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Knowledge Management Helps Canada’s Army Make Better Decisions and Improve Overall Operational Capability

publié le 5 mars 2015 à 17:19 par Alain Robitaille   [ mis à jour : 5 mars 2015 à 17:21 ]

Thanks to its new Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse, the army can now exploit information derived from previous domestic and international deployments to provide military personnel with instant, high-quality decision support and superior training resources.

Canada’s army is a professional, high-tech military organization capable of performing a wide range of missions at home and abroad. Well-trained and combat-ready, more than 19,000 regular personnel and 15,000 reservists actively defend Canada and North America as their top priority. In addition, some 4,000 soldiers are deployed annually on peacekeeping missions to world hotspots such as Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

Collecting and analyzing Canadian and Allied operational and training experiences for dissemination as lessons, with a view to improving the army’s operational capability, is the mandate of the Army Lessons Learned Centre (ALLC).

In the past, ALLC managed Lessons Learned information using an outdated, non-integrated system that delayed the exchange of issues and responses. Military personnel captured their observations, questions and concerns in reports, using either MS Word or paper, and disseminated them to superiors in the chain of command for response or action, typically weeks later. Subsequent analysis of the documentation would lead to the identification of Lessons Learned and conversion to compact disc (CD-ROM) for transfer, or in the case of paper, transcription, to laptops. The entire knowledge capture and transfer process relating to a particular mission could sometimes take 6-12 months, a serious limitation, considering leadership changes frequently in the military and units may regroup or be redeployed after six months at a particular location. Due to the technical constraints of this process, it was easy to miss the opportunity to learn from experience.

Forewarned is forearmed

As the Canadian Forces play an increasingly active role in peacetime support operations, their need for timely, reliable information, advice and training grows exponentially. To provide today’s military personnel with continuous access to the latest information and knowledge, former teaching methods needed to be reorganized.

When a Canadian officer on active duty in Kabul needs to know how to purchase equipment locally, employ interpreters or conduct vehicle convoy operations in this unique urban setting, immediate feedback and access to material on the subject from others who have been in the situation, are critical.

To that end, the army embarked in April 2003 with a budget of $1.5 million on a one-year project to develop a Web application that would enable Canadian military personnel to share their observations during peace missions, analyze the information to provide Lessons Learned feedback and use this knowledge to exploit online training. A fully integrated knowledge management application that would support the full knowledge management cycle was required.

To be successful, the new Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse (LLKW) solution would need to:

  • Standardize the knowledge capture process
  • Centralize all Lessons Learned knowledge in French and English
  • Improve knowledge sharing through increased accessibility and speed
  • Support feedback and knowledge reuse
  • Provide a learning resource for new users

At the same time, if it wanted to exploit the full potential of the latest technology and knowledge management methodologies, ALLC would need to modify its work processes. This was no easy feat.

"The greatest challenge related to this project was for us to think like designers," explains Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Voss at ALLC. "It wasn’t a matter of simply computerizing our pens. We needed to change our entire approach to how we acquire, analyze, disseminate and manage knowledge."

An innovative iterative prototyping method aimed at balancing the development views of the user, the system and the process involved users from the project’s outset. This method enhances the design of work processes by exploiting new technologies while continuously clarifying user requirements.

The technical solution for the Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse (LLKW) is based on an architecture composed of workstations and services connected by the Canadian Armed Forces intranet and accessible by all DND users on operation in international settings by satellite.

A prototype of the system was tested in November 2003 and the finished product was completed in March 2004.

More ammunition for knowledge management

Clients accessing the Lessons Learned system use workstations equipped with a Web browser to capture observations and comments, and consult with military personnel during exercises and operations. They can also analyze knowledge and configure the system. The Electronic Task Support System embedded into the LLKW is a tool that enables the user to learn more about the work processes he is using on the system through online help. As well, a Microsoft Office document viewer enables users to consult staff reports, ALLC publications and other reference materials.

Using the knowledge warehouse application, the ALLC designs customized questionnaires to collect information in specific contexts. Users who have issues to be resolved or want to make observations, complete a series of 100 questions online and make their answers available via the Web to more senior personnel for comment or action. A response is usually received within a few days. Designed in Java Server Pages, most pages are dynamic. Content management tools draw up-to-date relevant Lessons Learned information on any given subject directly from databases and supply it automatically to the user in response to questionnaire answers.

Mission accomplished

The results are impressive. Users can now access information online within two to three minutes, versus the hours it used to take to transfer information to laptops from CD-ROMS and paper. Access to Lessons Learned has been shortened to a few minutes, compared to the previous six months to a year it used to require. Reaction time has been shortened to a few days rather than six months to a year. Online help now provides relevant information in seconds rather than after several days or weeks so the right people can be contacted. This feature also cuts the previous training time in half, users can learn to use the various applications afforded by the system in about four hours. Knowledge extraction has been shortened from weeks to approximately two days. The application generates in two minutes a problem summary that would typically take days to prepare. The time span between identification of an issue and its resolution has been significantly shortened. What’s more, there is increased feedback as a result of online consultation by all military personnel, of observations, lessons and issues.

"The great benefit of the LLKW system is that it facilitates the timely capture and analysis of information acquired on domestic and international deployments, and enables other army units to reuse the information to literally ‘learn from experience,’" adds Major Martin Boulé.

By having quick feedback, the army is able to respond faster to dangerous situations that can involve life and death decisions for soldiers and local populations. In a modern age of conflict where situations can develop rapidly, the army needs to be able to deploy quickly and appropriately to support Canada’s foreign policy and international commitments. A responsive army, assisted by the LLKW allows Canada to continually reinforce its national self-image as a peacekeeper of the world, both domestically and abroad.

A number of companies and agencies were instrumental in the development of the Army Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse (LLKW) project. Department of National Defence (DND) provided Project Direction, defined requirements and was involved in business process implementation Defence Research and Development Canada –Valcartier (DRDC) gave advice about the application’s functional directions and principles. Project Management, knowledge reorganization, system design and solution development were the work of DMR Consulting. Teximus provided support for the knowledge modeling tool.

A 2004 CIPA Winner!

For its exceptional and innovative application of Information Technology to solve real-world business problems and bring greater benefit to all its stakeholders, the Director of Land Command & Information for the Department of National Defence was awarded a 2004 Canadian Information Productivity Award of Excellence in the Efficiency & Operational Improvements category.


Diamond in the rough

publié le 5 mars 2015 à 17:19 par Alain Robitaille   [ mis à jour : 5 mars 2015 à 17:21 ]

Susan Maclean - January 31, 2005

In a room in Kingston, Ont., with blinds drawn to better view visual presentations, about eight professionals work intently with one common purpose. Most of those present are wearing Canadian Forces combat uniforms. DMR Consulting director Dr. Pierrette Champoux guides the group but the discussion is very democratic, with all participants fully engaged. A writer takes detailed notes as words gradually fill three large whiteboards and poster-sized papers on the walls, reflecting the progress being made.

This is the second tiring day of the group’s first two-day workshop. Two more such marathon sessions will occur over the next few months before they accomplish their goal: creating a quick response ‘Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse’ for the Canadian Department of National Defence. The LLKW allows military personnel to tap into lessons learned from prior experiences, enabling troops to respond faster to sometimes dangerous situations.

Fast forward two years to November 2, 2004, where hundreds of guests are gathered at the Weston Harbour Castle conference centre in Toronto for the 12th annual Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA) gala, showcasing Canadian IT innovation. The moment arrives when the highest honour is announced. The recipient of the Diamond Award of Excellence is the Department of National Defence’s Land Command & Information – the Canadian Army’s CIO organization. What’s more, Lt. Col. Jacques Hamel, the organization’s director, is honoured as the CIPA 2004 and CIO Canada CIO of the Year.

Some of the people from that small room in Kingston, now in full-dress uniform, come to the CIPA stage to receive the honours. Joining them is Champoux, now with Fujitsu Consulting since DMR was renamed. Unfortunately Lt. Col. Hamel’s duties as project manager of Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) do not allow him to join the group, but at that moment his influence is felt and respected. And rightly so, because it was Hamel’s change management and user participation approaches that went a long way in ensuring the project’s success.

Beginnings of the project

Hamel’s involvement in the award-winning project began about three years ago, when he was in effect the Canadian Army’s CIO. At that time he was given what he calls “a series of information challenges”. One of these was to create a place where the army, from soldier to general, can find the observations of other people conducting previous operations so that the knowledge gained from experience can be passed on in a timely, convenient and potentially life-saving manner.

The result is the online Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse, which Hamel describes as a knowledge portal for best practices and problem solutions. “You can look at it from the perspective of ‘I’m about to go to Afghanistan; what did the people who were there for the last six months learn?’ or ‘Is there any observation on footwear that we should take into account because we’re looking at replacing footwear?’ It gives people different lenses to look at the organization.”

Basically, the LLKW is a Web application that allows Canadian military personnel to access knowledge in real-time, to share observations gathered during peacekeeping missions, to react more quickly on the basis of that information, and to benefit from online training. The knowledge warehouse falls under the aegis of the Army Lessons Learned Centre (ALLC), which helps to improve the army’s operational capability by collecting and analysing Canadian and Allied operational and training experiences for dissemination as lessons.

Previously, the knowledge capture and transfer process relating to a particular mission could take six to 12 months. Considering that leadership changes frequently in the military and units at a particular location may regroup and be redeployed after six months, it was easy to miss the opportunity to learn from experience. Further, the reports that were captured were filed to a cumbersome CD-based system that made accessing and analyzing that information a time-consuming process. As a result, people on a mission might be lacking the latest information that could better equip them to respond to dangerous situations or simply be more effective.

Creating the prototype

The Army decided not to continue producing CDs and budgeted one year and $1.2 million to incorporate the existing knowledge base into an improved information-sharing vehicle.

There are three types of users of such an information system: military personnel contributing reports, viewers searching the data to prepare for operations, and knowledge analysts responding to research queries.

Lt. Col. Hamel initiated the project by instructing DMR to create a prototype for the second type of user, viewers searching the data to prepare for operations, to show how they could look at, search, and drill down all the knowledge from a lessons-learned perspective. Beginning with Java-based knowledge management software from Montreal-based Teximus Technologies Inc., DMR created a prototype deploying a dynamic HTML-based SQL 2000 server database.

“When I presented the system to Lt. Col. Hamel,” Champoux recalls, “he told me ‘you hit 85 per cent of what they need already.’ That 85 per cent was the way of viewing the knowledge.”

Changing the business process

“One of my major roles as a CIO was to get the organization to agree to change its legacy business process,” Lt. Col. Hamel recalls. “I was not the one doing the changing because I was on the CIO side of the table, but I had to show them the benefit of doing the change. Once they had the benefit, they could take it on themselves and move with it.”

The first step was building a business model, then an application that met the business model. Samples of some of the lessons learned ensured the model made sense. After getting users’ feedback, DMR built a complete model and loaded a fair amount of the history.

Lt. Col. Hamel drove home the benefit message by having DMR show practical examples that were related to users’ work. To do that, the existing knowledge base – primarily copious CDs of mostly Microsoft Word documents – was transferred into a data warehouse, loaded into the product, and then mined to create a ready-made example.

“I could have delivered the product as an empty shell but we data-mined the last 10 years of our operational experience and the users were able to find lessons from the past and make deductions about current operations,” Hamel explains.

“The lesson I’ve learned as an experienced CIO is that if you deliver a system that doesn’t immediately show added value, users will not necessarily reject it but they will ignore it. You have to ensure that as part of your project you [put enough information in the system that] the user will see at least the beginning of a benefit and will be attracted by the transformation. In our case I think it worked because we provided users with everything they originally had plus some value-added ability to do a fairly complex search and find information they could not find before.”

Lt. Col. Hamel admits that getting the organization to agree to this transformation was the biggest challenge of this project. “You have to convince the organization that it is worth it to write observations down. Once they are convinced and they have a use for it, the observations come in.”

Even though the system has been operational since 2003, he views the transformation of the organization as still ongoing. “It’s not something you turn on and people will immediately see all the benefits,” he says. “It takes a little while.”

Getting the users on board

With nearly 20 years’ experience in the operational use of IT, Hamel describes himself as “a user who has technology knowledge”. He has been involved in the design and architecting of systems at the user level and the detailed implementation and project management of systems. The latter range from operational systems used in places like Afghanistan to business systems like the LLKW.

Hamel’s experience has taught him the value of involving those who will be using the systems. “I haven’t in the past been able to deliver a system without user involvement. Otherwise you end up with a technology solution for technologists.”

So, in spite of a tight schedule, after the prototyping came the series of three two-day design and validation sessions that Champoux agrees were “the best way of designing the system in the time frame we had.”

The workshops addressed the process of managing the knowledge, structuring the questionnaire, and ensuring historical or version control. The latter enables army personnel to look at earlier responses to the same or similar questions. So, for example, a current response that equipment was not received in the field in time could be compared to previous responses relating to equipment deployment.

Champoux says that it took three DMR people two weeks to prepare a two-day workshop, “making sure we had all the materials, questions, prototypes and presentations done to have the answers that we needed to do the development. We brought a lot of material to make people see, listen and address different ways people can express themselves in communication. We used PowerPoints for the prototypes and a lot of visual aids to ensure we had a common understanding of the process, the tools to be designed and how it would be easy to use.

“It was very intense,” Hamel admits. “You cannot do [a project of this nature] if the people are not willing volunteers. Yes, we’re the army, but we’re not completely autocratic. You have to have people that do believe [in what you’re doing]. Once they believe, they will put in the hours to get to the end, because they know it has value for them. The people involved did not have a problem with that intensity because it was going to help them with their operational problems.”

Users were already prepared and accepting of the changes the new system would bring to their work because they were involved in the design which replaced the familiar Word format questionnaire, says Champoux. “The users approved it and participated in the system testing to ensure that all the tools were there to help them do their job. So, they knew the system before starting to depend on it.

“The ALLC users took a week to make sure the knowledge analyst users were all comfortable with it,” she continues. “One task of the ALLC is to brief a new rotation of the military personnel that will contribute reports. At the same time, they are saying ‘you’re going to add your report and here’s your user log-in and here’s the one-page checklist.”

The new system is run on the existing secure Army intranet. Authorized users simply go into their Internet Explorer to access the knowledge warehouse. “What is really terrific is they can manage objects and manage links to an object,” Champoux enthuses. An object may be described by a name, an abstract, a starting date, an ending date, or a participating organization, for example.

An operation with multiple personnel rotations can be related to documents and issues, and relationships between objects can be managed without duplicating objects or creating new documents.

“It is possible for a [user] to look at the question and see all current and previous observations from the questionnaire, even without navigating too much, if the sense of the question has not changed or the question has not been replaced,” she adds.

An integrated team approach

“Working as an integrated team with the consulting firm was critical to meeting the one-year time frame for the project,” Hamel continues. “When the consultant came to a meeting, I always had somebody able to deal with some of the day-to-day questions. By having a quick feedback loop we were able to get to where we went.”

The consulting firm was working on-site at the Defence Research and Development Canada facility at Valcartier, Que. Based in Ottawa, Lt. Col. Hamel had someone on-site with DMR day-to-day who could track the issues, identify any issues outstanding on the government side requiring input, or flag whenever it was time for the two parties to get together to resolve where they were going.

“For the most part, we found we were moving together as a team even though it was distributed across Ottawa, Kingston and Quebec City. We got together for those user interaction sessions but after that we had regular meetings and regular discussions to make sure that we stayed on track.”

Clearly the team did indeed stay on track, meeting their objectives on time and within budget. Subsequent additional funding has been used to enhance the system’s search capabilities.

In addition to winning the top CIPA accolades, the LLKW project also won the Quebec IT Octas 2004 award for the best project in the category of E-learning and knowledge management. But Lt. Col. Hamel is fully aware that the ultimate measure of the success of the system is in the users’ court.

“The CIO’s role, from my perspective, is to enable the user. But only the user will decide whether or not to exploit what the CIO delivers,” he concludes. “The CIO cannot force people to change. They have to be willing and wanting to change. The user has to be involved and the user has to care about the change.”

Nevertheless, by fully engaging users throughout the process, Lt. Col. Hamel ensured that the Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse would have every chance of being a valuable tool in helping keep our peacekeepers safe.

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Technologies Teximus récompensé par la CIPA

publié le 5 mars 2015 à 17:19 par Alain Robitaille   [ mis à jour : 5 mars 2015 à 17:22 ]

Le 2 novembre 2004 lors du gala de la Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA) à Toronto. La société québécoise d’édition de logiciels et firme-conseil en gestion des connaissances et processus Technologies Teximus, nous annonce que le projet Dépôt des leçons retenues de l’armée canadienne auquel elle a collaboré a remporté le prix d'excellence Diamant en tant que meilleur projet en technologies de l'information au Canada en 2004 et le prix Or à titre de meilleur projet de la catégorie Efficacité et amélioration organisationnelle. Le projet a été sélectionné parmi 110 projets mis en nomination.

Déjà en mai dernier, le même projet avait obtenu le prix Octas 2004 de la FiQ, le réseau des TI au Québec, à titre de meilleur projet dans la catégorie E-formation et gestion des connaissances.

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