Knowledge Management (KM) addresses the entire life cycle of knowledge: creation, distribution, storage, and reuse. But, since knowledge is distinguished from information by its being actionable (among other characteristics), knowledge reuse is a primary objective of KM. In order to facilitate KM implementation in a logical, efficient manner and to encourage and facilitate knowledge reuse, the Department of the Navy (DON) Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) for Enterprise Integration and Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) initiated the Knowledge-Centric Organization (KCO) Toolkit.
Distributed primarily on compact disk (CD), the KCO CD has been distributed at the DON Knowledge Fairs, Connecting Technology symposia, Acquisition Reform sessions, and many other meetings where KM is of interest. Recently, the KCO CD was upgraded to version 2.0; this version adds new material of interest to its many, varied users.
Despite the logical arrangement of information in the toolkit, with so much material available, finding specific items or topics of interest, could be challenging. Since KM is all about the interaction of Information Technology (IT) and human/social processes, it wasn't a great leap to decide that a technological solution to assist the user in finding information needed to be injected into the KCO CD. Users could, of course, use Windows Explorer to initiate a keyword search on the CD, but this would provide limited in results.
To demonstrate the efficacy of KM, a more elegant solution was indicated. Thus, entered the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) with its Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) toolset. This type of tool has been successfully used in the past at Naval Air Station (NAS) Port Hueneme, where it is used for equipment maintenance. Maintenance could be performed after consulting the toolset to speed up and improve the accuracy of the process.
Historical data of prior equipment failures was entered into the database and business rules were adapted so that the user could receive instructions as to what actions to take (based upon past history), by answering questions regarding machine status and descriptions of what was wrong. The process, while requiring upfront tailoring of the software, was highly effective with a minimum of cases entered into the history base.
The KCO CD required a somewhat different approach. For the KCO CD, the CBR toolset would be used to find what the user was seeking (but not necessarily knowing exactly what was desired) using meaningful phrases. The tool chosen was Navy Conversational Decision Aids Environment (NaCoDAE). It is a decision aid development shell built by members of the Intelligent Decision Aids Group at NRL's Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The toolset interactively elicits a problem description from the user, and responds with a ranked list of potentially useful solutions. According to Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak's classic work, Working Knowledge, AI had been touted as a new paradigm for future thinking and decision making, but AI never lived up to all the hype, press, and predictions. Perhaps, a major reason for this lies in the need to tailor AI for a specific use. Also, early efforts in AI often centered on Expert Systems. AI is not a general solution to problems, but can effectively and efficiently solve specific needs if judiciously tailored and employed. CBR is an alternative approach to utilize AI for practical means in a structured manner tailored for specific payoffs.
Not being experts in AI, expert systems, or CBR, the DON CIO's KM group enlisted the expertise and assistance of David Aha and his co-workers at NRL to devise the necessary software tailoring and case histories to make NaCoDAE usable to KCO CD owners. However, the timeframe to create, review, revise, make, and deliver thousands of KCO CDs in time for the DON e Business Knowledge Fair 2001 was tight.
Could the NRL team possibly deliver a functioning, highly tailored tool for inclusion on the KCO CD with the Fair fast approaching? Despite the tight schedule of the project, the NRL team enthusiastically rose to the occasion. They produced a viable, user-friendly product in time for the DON CIO's Beta Testers to review it, provide inputs, and have the changes made in time for distribution at the fair.
The rest is history. While maintaining their other obligations, the NRL met all agreed-upon schedules and delivered the CBR tool. It is now embedded in version 2.0 of the KCO CD as part of the Chart Room, with its own button entitled "Guided Search." Not only did it receive high marks from the Beta Testers, but it also scored high with the KM Community of Practice, who reviewed the CD prior to release. The NaCoDAE pre-release version was frequently used to answer questions from higher authorities on KM prior to burning the CDs.
The NaCoDAE, as implemented in the KCO CD, provides search capability, which is easily invoked by Toolkit users. It is hoped that users will provide feedback to the DON CIO KM group and NRL CBR Team on their experiences in using NaCoDAE. Furthermore, it is anticipated that such tools (and the NRL Team has other similar tools) can further enhance Knowledge Management throughout the Navy and Marine Corps.
Neal Pollock is the DON CIO Knowledge Engineer