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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In the past, ALLC managed Lessons Learned information using an outdated, non-integrated system that delayed the exchange of issues and responses.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.