General: Challenge is culture, not tech

Changing data into wisdom and then taking action is the greatest challenge facing the nation's homeland security efforts and the Army's ongoing transformation, said Gen. Paul Kern, commander of Army Materiel Command.

"The one thing I don't worry about is the technology," Kern said during his June 11 opening address at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association' TechNet International 2002 in Washington, D.C. "What I'm worried about is culture and changing the way we behave to use the information you're producing."

Kern said the armed forces must move along a rapid continuum to make the greatest use of information technology — one that goes from data collection to usable information to knowledge to wisdom and finally to taking action. He added that conversing in a language that enables that process to happen is "the root of that success."

"It's about creating an atmosphere where [people] want to exchange information and take action...and accomplish something," but that's not easy to do in Washington, D.C., where the people that hold the information also have the power, he said.

Ronald Richard, a member of the business advisory board and former chief operating officer at In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm, agreed and said, "Technology is very valuable tool for us, but only a tool."

"No technology is going to get soldiers to take a hill when bullets are whizzing by their heads...and no technology is a substitute for the gut [feeling] of CIA agents," Richard said, adding that those things can only be accomplished through leadership and having the best and brightest people doing those jobs.

Kern told Federal Computer Week that the Army has learned some valuable lessons from last year's terrorist attacks that could help the recently announced Homeland Security Department achieve its goals. As an example, the commander at the Army's Rock Island, Ill., facility has his staff meet with local law enforcement and the attorney general's office to exchange information without violating any laws or individual privacy.

That same strategy can and should be used by the FBI and other agencies in "opening up new avenues of communication" and realizing President Bush's message in establishing the new department, Kern said.

"Without violating the rights of American citizens, [agencies] can still exchange information much more effectively," he said. "The Army will be able to help with lessons learned in the IT world, but also in the more mundane cultural process issues to get people to work with one another."

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