Army puts lessons learned into knowledge database

With soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Golan Heights, as well as several African nations, Canada has been trying to modernize its military operations on a limited budget.

One initiative it rolled out this year allows soldiers stationed around the world to access information —

such as how to conduct vehicle convoy operations in Afghanistan — through a knowledge-management system designed by the Armed Forces.

The Army Lessons Learned Knowledge Warehouse won the top award at the Canadian Information Productivity Awards as the best IT project implemented in Canada this year.

TIG spoke with Lt. Col. Jacques Hamel, director of land command and information for the Department of National Defence, about the purpose of the project.

TIG: How does this technology help Canadian soldiers?

JH: How we do our business is very much based on experience, and the way we pass experience to one another in the Armed Forces is through training or by getting your knowledge from someone who had the experience.

This warehouse enables people to write down in a structured fashion their experience of specific activities — good, bad or otherwise — and it’s available for two fundamental things: One, it’s for people who are about to go into the same type of job, for example, to … get results from previous people with the problem of crowd control in Bosnia or a wide range of issues.

But it’s also a place where we go in and analyze trends. If two or three people are reporting problems with a certain piece of equipment or technique, we turn those observations into a lesson.

TIG: What are some examples of how this could be used?

JH: If you go into a new mission area, say Afghanistan, and a number of people are patrolling downtown, they develop a new way of approaching the people and managing the situation so it doesn’t deteriorate [and they can add this information into the system]. The second one is, you have equipment that keeps on failing … we’re in an environment where we’ve never been before, it’s very dusty, and if people report that they keep on having problems with this piece of equipment, by querying the knowledge base, we’re able to say, ‘Yes, we’re starting to have a lot of problems with this, we should take action and correct it.’ One is about how you work and the other is about the tools you use for your work. In the past [this knowledge] was used to recommend decisions — about changing footwear, vehicles, weapons and a number of things, and … new procedures for road blocks, patrolling, direct action. Those things make it into that warehouse — this worked, this didn’t work.

TIG: How does information enter the system?

JH: There’s a formal process where people provide the results of their experience at certain stages of operations and there’s [another process that’s] informal, where somebody submits an observation. No observation is refused.

TIG: Where do soldiers access it?

JH: Anywhere they have defence network access. The other thing is, while they’re preparing to deploy, the tool is designed to have an offline capability where you can [say], ‘Give me everything about this topic, give me everything on a CD-ROM and I’m taking it with me,’ so it’s also giving you the ability to have a more static view of that knowledge. But, because of our type of business, we do carry our network with us [wherever we go] in the world, so it’s both for the soldiers to learn and it’s for the organization to take actions over issues by either correcting procedures, improving equipment or improving the way we do our work.

TIG: How will the system evolve?

JH: It’s the beginning of a formal approach to knowledge management, trying to get a collective approach to manage what the organization knows about itself. People can query [the system] and get the view they want to see. It’s the beginning of a journey, not the end of a journey. We also see that other people might want to use a similar technique — you remove the military questionnaire from it, put a questionnaire for your business in it, you can use exactly the same tool … it’s a technology that’s reusable.

TIG: Is there a training process?

JH: There’s a cultural education [for soldiers] that it’s OK to say things are not OK about something or it’s OK to tell the other guy that you’ve found a way to do something.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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