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Army portal Web site is marketers' dream.

The Army intends to promote more aggressively its computer-based courses via the vast service Intranet called Army Knowledge Online.

The AKO portal is the Army's latest attempt to consolidate useful information sources and educational programs under a single Web site that can be accessed by every active-duty, reserve or National Guard soldier.

With 1.1 million users, the AKO is considered one of the world's largest intranets.

The central focus of AKO is "training and education," said Matt Calkins, chief executive officer of Appian, the company that developed the portal under contract to the U.S. Army.

Service leaders plan to take advantage of AKO's ability to reach a huge audience and will expand advertisements for computer-based classes and other distance-learning opportunities, Calkins said.

"There are many good distance-learning programs out there," he said. "But they've suffered from one major problem--the lack of marketing to rank-and-file soldiers."

Calkins said that one particular computer-based training course announced on the portal received 20,000 web hits within the first week.

The agency in charge of the AKO portal is the Army's Network Command, in Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

The command recently was stood up in an effort to consolidate the Army's information technology activities.

Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer, said that computer-based training is gaining support in the service.

A pilot program currently under way at the Army's Signal School, in Fort Gordon, Ga., said Cuviello, showed that a 17-week course could be reduced to seven weeks, by using distance and distributed learning.

Calkins explained that the AKO site could be viewed as a marketer's dream, because it can target explicit audiences within the Army. Certain courses, for example, would be appropriate for specific ranks and occupational specialties.

In general, however, the portal appears to be exactly what the Army needed, to spread the word about educational programs, said Calkins. "The distance learning community is looking at AKO to centralize information about classes."

The Army library system also may get connected to the AKO.

Those eligible to receive an AKO account include active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers, family members, Army civilians and contractors. A password is required to access the system.

Through the portal, the Army offers standard email addresses that soldiers can keep throughout their careers, regardless of where they are stationed.

The portal stores information about every user, "so you can send messages to a cross-section of the Army, based on certain criteria," Calkins said. One example may be a message that only would be directed at helicopter pilots stationed in South Korea with the rank of captain and higher.

Senior Army leaders like the document storage features in the portal, he added. Sensitive documents can be stored in a secure site and, if someone wants to forward a copy, he can just send the Web link, rather than an attachment that could end up being distributed over non-secure electronic mail.

The AKO has been in operation since October 2001. On an average day, 70,000 soldiers access the portal and conduct about 120,000 chat sessions.

During an average week, a quarter to a third of the entire active-duty Army uses the portal.

Civilians only make up a small percentage of the user traffic.

The heaviest use is registered in combat areas, where large numbers of soldiers are deployed, such as Korea, Afghanistan and Bosnia. The troops take advantage of the instant messaging to talk to their families.

Appian received a contract in September to build the Navy's Knowledge Management Portal.

The portal will support 350,000 active-duty, reserve Navy, civilians and retired officers.

The contract is for one year and the Navy estimates it to be worth $3 million if all options are exercised.

"We wanted to provide every sailor with a personalized gateway to the Navy's knowledge base for all professional and personal development," said Rear Adm. Kevin Moran, head of the Naval Personnel Development Command, and director of Task Force EXCEL, which focuses on education and training. "We selected Appian, based on their track record."

The faceplate of the portal contains individualized Web pages that sailors can customize. This portable Web page is assigned to sailors during boot camp, and remains accessible throughout their Navy careers.

"For sailors, the knowledge management portal assists in identifying career paths, milestones, and educational tools and opportunities," said J.D. Walter, spokesman for the Navy's Task Force EXCEL.

Appian also rolled out last month the Marine Corps Enterprise Procurement Portal (eP2). The portal is designed to sort out and systematize the Corps' disorganized, paper-based procurement process.

According to a company official, transactions such as task orders are awarded through eP2 in an average of 11 business days. That is a least half of what it took under the old, non-Web process.

A five-person office processed $21 million worth of contracts during the first two months of operations.
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:812
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