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Teenagers Inspire Knowledge Management Process

The knowledge management approach is frequently mirrored in the way
today's young people think about and handle information and technology.

By Jaime L. Wood / U.S. European Command Public Affairs

STUTTGART, Germany, May 12, 2006 – What could the U.S. European Command possibly learn from teenagers about doing business? Air Force Col. Hal Bullock has the answer: "A lot!"

Bullock, the chief of European Command's information superiority and knowledge management division, says the command is embracing a new way of sharing information.

Called knowledge management, the approach is frequently mirrored in the way today's young people think about and handle information and technology.

"It's interesting – not surprising – but, interesting that often times the Department of Defense ends up technically trailing the new generation," Bullock said.

"Knowledge management is an ongoing process of evaluating the generation, storage, distribution and application of knowledge and its components, namely data and information."

U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Aschenbrenner

"Historically, the leadership is mostly the older generation – people like me – who are less up on the latest technical trends than our children," he noted.

"But, the kids get it; they understand information sharing technology simply because they have never known a world without it, " Bullock explained. "Therefore, using technology – and that equates to often using many different methods at once – feels natural to them."

Bullock and his team of technically skilled and mostly younger military officers, enlisted members and civilians are striving to bridge the information gap across the command.

"Knowledge management is an ongoing process of evaluating the generation, storage, distribution and application of knowledge and its components, namely data and information," said U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Aschenbrenner, European Command's knowledge management branch chief. "This way, the overall goals of the organization can be more efficiently accomplished."

In the command, most information is shared electronically. Looking for ways to share information more effectively is an ongoing process for the joint service command.

While knowledge management ideas have been around
for years, the implementation of knowledge management was significantly accelerated when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a directive for transformational thinking and action throughout the military.

This effort was a catalyst in creating the current European Command Plans and Operations Center, and specifically called for the creation of an information superiority and knowledge management division. Both the center and the division were founded in late 2003.

"One example we have noticed in knowledge management is a phenomenon among teenagers which is getting a lot of press lately," said Bullock.

He is referring to web-based services using new technology that allows people to post announcements, share photos and documents, speak to each other through microphones and cameras, and virtually interact. Such
websites are more accurately called portals.

"It's more than just a web board used for posting information," Bullock explained. "Portals offer a complete virtual work and communication environment – a place for sharing information and knowledge."

U.S. European Command offers a similar, yet more complex portal, one component of the command's collaborative information environment, where the command and certain allied forces can share knowledge.

"What we find ourselves doing in the knowledge management field is explaining, training, cajoling and putting knowledge management into context for each other," Bullock added. "Our task is to explain to people, to show them, and demonstrate that knowledge management is good for them.

"This is not just something new that's here to interfere with the way you do your work," Bullock explained. "Knowledge management is a force multiplier. It makes things better for you."

Basically, there are two types of knowledge sharing: asynchronous and synchronous.

Asynchronous knowledge sharing occurs in delayed time. For example, a document, video file or journal could be located on a portal and worked on by different organizations at different times.

Synchronous knowledge sharing, on the other hand, operates in real time and usually takes place with people who know each other, using online "meeting-ware" that enables them to meet in a virtual environment."

"We can hold a virtual meeting where employees throughout the world can share thoughts and collaborate on the same document or presentation at the same time," Aschenbrenner said.

The meetings can be held on classified or unclassified lines and everybody within the command – from the highest ranking officials and below – can share information within the collaborative information environment.

It's a much faster and more efficient way of sharing knowledge than the traditional physical routing of information between individuals.

According to Bullock, the younger generation is excited about such technology. Older, experienced employees are more skeptical. They want it to be proven to them that technology will improve the work place before they change existing work habits.

"Their skepticism is welcomed," Bullock said. "That's actually good for knowledge management because it keeps us honest! It keeps us from just saying, 'Hey, this technology is new, so let's just implement it.'

"By taking the time to explain knowledge management and train users, young and not-so-young, throughout the command, the knowledge management team ensures that what technology is implemented from day to day is really a force improvement and not just a change, for change sake," he emphasized.

"Knowledge management, in general, is not about the technology. The technology is a means to an end," Bullock said. "The end is a better, more thorough exchange of understanding between people who have a need-to-share awareness."

"Information is an intermediate step," Bullock explained. "The key is to exchange information that makes a difference...information, which in military terms, is actionable."

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