Feast or Famine
“In the digital age, knowledge is our lifeblood. And documents are the DNA of knowledge.”
-–Rick Thoman, CEO, Xerox
In recognizing the way that the operational Army approaches knowledge management one must acknowledge that where you are at in Army Forces Generation (ARFORGEN) will drive your activities and focus at any given time. When you begin a life-cycle, usually at the conclusion of a operation or deployment as of late, knowledge workers are traditionally gathering observations and best practices, archiving and cataloging good ideas and what worked best, and improving on the processes that did not quite work so well. It is then when equipment (and people) are “reset,” new soldiers come while old soldiers go, and new and overhauled equipment is issued.
During the Ready phase is when the knowledge worker is sharpening their axe and helping the unit to prepare. New equipment is integrated and processes are evaluated. Staffs and operators are trained, standard procedures are developed and drills are established. Units begin checking with their deployed counterparts for possible changes and adjustments to their standing procedures while new and emerging doctrine is review and incorporated in to routine activities.
But it is during the training events leading up to a unit’s deployment that Knowledge Management at the unit level really begins to grow its legs. As Operations Centers and TOCs are established and digital systems begin to get wide spread use again, that is when some of the KM bills from the Reset/Train and Ready phases begin to come due. And if you missed those steps along the way it will quickly become apparent while processes falter. The right people and adequate resources must have been committed before major training activities, or their will be hiccups and false starts. And obviously the larger the unit, the more resources that are required to ensure the smooth transition.
The biggest proof of a successful KM program can be best seen during operations, particularly in how the knowledge workers feed the commander (and staff) inputs so he can better gain situational understanding. Through the use of the various inputs, either gathered face-to-face during battlefield circulation or digitally through sensors, information management feeds or collaborative team efforts, they all help form the Common Operational Picture. Some anticipate the need and make the appropriate allocations in advance, for others it may be an eventual shift from how they were initially organized. It doesn’t matter what you call it or who you designate to do it, it still has to be done. We operate in a mostly digital, wired era and new functions are being performed in many places.
A way to hedge against some of KM challenges that faces a unit before deployments is to maintain a fulltime knowledge worker throughout ARFORGEN, a belly button to poke within your unit. Use as many tactical digital systems and collaboration tools for garrison operations as is possible to keep proficiency, and change your internal processes to maximize their use. Train your people, both new arrivals and old-timers, on how to be good at knowledge sharing, which for some may be an unnatural act. Build people-to-people networks and encourage your staffs reach to experts outside the organization. Take advantage of as many training opportunities as possible, and allow as many as you can to participate in workshops and conferences to stay aware of emerging concepts and ideas. These are a few techniques and others may very well apply, so seek out further ideas from your knowledge management specialists.