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Creating a Knowledge Management Culture at the Army Soldier Support Institute

The Army Soldier Support Institute recognized that it needed to improve its knowledge management processes and made the changes necessary to start sharing information more efficiently and effectively.

The creation of a knowledge management culture, from the inception to the delivery of a working, results-oriented system, requires leader involvement, customer buy-in and support, and support from the Army Enterprise Architecture. It also requires a distinct cultural shift and the abandonment of the technology comfort zone in which most people are ensconced.

The creation of the Army Soldier Support Institute’s (SSI’s) knowledge management culture was no exception. While SSI’s various organizations worked hard to develop products for their constituents and innovative ways to do business, information and processes were not being shared throughout the command. SSI was also plagued with redundancies and incompatibilities (both internal and external). And not everyone saw the need to change.

Identifying Knowledge Management Needs

SSI’s leaders were critical to instituting a knowledge management culture. Senior leaders took a broad look across the command and recognized the need for a collaborative environment of both explicit and tacit knowledge for Soldiers and civilians. The SSI commanding general, who was directly involved in the effort, identified the qualifications he wanted in SSI’s knowledge management chief. He looked for someone with experience in information technology, software applications, and the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) training model.

Once the knowledge management team was in place, its first assignment was to assess current systems, processes, and tracking methods. The objective was to eliminate redundancies and increase productivity. The rapid assessment, which took approximately 30 days, uncovered multiple issues that affected day-to-day functions, the integrity of the educational system, and organizational efficiency. Among the issues were—

  • Systems and processes that were individual solutions instead of SSI standard equipment, applications, or procedures.
  • A public website that offered visitors only general information and no other benefits.
  • Several systems for the delivery of distributive learning that did not always track students’ official credits for course completions.
  • A shared local area network drive that had reached its storage limit and could not be accessed from off post.
  • Uncertainty about whether instructors were using the same course materials (caused by the use of various storage methods instead of one common repository).
  • The pervasive use of manual processes, including printing paper copies to submit work and administrative actions.
  • A failure to share good systems among the individual schools and directorates.
  • A lack of methods for collecting tacit knowledge.

Creating the Knowledge Management Culture

After careful consideration, SSI’s leaders decided to use Army Enterprise Architecture systems to consolidate the knowledge management aspects of all SSI units. By choosing an enterprise approach, SSI lowered costs and eliminated certain resource requirements. Most importantly, it created a single portal accessible by all SSI organizations. This consolidation has paid tremendous dividends in recent months.

The knowledge management team started by converting SSI’s public websites to match the Army standard and making them portals to all SSI systems and processes. The command then selected Blackboard as the medium to deliver course testing materials and report on institutional training. The command chose the Army Learning Management System for all distributed learning.

The knowledge management team implemented the TRADOC SharePoint system as the medium for collaboration. This one change had the largest impact on the command and the inculcation of a knowledge management culture. By creating a central repository for instructional materials that is accessible to all personnel, SSI can ensure that instructors are teaching the same information. Course developers can field updates in weeks instead of months, and Sharepoint’s workflow capability reduces approval time from weeks to days. Even users who are away from the office can keep projects moving forward.

Perhaps most important in an era of constant operations, SSI can now easily tap people worldwide to collaborate on lessons learned—an essential factor in keeping course materials and training relevant. Because graduates can reach back to SSI, small units have begun using the system as a training resource while in the field.

SharePoint also helped the command to refine its processes. For instance, through InfoPath, SSI has automated common actions and requests. A G–3 task site now allows real-time input. The command also added an information technology help desk and taught self-help steps to reduce work orders and improve individual performance. Personnel attend quarterly knowledge management working groups to share ideas and solutions throughout SSI.

The SharePoint site was created in March 2009, and initial training was completed in April. (Training for new personnel or new techniques occurs quarterly and is provided by in-house subject-matter experts.) Each directorate has administrator rights and is responsible for its own site. Today, SharePoint is thoroughly integrated into SSI operations, and knowledge management is integrated into the SSI mindset.

Knowledge management is never static. SSI is currently assessing its knowledge management plan against the Army Learning Concept 2015 and will modify it as necessary. SSI also is conducting an across-the-board evaluation to improve designs and functions. The command will soon deploy on SharePoint a tacit knowledge system that is currently used at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Based on SSI’s experience, the best path for instituting a successful knowledge management culture follows these steps: leadership acknowledgement and buy-in, assessment of current status and needs, design of a holistic solution, development of a solution, implementation, and evaluation and refinement. Taking a step out of order—say, developing a solution without having conducted a thorough assessment—increases the chances for an incomplete or failed effort.

When establishing a knowledge management culture, knowledge management managers and proponents should—

  • Make sure their leaders understand the purpose of knowledge management, and be prepared to show tangible benefits from knowledge management initiatives and processes.
  • Produce policy letters that demonstrate the leaders’ interest in the project, and get the whole organization on board.
  • Decide on core systems, and become expert at them. (New tools are a blessing, but the training and acceptance time for end-users can defeat the purpose.)
  • Leverage Army enterprise solutions because they involve no cost to the organization, make modifications much easier to execute, and streamline assistance from other agencies. The enterprise often can provide training and support packages, as well.
  • Build the model knowing that the requirements will change, and use the Army Learning Concept 2015 as an example.
  • Include not only knowledge management training but also software application training in the Soldier and civilian training plan.
  • Assign tasks, responsibilities, and ownership at the lowest level.
  • Include everyone in the effort so that good ideas are shared and poor processes are eliminated before they become common.
  • Get the support of G–6 knowledge management champions to ensure that the knowledge management culture is deployed in a timely manner.
  • Attend as many training seminars as possible, in person or on line. Seeing other methods and practices can only benefit the organization.
  • Use the feedback mechanisms that are available in every system to identify the refinements that are needed.
  • Create a tracking system for modifications so that the commander has accurate data to use in making decisions.
  • Be prepared for push back (change is difficult), and be prepared to show “bright spots” of success.
  • Recognize knowledge management champions. Tangible results deserve tangible rewards and acknowledgement. Many people are competitive; take advantage of this fact.

The metamorphosis into a knowledge management culture has been fairly quick and is due in part to leader emphasis (including a command policy memorandum) and the staff’s recognition of the potential benefits.

Knowledge management is not a fad. It is here to stay, and it is an extremely powerful tool. SSI is more effective and efficient than ever before, and it has not yet maximized the benefits of knowledge management. Every level of the Army and the Department of Defense must embrace knowledge management. We owe it to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and taxpayers to get the most out of our organizations.

Stephan D. Wilcox is the knowledge management officer at the Recruiting and Retention School, Army Soldier Support

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