INTERVIEW: Ronnie I. Gerstein, DISA's brainpower chief

IT is the pathway to knowledge


  • Family: Married with three daughters

  • Favorite music: Classical and jazz

  • Last movie seen: 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'

  • Last book read: John Adams by David McCullough

  • Leisure activities: Reading, traveling, antiquing

  • Ronnie. I. Gerstein

    Ronnie I. Gerstein spent 17 years as a civilian Army employee working to make IT accessible to people with disabilities. In December 2000, Gerstein left the Army to join the Defense Information Systems Agency as the chief of knowledge management.

    For the Army, Gerstein worked on Section 508 compliance and e-government projects. For eight years, she worked in several supervisory posts for the Army Directorate of Information Systems for Command, Control, Communications and Computers.

    As a participant in the Army Defense Leadership and Management Program, Gerstein spent a year in the International Programs Office of the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

    She has won awards from Government Computer News, the Chief Information Officers Council and the Army.

    Gerstein has a bachelor's degree in business and management from the University of Maryland and a master's degree from Bradford University in England. She also is a graduate of the Army War College.

    GCN staff writer Dawn S. Onley interviewed Gerstein by e-mail.

    GCN: How valuable is knowledge management to the Defense Information Systems Agency?

    GERSTEIN: It is one of the director's top priorities and has been embraced by DISA's senior management. They all recognize that knowledge management is absolutely vital to successfully achieving DISA's goals, particularly to better serving the customer.

    I am seeing a trickle-down effect to other employees on the importance of knowledge management. We have already made substantial progress in identifying functional requirements needed to conduct knowledge management. However, we recognize the need to implement these gradually to ensure that we have the proper requirements in place before we add to our knowledge base or implement the technology.

    GCN: Are there any performance measures set to assess the value of knowledge management within DISA?

    GERSTEIN: We are in the process of developing these. Some will be generic while others will be specifically applicable to a particular requirement.

    GCN: Can you define knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: DISA's definition is a collaborative and integrative approach to creating, sharing and using institutional information to achieve organizational goals.

    GCN: How will DISA use knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: Like other organizations, DISA has a wealth of data and information. Our goal is to turn the data and information into knowledge, which is easily accessible, shared, and reused by those who require it. Our vision is to transform DISA into a knowledge-enabled organization.

    GCN: How long have you worked at DISA, and what's your experience in knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: After 17 years as a civilian Army employee, I joined DISA one year ago as the chief of knowledge management. Since KM is so new, there are very few experts in this area. But my varied background in resource management, project management, manpower management, strategic planning, IT architecture, policy and CIO implementation has enabled me to better understand all the components required to be an effective chief of knowledge management.

    GCN: Is there added incentive to retain knowledge considering the high percentage of federal IT employees eligible for retirement within the next five years?

    GERSTEIN: We recognize the need for a program to help DISA retain its skilled IT workers. We will implement a rewards and incentives program this year.

    Right now it's just a concept. The incentives program could be additional money for employees or it could involve some special recognition such as a certificate. I see more and more people who just want to be thanked.

    GCN: How are knowledge management and knowledge sharing conducted at DISA?

    GERSTEIN: We have established a comprehensive process to identify knowledge requirements. Senior leaders of each unit determine what data is most critical in the performance of the organization's mission. That unit will also determine the appropriate access controls for sharing this data or information. Most data, information or knowledge will also undergo an approval process before being placed in the knowledge base.

    GCN: What are the components of knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: One component is process. As we analyze our processes and determine our knowledge requirements, we will assess gaps where knowledge is not available, risks when knowledge is not easily accessible and opportunities for sharing or reusing existing knowledge.

    The knowledge base will include authoritative source data determined by the unit it's coming from, for example, financial data from the chief financial executive. The content manager of the data must ensure that it is complete, accurate and timely.

    Another component is people. People have an inherent reluctance to share information, and knowledge management must help them share. Changing this culture is an element of KM itself, and the way to do it is to establish knowledge communities. We are already evaluating communities in the resource management and contracts areas.

    GCN: How has knowledge management been received at DISA?

    GERSTEIN: I am extremely fortunate because I have wonderful support from DISA's leadership for the knowledge management program, which has greatly facilitated the progress we are making. To train our employees and leaders in knowledge management, I have established a speaker's program, using government, educational and private-sector experts.

    GCN: What is IT's connection to knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: We are examining how to capture knowledge that is written as well as contained in people's heads or on their computers for sharing and reuse. All these components are important. IT acts as the enabler for these components.

    We fully recognize that IT is not the driver but the enabler for knowledge management. A portal and KM tools will obviously facilitate the knowledge initiatives, which comprise our knowledge base. Nonetheless, our KM requirements must be in place before we fully undertake the portal effort, although we have begun a technical assessment of the portal.

    The technology for knowledge management changes rapidly, so it's important that we look carefully at the technology to enable DISA's knowledge management program.

    GCN: What are DISA's knowledge management goals for this year?

    GERSTEIN: We want to continue to foster collaboration and sharing, to put into practice knowledge communities as an integral part of the DISA environment, and to develop, integrate and capitalize on the know-how of our human resources.

    We have developed a technical framework that ensures that security, accessibility, interoperability and scalability have been considered. We hope to have an enterprise architecture in place to help the agency meet its business goals, conduct consistent processes and maintain best practices in software reuse.

    As part of the KM identifications process, a requirements document was scheduled to be published last month. It will provide a summary of the information and knowledge needs of DISA and a framework that lays out key criteria to support decision-making.

    GCN: How many employees are assigned to knowledge management?

    GERSTEIN: Officially, we have a team of six in the Office of the Chief Transformation Executive. However, several others, for example in our Transformation Support Office, are also devoted to defining knowledge management requirements.

    DISA has a KM Council that has a representative from each organization in the National Capital Region'approximately 30 additional employees who have KM responsibilities. Maybe I'm being too idealistic, but if DISA is to be successful, at some point, every employee would be a member'or a contributor'of the DISA knowledge management community.

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