Knowledge Management Initiatives Gain Foothold in Government
Knowledge Management Initiatives Gain Foothold in Government
by Trish Williams
Knowledge management initiatives are on the upswing as managers at all government levels face mounting pressure to work smarter and faster while wrestling with the demands of electronic government and a shrinking work force.
Practices put in place when agencies had more workers and fewer and far-less-demanding constituents do not cut it in today's fast-paced environment, where nearly every worker has access to rapid-fire e-mail and the work force is more transient, government and industry experts said.
Today, 'there is no place to hide. People must respond more quickly, and the expectations are way up,' said Bill Smithson, manager for technology services at Materials, Communication and Computers Inc. (MATCOM), an information technology, engineering and technical solutions company in Alexandria, Va., that serves government clients worldwide.
Enter knowledge management. These techniques and technologies can help federal, state and local agencies examine their programs and improve their services to citizens. Knowledge initiatives have enabled agencies to respond faster to changes that are taking place within the government and to leverage innovations across organizations at a faster clip.
'We're all awash in information, we're all awash in data, but it's hard to figure out what part of that is useful,' Smithson said.
The computer has made it possible to have information displayed and printed ad nauseam. But Smithson said all organizations should ask themselves if they have defined their needs and refined the information required to support their business decisions.
Projections for worldwide spending by the private and public sectors on knowledge management services by 2004 range from $5 billion to $12 billion, depending on which market research group's estimate you use, said French Caldwell, research director for knowledge management at GartnerGroup Inc., Stamford, Conn. 'That is a pretty big umbrella that can include outsourcing, hardware and software,' he said.
One of the biggest drivers in the knowledge management movement is the whole issue of e-government, Caldwell said. Some countries and governments actually set deadlines for launching a host of online initiatives, only to see schedules slip as agency officials grappled with complex information sharing and collaboration issues.
The U.S. State Department is looking at ways it can make its country teams work more effectively at two of the nation's larger embassies, Caldwell said. Plans call for knowledge management initiatives to get under way soon at the embassies of India and Mexico.
'The whole issue of interoperability is one of the big drivers here,' Caldwell said. Officials from the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Commerce and State are represented on country teams that have a lot of different interests, and they have not been working with one voice very effectively, he said.
Knowledge management is one tool they can use to try to provide a single voice for the officials on these country teams.
In the state and local marketplace, knowledge management is gaining a foothold in specific public policy concerns, said Tom Davies, senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc., a market intelligence company in Sterling, Va. There have been a number of initiatives at the state level
involving large medical assistance programs, such as Medicaid, that would provide public officials with more insight into how to improve their services, he said.
'They are just now beginning to build knowledge bases that help them get a better understanding of things, such as who are the recipients of those services, who are the providers, and where is there room for improvement and cost control,' Davies said.
Davies said he expects to see significant investment in education driven by a nationwide push among school systems to learn about best practices that can lead to improved test results.
There also is interesting work being done with criminal investigation knowledge bases that allow law enforcement officials to conduct pattern analyses in high crime areas, he said.
'People are realizing there is a tremendous need to consolidate their knowledge assets: how their internal operations work and how that dovetails with their constituent bases,' said Ben Plummer, vice president of marketing at Cognos Inc., Ottawa.
'They know there is a tremendous amount of information they have been storing. What they are struggling with is how they can put this data into context so that they can do their jobs better,' said Plummer, whose company specializes in business intelligence tools.
Plummer said he sees tremendous interest on the part of both federal and state and local government agencies in knowledge management initiatives. 'Today, there are so many more demands at the municipal levels to show results,' he said.
In the federal sector, there is a strong push for measurements of results. 'It's not being driven at a constituent level so much as at the operational level,' he said.
In the years ahead, Plummer expects that federal, state and local government agencies will recognize the need to focus on both the operational and constituent aspects of the paradigm.
Cognos is doing work with civilian agencies in the areas of transportation and education. Also, company officials are 'consistently seeing large projects' being undertaken by the Defense Department, he said.
For Smithson, knowledge management means trying to extract the most useful information that you can act on to provide some good to your organization. His experience with knowledge management extends from programs with the Agriculture Department and the Thrift Investment Board to the Defense Logistics Agency.
MATCOM's work for the DLA earned the company a Hammer Award in 1998 from then-Vice President Al Gore. The award recognizes federal employees whose projects help government work better and reduce cost.
The decision support element of the DLA project, known as the conveyance control module, enables personnel at the defense agency to efficiently manage the supplies of the armed forces with reliable and flexible access to critical data.
Key decisions ' such as routing items on truck shipments, determining which shipments should be handled first, what loading docks to use and the scheduling to coincide with available manpower ' can be made efficiently thanks to knowledge management software.
The Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency also relies heavily on knowledge management, Smithson said. Its system enables agency employees to gather and analyze vast amounts of information from disparate sources.
Among other things, such information is used with geographic information systems to settle crop insurance claims. Insurance rates are also determined using the software, based on analysis and identification of areas most prone to natural disasters and crop failure.
'They were working off a paper-based system that generated 23 million pages of paper every year. One half of their floor [of a three-floor building] was dedicated to keeping this paper,' Smithson said.
The company's work for the Risk Management Agency is an ongoing effort for an expanding business base as the agency insures more and more crops and moves into other areas, Smithson said. Among the new areas are insuring clam beds and possibly moving into forestry and insuring private timber stands, he said.
Founded in 1983, MATCOM posted annual revenue of $60 million last year and is a graduate of the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program.
Acuent Inc. of Parsippany, N.J., is another company that has worked closely with the Army Strategic and Advanced Computing Center on several knowledge management projects. Acuent has provided support for Army Knowledge Online, including prototyping of Web applications to help maintain the Army's first intranet portal. The portal provides all members of the Army, including the Guard and Reserve, civilians and retirees, access to information and services. Users can find and retrieve Army forms and regulations, facts about installations, change-of-station information and news.
'We're on the brink of providing the Army enterprise services, a directory that the entire service can point to and use for the authentication of users, thus relieving the Army of responsibility for maintaining all that information,' said Dave Hale, chief engineer for Acuent.
There are 120,000 users of the online system, up from 60,000 users just six months ago, and that is without any advertising, said Col. Robert Coxe, director of the Army Strategic and Advanced Computing Center. Plans call for some 450,000 users to be added by June, and the number could swell to 1.2 million users if other groups decide to use the portal to serve their functional requirements, Coxe said.
Hale said that earlier plans called for approximately 1.2 million to 1.5 million users by 2005, 'so we are well ahead of that projection.'
'This was one of those build it and they will come [projects]. Well, we built it, and they came, and they're still coming,' said Coxe.
Other key contractors for the site and their areas of responsibility include TRW Inc. of Cleveland on software development; Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, on directory structure; and Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego on database work.
Similar efforts are being developed by the other services, which 'all came about this differently,' Coxe said. The Navy used a seat management approach, and the Air Force is looking at consolidation at the major command level.
Stephen Cranford, president and chief executive officer of KSolutions Inc., a fledgling knowledge management solution company in Annapolis, Md., offers another perspective on the state of knowledge management in the public sector.
Cranford, who has more than 20 years experience in data warehousing, business intelligence and knowledge management, is betting that industry and government leaders must become knowledge-based organizations to succeed in the future.
Although just four months old, the company has three Fortune 300 clients, including Ingram Micro Corp., Santa Ana, Calif., as well as strategic partnerships with MicroStrategy Inc., Vienna, Va., and software giant Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.
Also, KSolutions just nabbed its first public-sector contract with a Western state government that Cranford would not identify. 'We haven't started the project, but what we're doing is a program management office solution, which seems to be semi-popular on the state and local scene,' he said.
Launched in September 2000 but not publicized until November, Cranford's full-service, knowledge management consulting and solutions company intends to become 'the recognized leader in this space,' he said.
'A federal request for proposals will say, 'Name the last five places your company did business before.' So our best ability to penetrate that market is through partnerships and subcontracting,' Cranford said.
The company's partnerships focus on the public-sector marketplace and 'use tools that, when combined and focused, become our knowledge management solutions,' he said.
Cranford predicts rapid growth for the company, which has offices in Annapolis, Boston, Dallas and Flagstaff, Ariz., and received $50 million in venture capital from Boston-based Great Hill Partners. He hopes to have 450 employees by September and wants to close the year 'with bookings of $40 million or more,' he said.
Cranford, who previously served as senior vice president and partner-in-charge of KPMG International's knowledge management practice, said he 'was seeing enormous market opportunity that was in the embryonic stages. There are not a lot of companies that understand the complex problems and only a few that are really dedicated and focused on this market.'
He estimated there is a multibillion dollar market for knowledge management expertise, and 'that is just U.S. government, and really just federal business.'
Among the trends driving federal agencies to embrace knowledge management is the attrition, or the 'brain-drain' issue. If you look at some projections, by 2004 'you find that more than 50 percent of the work force is eligible for retirement,' Cranford said.
'That is a huge movement of people out of the work force. And that says managers must examine how organizations or agencies design and develop programs that will retain the majority of their intellectual capital,' he said.