Navy portal fills training gap

Navy Knowledge Online

The Navy's online portal has set sail. All active-duty, retired and reserve sailors, and Marines seeking a place to learn, share ideas and collaborate have a place to go, Navy officials announced earlier this month: The Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) portal.

Unlike the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) portal, which is used as a one-stop shop for multiple applications and services, the Navy is tailoring its portal to focus on education, distance learning and collaboration.

The Navy's portal is designed to give sailors access to the service's knowledge base of training information, including instructional materials, fleet best practices, and subject-matter expertise for specific Navy ratings and leadership roles.

Sailors have access to personalized career road maps on the portal home page, as well as instant messaging, chat rooms and discussion boards that enable them to interact with peers and experts. Tabs across the top of the home page link users to information on personal finance, education and other areas.

NKO will give sailors access to "what is most important to them — the information required to excel, both professionally and personally," said Rear Adm. Kevin Moran, commander of the Naval Personnel Development Command in Norfolk, Va. "It is going to allow sailors to take maximum advantage of the tools and opportunities available to them, no matter where they are stationed or deployed."

Users can access thousands of files that can include Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint presentations used by instructors in classrooms, best practices from subject-matter experts such as those from the Naval Sea Systems Command, learning tools under development and the latest in 3-D modeling.

"NKO will never be what AKO is," said Lt. Eric Morris, the Naval Personnel Development Command knowledge management program manager. "That is the purview of Task Force Web. NKO is designed to be a training portal to create a more operational Navy at a lower cost."

Task Force Web is the Navy's effort to move applications online. The functions that AKO supports but NKO does not will be served by Task Force Web.

The Navy followed the Army's lead when it selected Appian Corp., a Vienna, Va.-based company, to build the portal. Appian built AKO in 1998 to provide an online collaboration tool now used by more than 1.2 million people.

The Navy awarded Appian its portal contract in August 2002. Now fully deployed, NKO can support all 350,000 Navy personnel.

A key component that allows distance learning is the instant messaging function on the Navy portal, provided by Washington, D.C.-based Bantu Inc. "The IM tool is very powerful when used as a collaboration device, or even a research tool," said Larry Schlang, Bantu's president and chief executive officer.

The IM function can search documents for individuals' names and can determine if the person named is currently logged onto the system.

"If you're reading a paper on a specific subject and the paper mentions someone as an expert, the system will indicate if that person is online [on the NKO or AKO system] at the moment," Schlang said. "You can begin an IM chat with the person right away."

Morris called instant messaging "critical to NKO's success."

"The real-time knowledge transfer it enables will help us revolutionize the way we train and empower sailors," he said.

However, a primary feature of AKO that will be missing from the Navy's version is e-mail. The Navy, according to Myles Weber, Appian's program manager for NKO, wants sailors to use its portal as a "single point to get data on training history and qualifications for advancement of their careers."

"We have taken the AKO and replicated all of the good things it contains," Weber said. "The Navy is planning on using the NKO as a series of learning centers for its revolution in training."


Looking ahead

Officials have big plans for the Navy Knowledge Online portal.

In three months:

* Complete the portal design for ship-based users. Learning tools and discussion groups will be limited until the ship reaches port and Internet connectivity can be re-established.

* Analyze baseline metrics. Who is using the system and for what? What discussions and documents are used most?

* Begin publishing "blended" learning tools from the Naval Personnel Development Command centers that combine multiple sources and use learning sessions, chat rooms, message boards, archiving, etc.

In six months:

* Have blended learning solutions in widespread use.

* Create content compatible with end-user hardware.

* Begin bandwidth mitigation. The Navy will eventually tweak bandwidth availability to relieve bottlenecks in the pipeline, but this may not happen in six months.

In nine months:

* Connect sailors with services inside and outside the Navy through searchable portal content.

* Offer a portal that is indispensable to a day in the life of a sailor.


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