Feds aim to manage knowledge

Feds aim to manage knowledge

Positive reinforcement by managers encourages users' adoption of an unfamiliar culture


Know your audience. Keep up to date. And give your employees positive reinforcement.
Those are the keys to managing information on a Web portal, federal officials said at two recent conferences in Washington.

About half of all Army civilian employees will become eligible for retirement in the next two years, so it is important now to harvest their knowledge, Lt. Col. Roderick Wade, chief of the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) portal project, told the E-Gov Knowledge Management conference last month.

Knowledge management in the Army has a long history, Miriam F. Browning, the Army's director of information management, told a FOSE 2001 audience in March.

Lessons learned

Browning traced that history from the 1985 founding of the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., through the development of the Army Medical Command's Knowledge Net in the mid-1990s.

Today's state-of-the-art AKO portal [GCN, Jan. 8, Page 12] recently got the green light to scale up to 1.2 million users by the end of this year, Browning said.

AKO portal users now number 143,000, up from 48,000 a year ago, Wade said. The portal has three levels for security reasons: a public gateway at www.us.army.mil, the AKO portal on the Non-classified IP Router Network for sensitive but unclassified information, and AKO on the Secret IP Router Network for the highest security.

One Army center gave a digital camera to the employee who shared the most knowledge.
AKO at first combined public information with Army business content. The Army learned to 'know the audience and structure portal content accordingly,' Wade said. Now some content is moving from the public Web to AKO on the NIPRnet, which is becoming a portal to other private Army sites.

Browning praised the knowledge center run by the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications Systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J. The Army, however, has its own version of the digital divide, she said.

During working hours, soldiers abroad still use sneakernet or other less advanced systems to do their work. At night, they log on to the commercial Internet to send e-mail to their families. Closing the gap might improve work force retention of young workers who expect up-to-date technology. 'It's not a nice-to-have,' Wade said. 'It's really an expectation. Make no bones about it, knowledge management does increase capabilities.'

Other FOSE panelists agreed that positive reinforcement goes a long way in encouraging employees to support knowledge management projects.

Keys to success

Organizations succeed when they encourage and support communities of practice, said Jeanne Holm, NASA's program manager for knowledge management.

They find a balance between long-term organizational needs, such as capturing knowledge, and short-term local needs such as completing a task quickly, said Holm, who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The most critical factor in starting a knowledge management program is fostering cultural acceptance, she said.

The conflict between hoarding and sharing knowledge is tough for managers to resolve, Holm said, because they must deal directly with such issues as data ownership.

Holm advised managers to recognize the people in their organizations who are good at sharing knowledge. She suggested giving awards for mentor of the year, most innovative patent and the like.

Browning said one Army center gave a digital camera to the employee who shared the most knowledge.

Holm offered would-be knowledge managers the slogan 'Enlist, encourage and empower.' People will resist knowledge management if it means extra work for them, so managers should build it into job descriptions.

Paul T. Smith, deputy chief information officer for enterprise transition at the Naval Sea Systems Command, said the command has succeeded in organizing online communities of practice around acquisition reform, public and congressional affairs, and human resources.


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