.
Although the emphasis in the past seven years has been on the network and the IT elements of the knowledge management equation, she said, Army leaders have increasingly realized that knowledge management is about what’s on the network, not the network itself.
With the publication of the principles, she said, “there’s now an obligation to share the information you have.”
The guidelines are included as part of three defining dimensions: people and culture, process, and technology. The principle that calls for the establishment of a doctrine of collaboration comes under people and culture, for example. The technology dimension includes things such as using standardized toolsets and open architectures.
Each principle also includes a rationale and an analysis of the implications of implementing them.
They are an amalgam of the best ideas from recent knowledge management research and academia and best practices in the field from both government and industry, Neilson said. The Army intentionally kept the guidelines general to provide the kind of lasting framework for ongoing programs in knowledge management that more specific plans cannot.
“Planning horizons are nasty, brutish and short,” Neilson said. “The lifetime of a strategic plan is maybe six months or less, which is why we need enduring principles.”
The guidelines will bring a needed focus to the Army’s knowledge management efforts, said Kevin Desouza, an assistant professor at the University of Washington and director of its Institute for Innovation in Information Management. The Army has had practices that contained elements of knowledge management, such as after-action reviews, but they have not been integrated into a cohesive whole.
“Having these principles clearly outlined and the rationale for each one document brought that element of focus,” he said. “Moreover, in the Army, like most other branches [of the government], having things in writing and clearly publishing them gives them more credibility.& dquo;
The Army has been involved with knowledge management for some time. Desouza placed it in the top 5 percent of all government organizations for its expertise and in the top 15 percent across government and the private sector.
The Army can also mandate practices and behaviors, which is difficult to do in the private sector, he said.
The principles alone will not change much. There is value in Geren and Casey signing the documents because people know how hard it is to get things through their offices, Maliszewski said.
“But the only way to really change things is through increased budgets, changes in operations and new acquisition programs,” she said. “Are people really promoting collaboration or preventing knowledge loss? I’d like to see a review process put in place that shows, before decisions are made on acquisitions, that programs actually line up with the principles.”
The Army also needs to produce strategies and policies for implementing the principles and soon, she said, “Otherwise they’ll just be something else to hang on the wall.”
Desouza proposed a four-step process to put the guidelines to use:
- Outline clear processes and technologies to achieve them.
- Create a management model to guide how these processes and technologies will be implemented.
- Produce evaluation criteria to gauge performance.
- Educate Army personnel on all of this.
“Currently, these principles are just that,” he said. “They have yet to make a distinct mark in transforming the way the Army achieves its missions, collaborates with its partners, or operates its internal processes.”
The Army is already moving forward. For example, the Army Training and Doctrine Command has taken on the enhanced principles for use at its headquarters, Neilson said, and that will affect all of the Army schoolhouses and intelligence sectors.
With end-of-year funds available for some actions, Neilson said his group is working with the Army War College to develop curricula to teach the value of knowledge management to students there.
There is also the notion that in some units, knowledge management could be more than additional duty for technical personnel, he said. That might even include, at some point, having knowledge management officers assigned to the field.
That speaks directly to the second of the 12 principles, which includes rewarding people for choosing knowledge management as a career.
A strategy document that outlines more complete details for implementing the principles should be coming soon, Neilson said. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army’s CIO, has asked his team to come up with that strategy, which will include tasking certain parts of the Army to determine the best ways of complying with the various guidelines.
An internal draft of the document should be ready by the beginning of October, Neilson said. The formal publication is expected no later than January 2009, and probably sooner.