This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.
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Few enterprises have made such a clear commitment to business intelligence and knowledge management as the United States Army. Having initiated its move toward transformation several years back, the Army decided it needed to underpin this move with a knowledge management strategy, which it launched in August 2001.
First of all, why transform the Army? It has become very clear that to win future wars an army must have knowledge superiority over the enemy’s army. The U.S. Army has expressed this as the need to have “decision dominance” and it has been at the center of their thinking since the turn of the century – the 21st century, of course.
A few years back, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, broached the subject of transformation to a military audience. He stated that: “The two truly transforming things, conceivably, might be in information technology and information operation, networking and connecting things in ways that they function totally differently than they had previously. And if that is possible…the single most transforming thing in our system will not be a weapons system, but a set of interconnections and a substantially enhanced capability because of that awareness.” The value of the statement comes from the following angles: 1) Rumsfeld ties transformation -- a really major focus for the armed forces, to IT; 2) He identifies that to the generals the only thing worth spending money on are "things that go boom," meaning weapons systems. This statement puts them on notice that they will have to focus on IT and spend money on it in order to transform the United States Army into the fighting force of the future.
Some of these thoughts are interwoven into Army Knowledge Management (AKM), the Army strategy to transform itself into a network-centric, knowledge-based force. It is considered a central part of the Army Transformation. As the Army states it, “AKM is intended to improve decision dominance by our war fighters and business stewards—in the battle space, in our organizations, and in our mission practices.”
AKM was launched from the very top. The first guidance memo communicating its existence was issued August 8, 2001 and signed by then Secretary of the Army John White and then Chief of Staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki. To date, there have been four AKM guidance memos issued altogether.
AKM is summarized in five straightforward goals: 1) Adopt governance and cultural changes to become a knowledge-based organization; 2) Integrate knowledge management concepts and best business practices into Army processes to improve performance; 3) Manage the “infostructure” as an enterprise to enhance capabilities and efficiencies; 4) Scale Army Knowledge Online as the Enterprise Portal to provide universal, secure access for the entire Army; and 5) Harness human capital for the knowledge organization.
Each goal has a series of specific objectives that further define it. The first goal focuses on the fact that no enterprise can truly transform itself without addressing its basic operations and corporate culture. The second goal addresses the need to embed knowledge management into its processes. Goal number three addresses the requirement to manage what the Army calls its “infostructure” -- hardware, software, networks, etc. – holistically and not as stovepipes. Goal number four talks to Army Knowledge Online (AKO), the Army’s ambitious enterprise portal. Lastly, the fifth goal targets the people, getting the message out and making the Army a true learning organization.
AKO deserves more than a passing mention. It is already a powerful tool that is revolutionizing the Army. It aims to be the single portal, or gateway, through which all Army business will be conducted, both in peacetime as well as on the battlefield. When conceptualized, gurus inside and outside the Army snickered. However, after many months of actual use in both Afghanistan and Iraq, many skeptics have now become believers. AKO seems to have served the war fighters well and will continue to expand and grow in direct proportion to its value to the Army.
Another important point to remember is that the Army doesn’t fight wars all by itself. The Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard are all key participants in our war efforts. They have all been proud warriors in just about every conflict in which the nation has been engaged. Furthermore, we as a country very seldom fight alone. Our allies -- the countries with whom we have formed coalitions to go to war -- are in these campaigns side by side with our men and women. Hence any transformation of the way we fight is going to have to be ultimately launched at a level where the enterprise is broader that just the U.S. Army. This will clearly raise some very interesting issues with respect to systems security, sharing of doctrine, etc.
There are many challenges still ahead for the Army as it moves to transform itself into an organization aiming to bring knowledge superiority to the battlefield. But it has moved smartly into the future through its launching of AKM and its recognition of the importance of knowledge management to its success.
Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.
Dr. Barquin is a member of the E-Gov (Electronic Government) Advisory Board, and chair of its knowledge management conference series; member of the Digital Government Institute Advisory Board; and has been the Program Chair for E-Government and Knowledge Management programs at the Brookings Institution. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. Dr. Barquin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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