On the Web, think like a publisher, not an author

Last year's favorite statement we loved to hate was, "Did you get my e-mail?" This year we've already learned to cringe when we hear, "It's on the Web page."

These have become the latest dirty words in our Information Age. Not because "It's on the Web page" might not be a true statement but because this statement does not solve our problem. Sure it's on the World Wide Web page, but so is everything else. Imagine if a librarian replied with something like, "It's on the shelf," when asked where a particular book might be located. How many more times would you visit that library?

A Web page is similar to other forms of published communication. The difference is that the Web offers a unique opportunity for all users to look at the same "book" without regard to distance or time. The challenge is presenting the information in such a way that users can not only find your book but also the exact page that contains the information they need.

This requires a change in the way we use our information technology and the way we think of information flow. For example, when producing an information product, we not only must consider how we might personally benefit from this source, or how me might mail it to another member of our unit, we also must consider how to design and post the information on the network for use by the whole organization. This is more a function of publishing than it is authoring. This function of organizing and promoting data for and to the organization is a part of knowledge management.

Effective knowledge management requires us to look outward to those we can influence by our information rather than inward at how we might personally use the data.

A way to describe this change in the cultural landscape goes back to "Did you get my e-mail?" The problem is that yes, it probably was received, but it's probably still sitting unanswered near the bottom of the inbox in a long list of other e-mail messages.

We should not just mail information to a few people; instead, we should publish and post the information for use by the entire organization.

At Pacific Fleet Headquarters, we developed an information portal on our intranet called the Knowledge Homeport. The purpose of the site is to provide our staff and others outside the command with the information they need in a timely and logical manner. Pacific Fleet's former home page was divided into directorate sites (for example, N1, N2, N3, N4, etc.). This worked fine as long as users knew that travel forms were the responsibility of N1 or that ship schedules belonged to N3.

Today's Knowledge Homeport offers a better way to organize and display information. It is partitioned into functional areas such as schedules, operational issues, command intentions, news and staff support. It contains common forms and templates, allows for entering data only once and gathers into one spot links to all our organizational data structures.

Cultural change does not come easily, but some lessons we have learned include:

* Market the "grand opening" of your new information product through the medium your audience is most likely to visit. You could use internal publications, message boards, staff meetings or even the Web or e-mail, but remember, some people already get too much electronic information. A multifaceted approach is probably best.

* Remind your audiences about improvements to your product.

* Advertise and "point to" your information, via channels or links, in the places where the customer is most likely to look.

* Feedback from your audience is crucial. You have to understand the group to which you are relating. Our Knowledge Homeport includes owners for every page, and we allow a means for the viewer to provide feedback to that owner.

* Nothing can replace a good reputation for supplying credible information that is up to date and easy to find. You must take responsibility for ensuring that your information is timely and accurate.

One of my favorite quotes is, "Knowledge is power only when it is shared." This philosophy of sharing, publishing and advertising is helping us change the way we relate; it's changing the way we work.Convincing those in an organization to make this cultural change is absolutely essential to meeting the challenges that we face in the Network Age. n

-- Munns is the chief financial officer and chief information officer for the commander in chief of the Navy's Pacific Fleet.

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