COMMENTARY

Winkler: AKO is so much more than e-mail

Gary Winkler, founder of Cyber Solutions and Services, served more than eight years in the Senior Executive Service for the Army's CIO and acquisition organizations.

The Defense Department is faced with huge challenges in accomplishing critical missions in the new era of declining federal budgets. Unprecedented levels of efficiency must be achieved for organizations to effectively accomplish their missions in that fiscal environment.

In the 1990s, when the nation was focused on balancing the federal budget, knowledge management became a way to work smarter and do more with less, as the saying went. During that period, the Army began to weave knowledge management policies and practices into all operations, creating Army Knowledge Online in the late 1990s and creating a chief knowledge officer position, which I filled from 2003 to 2007. In 2005, the AKO program office created Defense Knowledge Online (DKO), which still serves hundreds of thousands of DOD users.

AKO has become the Army’s “secret sauce.” It provides powerful multiplier effects for nearly every major effort and system, stretching budgets, developing personnel and enhancing unit operations. For example, AKO provides identity, authentication and help-desk services for more than 1,000 applications. By providing those services centrally rather than requiring unique services for each application, the Army saves more than $500 million per year. That is a budget multiplier.

From a force-multiplier perspective, AKO provides real-time reachback across the globe. One example is foreign language translation services, in which documents captured from enemy combatants are uploaded into AKO, sent back to linguistic experts in the United States for immediate translation and then returned to tactical combat units for appropriate action. Scarce human resources are optimized without endangering more lives in combat zones.

As the Army seeks to reduce its military and civilian workforce by more than 30,000 people by 2015, AKO’s multiplier effect for personnel development will be critical. Through AKO’s capabilities to locate any person or specialist in the Army and capture and transfer that knowledge to other people and organizations, Army personnel will be able to accomplish their missions with reduced manpower support.

In the past year or two, AKO’s relevance has been questioned by some senior officials who think its main value lies in providing e-mail to every soldier, civilian, retiree and family member. But enterprise knowledge management — not enterprise e-mail — is the true value proposition of AKO.

However, because AKO’s e-mail capability was designed to scale to all of DOD and enhance knowledge management features within the Web portal, it cannot be ripped out to provide any savings. There is no equivalent to AKO, and there is no economical, timely way to replace it or its capabilities, including e-mail.

Keeping in mind that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are AKO/DKO’s most important customers, their use and feedback is proof of the real value of AKO. Almost 500,000 users log into AKO/DKO every workday, with as many as 200,000 daily log-ins on holidays and weekends. And our service members depend on it for much more than e-mail. AKO’s knowledge management mission is to securely connect those who know with those who need to know. It has woven many capabilities together to capture, store and transfer knowledge.

And let’s not forget AKO/DKO’s potential to serve other federal agencies. The Veterans Affairs Department is considering putting 1,000 users on AKO instead of building its own knowledge management solution.

The end result is a capability multiplier relative to budgets, people and organizations. Now more than ever, we need to capitalize on that investment. AKO/DKO is the Army’s — and potentially DOD’s — secret sauce.

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Reader comments

Tue, Oct 18, 2011

AKO is absolutely the most unfriendly interface I've ever experienced. Winkler defended AKO in a 2010 Army Times article. He obviously has his head up his AKO to think that. The Army should contract Goolge or someone similar to rebuild AKO into something that the everyday user is familiar with.

Sat, Aug 6, 2011

Maybe AKO is going away because of the way key problems get handled. For example, everyone knows the search does not work. So what does AKO do to correct the situation? They recently announce a 5 yr sole sourced extension to the search engine vendor.... I have an idea. Announce that contract to the users of AKO on the front page...let it run as the message of the day for a couple weeks. :-)

Wed, Jul 27, 2011 tericee Twitter

If AKO wants to continue being the DoD's (or the VA's) "secret sauce" it needs to try to keep up (at least a little) with technology and standards. On the plus side, AKO is included in DoD/IC Enterprise Search, which is good. But we need more. AKO needs to incorporate capabilties like RSS (AKO Reader would be useful), XML, etc.

Tue, Jul 5, 2011 Ed

The Army Developed a tri-service application for FMS. I'm in the Air Force. Rather than trying to build authentication into the application, they use DKO as the front-end to the package. It seems to work pretty well. Most login issues are handled at the DKO helpdesk, so the developers can spend their time developing with less worry.

Fri, Jul 1, 2011 Rick Herndon, VA

Talk about waste, fraud and abuse. Ripping out AKO is a system integrator's dream come true. But if we can afford $2B/week for Afghanistan, then surely a few billion for an antiquated communication system like email is OK.

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