Air Force applies knowledge

Air Force Information Strategy

The Air Force has progressed in making data available worldwide via ground- and air-based systems. However, the critical task of managing information and getting it to the people who need it as quickly and securely as possible is proving to be more difficult.

"Knowledge management is one of the most significant challenges we face," said John Gilligan, Air Force chief information officer. "Air Force knowledge is managed in pockets, and we have not yet figured out how to grow it beyond the pockets" and apply it in areas such as warfighting capabilities.

As an example, Gilligan said the Air Force has put battlefield reports from Afghanistan online, but those reports lack video clips and other multimedia features. They also lack a searchable format that would make them more useful to the service's worldwide audience.

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., said that to overcome the knowledge management challenge, the Air Force must first understand the needs of its various "communities of interest."

"Knowledge management is more than just a technology issue.... It's not just pipes and systems, it's a question of understanding the user community," Suss said. "There are tremendous costs associated with capturing information...and too often our industry uses one-size-fits-all grand system solutions, and these don't work for knowledge management."

The Air Force must tailor the solution to the community requesting the "different information in different formats at different times to address different requirements," but that places an enormous burden on the people gathering and managing the data and can lead to information becoming outdated, Suss said. "That moves data away from the people who need to be using it."

The Air Force must first get a handle on the various users requesting information, and then it becomes a matter of "making pretty complicated trade-offs...and finding the appropriate levels of investment dedicated" to each area, he said.

Top-level support is essential, said French Caldwell, vice president and research director at Gartner Inc. The Air Force's top-level officials should ensure that the service's main mission of being "able to put ordnance on a target anywhere in the world within 48 hours of a national command decision" is integrated into each command's knowledge management initiatives.

"The Air Force [leaders] must ask, 'What are the various steps, and what do I need to know at each step?' " Caldwell said. "Then, they must [identify] the supporting organizations that supply that information and decide what they need from each organization."

As long as the service's top-level mission serves as the "guiding view" for the various commands' knowledge management initiatives, the Air Force will reap the benefits, he said.

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