Three CKOs discuss their internal KM initiatives.
Edward Rogers, Ph.D., joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (nasa.gov/goddard) in Greenbelt, Md., in 2003 to help its employees do a better job at cooperation and project management. At Goddard, he found that the scientists do a good job of collaborating and that technicians have good process controls in place for recognizing if a bad part shows up. "The piece that is missing is how we do our work," Rogers says. "Projects are what we do." Problems were often related to project management.
Rogers worked to instill several new learning organization practices, including a "pause and learn" process for studying what went wrong and right on a project; case studies to reflect on project management insights; and common lessons learned, in which a diverse panel of experts convenes to review cases and look for patterns that increase risk of failure.
Rogers knew that mandatory KM training would be resented. "My goal was to design an experience so that employees would go tell colleagues, 'You have to go do that.' That was the way I had to sell it inside NASA," he recalls. "Not 'Thou shalt,' but that people recognized a high value for the effort involved. And I think it still has that appeal today."
In 2006, Rogers' title was changed to chief knowledge officer and his office was moved out of the safety and project assurance office to report to the director's office. "That change did give us a higher profile," he says, "although access to senior leaders had never been a problem, because it was easily recognizable as high value, and senior leaders were requesting to be involved."
Rogers says that the Department of Defense and NASA have embraced KM as a life-and-death issue, but in other government agencies, too often KM is seen as an information management issue, and the answer is to build systems. 'The problem with KM is that it is handed to the CIO," he says, although the collaboration issues usually are not due to technological limitations.
Rogers believes the key to his success has been defining a role and seeing a way to be useful to the NASA organization. "But each agency will have different needs and gaps, and CKOs have to identify those for themselves," he says. "Each agency has a different flavor. I tell people they have to follow the principles, but not the recipe."
The Department of Defense (defense.gov) gets credit as the part of the federal government that has done the most to formalize the collection and distribution of knowledge. Patrick Conway, CKO of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (cascom.army.mil) since 2007, sees himself as an enabler in improving the speed with which decisions are made.
Conway has been instrumental in the development of the Sustainment Knowledge Network (SKN), a forum for geographically dispersed soldiers to share lessons learned. Of the 449,000 soldiers, civilians and contractors who make up the global Army sustainment community, more than 113,000 are registered in SKN professional forums. They generate approximately 14,500 "knowledge transactions" a week.
Conway stresses that he focuses on communication, not technology tools. "A lot of vendors try to sell a solution that is an end-all software platform for KM, but each one is looking at it myopically," he says. "KM is a mix of technical and nontechnical efforts that dovetail with the mission of the organization. It is about the content, not the tool. My idea is to offer users a toolbox with many different platforms, processes and techniques."
Among those are face-to-face training and training on project management skills. For groups that are widely dispersed but need to share knowledge, SKN has set up discussion forums that can include blogging, chat and synchronous meetings. "They use social networking-like apps but behind the firewall," Conway says. "For instance, we have people all over the world conducting mortuary affairs and they have to handle that with dignity and sensitivity," he says. "If a situation comes up in Afghanistan that they have never dealt with before, they can turn to this global network to weigh in on how to solve an issue and then that can be reinvested in what is learned in training."
Senior officers are not as inclined to participate, but younger soldiers get very actively engaged, he says. "The trick in KM," Conway adds, "is to figure out how to provide value to both these target audiences."
Conway believes it would be beneficial to have a federal CKO, but he wonders where in government the position would be nested. He also thinks a federal KM center would help. "The Federal KM Working Group does some great things," he adds, "but it is seen as a voluntary association."
Susan Camarena, chief knowledge officer at the Federal Transit Administration (fta.dot.gov), launched the first KM initiative there in October 2007. It grew out of the application process for the Baldrige National Quality Program. "The leaders of the FTA realized that institutional memory was not being captured, and they wanted to take a proactive approach to it," Camarena says. (Adding to the sense of urgency was a 2007 forecast that 31 percent of FTA employees would be eligible to retire by 2012.)
Camarena went to the FTA after leading the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID, usaid.gov) Knowledge for Development (KfD) Program. She had served as chief of the division that provided USAID's corporate information resources and institutional memory database.
Part of her initial challenge at the FTA was geographic dispersion. The FTA is one of 11 operating administrations within the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has more than 500 employees spread between Washington, D.C., and 10 regional offices across the nation supporting local public transportation system development.
"First and foremost I had to learn the mission and lingo of the FTA to see how I could help improve its business processes," she says. Camarena also led a knowledge audit to study the ways knowledge was already being shared. "We were doing a good job of communicating with local and state transit agencies," she adds, "but not as good a job communicating internally."
The agency's KM strategic plan notes that the knowledge audit found limited understanding of KM concepts, procedures and tools. Part of introducing formal KM to the FTA is clearly explaining the purpose and benefits of applying KM tools and procedures, she says.
"I explained to senior management that we needed a structured methodology that we can integrate into the organization of headquarters and 10 regional offices," she says. Camarena identified a knowledge coordinator at each office. That person was not an IT or human resources staffer, but a business executive, often the deputy regional administrator, who could vet ideas and be the point person in that office.
Her team will soon roll out a portal to support communities of practice. The FTA Knowledge Portal will give access to a single site that enhances knowledge sharing with collaboration software, wikis and a people finder.
David Raths, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, e-mail email@example.com, conducted the interviews above.
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|Title Annotation:||Edward Rogers, Patrick Conway and Susan Camarena; chief knowledge officers|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2011|
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