KM challenges in the DoD

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
Notes from the National KM Conference
Rick Brennen, who works extensively with the DoD on KM talked about the changing nature of warfare and the resulting changing nature of the military. Key to his discussion was what this has meant for sharing knowledge – and in particular sharing knowledge on the battlefield.

Rick has an interesting background in that he was a navy fighter pilot, worked for Sun in the 80’s, worked for Jack Welch in acquisitions – and now consults for the DoD and works as a Venture Capitalist. He is someone that has great insights…..

Notes from Rick’s talk.

We are struggling with how to effectively share knowledge real time on the battle field. And these are related to several of the same issues that corporations face

  • culture
  • business model
  • organizational structure
  • security policy
  • systems inertia
The cultural divide Our war fighters are digital natives – our leaders are immigrants. Today’s leaders don’t recognize that these technologies are built into the fabric of today’s lives. May leaders still say “we don’t trust this technology—we need to go back to the basics.” Thus it is difficult to get our leaders to say “we need to study this to understand how to effectively get more info to the warfighter – that they can quickly understand and act on.

Business model DoD is struggling with the open systems concept. Systems are built by large contractors – and their products frequently don’t talk to each other. This makes communication, coordination and knowledge sharing between military personal very difficult.

Organizational Structure and tie to KM: Organizational structures are not good or bad – but they need to be designed to meet what you are trying to do. In an organization where you are looking for repeatable performance a hierarchical org with strong rule-based structure works. But they are very poor when things are changing rapidly. Here you need flexibility & innovation. This is where flat structure and strong influence works… Organizations flatten to adapt to rapid rates of change… The knowledge management structures in these organizations are horizontal… In the past military organizations were hierarchical – missions were pre planned at least a day in advance. Today – when an airplane is launched the mission is designed after the aircraft in the air. In this case – knowledge flow has to be horizontal. Need to communicate with the army guys, the marines, the tanks and the civilians.

Security policy: How do you build a KM system that can tap into multiple secure systems and release it to people that need it. People don’t have the time to decide who can see what data when. In particular when dealing with things that need to happen within minutes to be successful. We don’t know how to do this yet.

Systems inertia: Most DoD systems are designed – not to be refreshed. Moore’s law says processing capability will double every 18 months – but military systems are not designed to be refreshed. Thus – they don’t take advantage of rapidly evolving technology

Summary / Recommendations

KM is critical to the future of the military – on the battle field. It is a critical component of the DoD’s ability to respond appropriately to a rapidly changing world

Adopt open systems: Break the ppopreietatry strangle hold of large prime contractors have on key systems.

Org structure: deign systems to support flattened, COCOM structure crossing serviced, agency and nation state boundaries

Systems inertial: take open systems and scalability concepts seriously and design them in approximate at the platform and Enterprise level

Security policy: build multi-level security infrastructure for real battlefield KM systems

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