Social media is now mission media

Don’t call it social networking. It’s knowledge management, and it is emerging as an essential mission-enabling tool for the Defense Department

Situational awareness is the glue that holds together a team in combat operations, and one technology is emerging as a tool for the warfighter: social media.

But this isn’t Facebook for the military. The new breed of information sharing that arises from the Web 2.0 movement is characterized as “knowledge management,” and its abilities to link important but disparate data, personnel and problem-solving skills are helping change how the military carries out its missions.

“Knowledge management is not a fad, it’s a discipline, but the Defense Department doesn’t necessarily realize it because it [knowledge management] doesn’t look like a traditional discipline,” said Len Blasiol, director, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integration Division at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va. Blasiol and other industry personnel and experts spoke May 3 at the Knowledge Management 2010 conference in Washington sponsored by the 1105 Government Information Group, the parent company of Federal Computer Week. 

Meanwhile, as the younger workforce raised in the age of the Internet ascends the ranks, knowledge management and its digitally driven ethos are becoming more the rule than the exception. The result is a DOD that is becoming inextricably wired from top to bottom, commander to recruit.

“We’re moving more toward a learner-centric environment,” said Tom Light, chief information officer and delivery division chief at the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command. Light described it as “blended learning,” a movement that is distributed, collaborative, institutional and with functional training. And it’s building what Light termed the “knowledge-enabled warrior."

“We’re growing the joint warfighter,” he said.

However, the metamorphosis of military doctrine won’t happen overnight. Bill Robinson, chief knowledge officer at the Joint Forces Command, warned that DOD traditionally has had an overemphasis on new systems.

“DOD has always been a driver of high technology, but knowledge management is more about better use of existing technologies. It’s about people and learning.”

Also, cultural differences also pose a challenge to an all-digital DOD. “Bureaucracy doesn’t understand sharing. It’s used to a hierarchy,” Robinson said.

Social media has created a landscape of ways to connect, spread thoughts and ideas and move data, and the bottom line is, “Keep it mission-related,” said Joe Boutte, strategic adviser at TASC.

“Social tools are mission tools. These tools need to connect people and be transparent and intuitive. They link knowledge management and situational awareness,” Boutte said. “And knowledge is the most important element of production in government.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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