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1. The domain of aerospace, despite its relative infancy vis-à-vis the other realms of military application is unmistakably more technology intensive. This makes it more intricate and faster evolving, especially so, with the ever burgeoning rate of acceleration of technology itself. As a corollary to this fact, this discipline endlessly generates, utilises and renders obsolete a mammoth reservoir of information, of diverse kinds. The survivability of organisations that deal with such immense and multifarious information therefore depends heavily on their ability to successfully harness and manage this unique resource.
2. In the absence of a system suited to handle the knowledge environment of such an organisation, aerospace forces have been forced to operate in independent compartments that deal with similar functions with no or minimal exchange or interaction within. This has often led to various units going through the process of re-inventing the wheel over and over again. A mistake identified by one has often not found its way to the others concerned with identical or similar issues; a beneficial process discovered by one has on many an occasion not reached others who could have gained from the same. This way of operation, more often than not has created eddies in the system disrupting a streamlined flow of operation, thus contributing vastly towards rendering operations inefficient and time consuming and on many an occasion resulting in a catastrophe that could have been avoided if the right knowledge was available with the right man at the right time. With ever increasing rate of progress in the field of technology at present and in times to come, an aerospace force that does not address this aspect of knowledge handling runs the risk of obsolescence and even annihilation.
3. Before deciding to delve into the concept of 'Knowledge Management' (also popularly refered to as KM), it would be worthwhile to develop a common understanding of what we mean by the word 'knowledge'. Knowledge may be defined as a part of a continuum moving from data, to information, to knowledge and onto wisdom. An understanding of the basic constituent of the topic would enable us to better analyse and solve the problem related to knowledge handling in the context of the subject.
Emergence of the Concept of Knowledge Management
3. Knowledge Management is a discipline that originated in the commercial paradigm in the early 1990's and has since received a phenomenal response in the world of commerce. Various methodologies suggested, as on date have graduated into a second generation concept. This concept has immense potential to be utilised in every aspect of an organisation towards improving knowledge handling and availability, aiding transformation towards a learning organisation. Hence it is considered appropriate to address the issue of knowledge handling and utilisation in an aerospace force towards all-round application of aerospace power.
Principle and Process of Knowledge Management
4. Knowledge management is the process of creating value from an organisation's intangible assets. Intangible assets, also referred to as intellectual capital, include human capital, structural capital, and relationship capital. Human capital is the brain power or the people knowledge in the organisation. Structural capital refers to intellectual assets that cannot be easily taken home with the employees, such as patents, trademarks, certain databases, and other related items. Organisations are embracing knowledge management for several reasons. One primary reason is to increase innovation within the firm. Other major factors for engaging in knowledge management include knowledge retention, people retention, and return on vision. By capturing key knowledge before experts retire or leave the firm, knowledge retention can be increased for building the institutional memory or knowledge base via knowledge management efforts. Sir Francis Bacon coined the expression, "knowledge is power." For knowledge management, the focus is 'sharing knowledge is power.'
5. It is essential to know about the types of knowledge before discussing the concept and nuances of Knowledge Management. Knowledge can broadly be divided into two types i.e. Explicit and Tacit knowledge.
(a) Explicit Knowledge. Explicit knowledge is recorded and can be accessible. It can either be structured or unstructured. Some of the examples are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), exercise reports, internet, intranet, best practice concepts, emails, newsletters etc.
(b) Tacit Knowledge. Tacit knowledge refers to the knowledge that resides in an individual's mind. It is the "know-how" and experience of the staff member that is vital to the organisation. Some of the examples are formal/informal face-to-face or telephonic conversations, videoconferences, presentations, individual knowledge, expertise, mentoring and coaching. Due to changes in the organisation and relationships/roles changing regularly, there is confusion about who holds what knowledge. This affects organisation's ability to respond quickly to the functional requirements. These changes put a considerable risk on the organisation of losing its competitive edge.
(c) Differences between Tacit & Explicit Knowledge. If knowledge is recorded and accessible, it is explicit knowledge. If this knowledge is in the mind of few people, then it is tacit knowledge. This tacit knowledge needs to be captured and others in the organisation need to know. Tacit knowledge is about individual's decisions and actions, expertise, experience, values, emotions and beliefs. We need to know what tacit knowledge is important for the organisation. This will determine how the relevant tacit knowledge can be downloaded and used by others. We also need to look into how the tacit knowledge is relevant for organisational strategy.
6. Knowledge management first involves identifying (or locating) and capturing knowledge. Once knowledge is captured (including tacit knowledge, which deals with what is in the heads of individuals, and explicit knowledge, which can be easily codified), it can be shared with others. Then, individuals will apply this shared knowledge and internalise it using their own perspectives. This may produce new knowledge, which then needs to be captured, and the cycle starts over again.
7. Knowledge Constituents of an Aerospace Force. An analysis of the Aerospace knowledge spectrum begins from identifying various activity oriented functional divisions of such a force and subsequent extraction of the characteristic knowledge types associated with each of those divisions. The basic functional divisions of an aerospace force along with their sub divisions may be assigned as: -
(a) Operations. The heart of exploitation and employment of aerospace power can be further divided into major components of Strategy, Tactics, Planning, Intelligence, Platforms, Medium, Weapons and Armament, Force Multipliers and Technology.
(b) Maintenance. The most crucial element of any technology intensive endeavour may be considered to be constituted of maintenance facets of Static Systems, Mobile Systems and sundry equipment of all kinds.
Logistics. The lifeblood of any military operation may be assigned the following divisions namely Operation Related Material, Maintenance Related Material and General Subsistence Material that covers all and sundry material not covered by the earlier two categories and is required to fulfil various other activities of the organisation.
(d) Administration. The heart of any organisation, administration is of vital importance to all other functions of an organisation and may be broken down into components of Personnel Administration and Organisational Administration.
(d) Training. The key knowledge enhancement and distribution function, though outwardly may appear to be constituted of similar taxonomy but needs to be divided into its basic ingredients based on the characteristics and level of knowledge that is circulated or distributed namely, Ab-initio Training, Continuity Training and Special Training.
Research and Development. This fast emerging, prime area of interest of the organisation which will dictate the future shape of the organisation is essentially constituted of scientific knowledge and its application towards the organisational objectives.
8. Generic Types of Knowledge Handled by an Aerospace Force. An analysis of the functional divisions, brings to the fore certain basic types of knowledge consisting of Environmental Knowledge, Principles, Strategy, Tactics, Operational Instructions, Rules and Regulations, Standard Operating Procedures, Best Practice Concepts, Specific Activity Guides, Crisis/Contingency Management Procedures, Emergency Procedures, Syllabi, Methodologies, Management Guidelines, Information, Statistical Data, Scientific Knowledge and Continuity State Information.
Knowledge Management Tools and their Application
9. In terms of methodologies, there are various schools which have come up with different methodologies for implementation of Knowledge Management in an organisation. Currently, there exist about 26 models of KM, presented by different scientists and institutes. For example, Van der Spek and de Hoog (1998) suggested a detailed four-step approach. The steps advocated by them consisted of Conceptualisation which comprised making an inventory of existing knowledge and analysing the strong and weak points; Reflection, comprised of decision on required improvements and plans for implementation; Action, comprising steps to secure, combine, distribute and develop knowledge; Review, comprised of the steps of comparing old and new situation followed by evaluation of the results achieved.
10. Reviewing these numerous knowledge management methodologies reveals that there does not seem to be a comprehensive methodology that details all the steps needed to develop a knowledge management strategy and related systems. While most of these methodologies recommend a differing arrangement of procedures to achieve the stated aim, it would be interesting to note that the basic tenets of all these models are quite similar due to the commonality of their underlying objectives. Therefore selection and application of any of these methodologies would automatically propel us towards our objective of managing knowledge at an aerospace force level. Liebowitz et al. (2000) developed the SMART methodology for knowledge management to address the need for developing a comprehensive KM methodology. The SMART methodology uses double- learning and looks as follows: Strategise - Model - Act - Revise - Transfer. This paper would attempt application of this model for achieving the stated objective. The SMART methodology and associated outputs are shown below.
(a) Strategise. This step asks the practitioner to perform strategic planning. Determine key knowledge requirements (i.e., core competencies). Set knowledge management priorities. Perform needs analysis. Identify problem(s). Establish metrics for success. Conduct cultural assessment and establish a motivation and reward structure to encourage knowledge sharing.
(b) Model. This step urges the practitioner to perform conceptual modelling. Conduct a knowledge audit. Identify types and sources of knowledge (i.e., knowledge assets). Determine competencies and weaknesses. Perform knowledge mapping to identify the organisational flow of knowledge. Perform gap analysis and provide recommendations. Do knowledge planning and plan a knowledge management strategy. Build a supportive, knowledge sharing culture. Create and define knowledge management initiative. Develop a cost-benefit analysis. Perform physical modelling and develop the physical architecture. Develop the framework for access, input/update, storage and eventual distribution and use. Develop a high level meta-data design and construct a visual prototype for application.
(c) Act. In this step, the proponent advises the practitioner to capture, secure, collect and verify knowledge. Evaluate and represent knowledge. Formalise how knowledge is represented. Classify and encode knowledge. Organise and store knowledge in the knowledge management system. Combine, retrieve and integrate knowledge from the entire organisation. Create knowledge. Obtain feedback from various agencies. Perform exploration and discovery. Conduct experimentation. Share and distribute knowledge. Make knowledge easily accessible. Learn knowledge and go back to capture stage.
(d) Revise. In this step the theory advises one to pilot operational use of the knowledge management system. Conduct knowledge review. Perform quality control and re-examine knowledge for validity and accuracy. Update knowledge. Prune knowledge and retain what is relevant, timely, accurate, and proven useful. Perform knowledge management system review. Test and evaluate achieved results. Revalidate/ test against metrics.
(e) Transfer. In the last step the methodology advises the practitioner to publish knowledge. Coordinate knowledge management activities and functions. Create integrated knowledge transfer programs. Document where knowledge is located and lessons stored. Perform serious anecdote management (i.e., publicise testimonials of the benefits of the knowledge management system). Use knowledge to create value for the enterprise. Monitor Knowledge Management activities via metrics. Conduct post audit. Expand knowledge management initiatives. Continue to learn and go back through the phases.
11. Benefits. The application of knowledge management on the military context enhances the quality of work and the time taken for all spheres of activities. Knowledge Management, when applied to the knowledge resource of the aerospace force causes the following changes: -
(a) Knowledge Benefits. The direct impact of KM on the knowledge paradigm of an aerospace force can be summarised as: -
Access to best/latest thinking.
Faster access to knowledge for all participants.
Better sharing of knowledge.
Knowing who's doing what in the organisation.
(b) Intermediate Benefits. Certain benefits that accrue as spinoffs of the main initiative are: -
(i) Rise of novel approaches/new ideas.
(ii) Faster problem solving.
(iii) Recruits/new incumbents are rendered effective earlier.
(iv) Minimising of duplication/re-invention.
(c) Organisational Benefits. The cumulative effect of the effort on the organisation may be listed as: -
(i) Better/faster innovation.
(ii) Improved standard of output.
(iii) Reduction in knowledge loss for the organisation.
(iv) Enhanced productivity/ performance.
12. Caution in Application and Practicability Issues. In application of Knowledge Management, practicability issues need to borne in mind and catered for in the policy as well as practical application strategy for the plans to have a higher probability of success. Knowledge Management faces various problems in application. Mostly the psychological spectrum is ignored on the face of attention on academic theory and technology based tools. Some of the typical problems against the backdrop of a military organisation are discussed herein.
(a) Getting Employees on Board. The major problems that occur in KM usually result because organisations ignore the people and cultural issues. In an environment where an individual's knowledge is valued and rewarded, establishing a culture that recognises tacit knowledge and encourages employees to share it, is critical. The need to sell the KM concept to employees shouldn't be underestimated; after all, in many cases employees are being asked to surrender their knowledge and experience, the very traits that make them valuable as individuals. One way of motivating employees to participate in KM is by creating an incentive program. However, then there's the danger that employees will participate solely to earn incentives, without regard to the quality or relevance of the information they contribute. The best KM efforts are as transparent to employees' workflow as possible. Ideally, participation in KM should be its own reward. If KM doesn't make life easier for employees, it will fail.
(b) Allowing Technology to Dictate KM. KM is not a technology-based concept. Organisations that implement a centralised database system, electronic message board, Web portal or any other collaborative tool in the hope that they've established a KM program are wasting both their time and money. While technology can support KM, it's not the starting point of a KM program. There is a need to make KM decisions based on who (people), what (knowledge) and why (objectives). The how (technology) is best saved for last.
(c) Not Having a Specific Goal. A KM program should not be divorced from a goal. While sharing best practices is a commendable idea, there must be an underlying objective based reason to do so. Without a solid business case, KM is a futile exercise.
(d) Dynamic Nature of KM. As with many physical assets, the value of knowledge can erode over time. Since knowledge can get stale fast, the content in a KM program should be constantly updated, amended and deleted. The relevance of knowledge at any given time changes, as do the skills of employees. Therefore, there is no endpoint to a KM program. Like product development, marketing and R&D, KM is a constantly evolving practice.
(e) Information Overload. Organisations diligently need to be on the lookout for information overload. Quantity rarely equals quality, and KM is no exception. Indeed, the point of a KM program is to identify and disseminate knowledge gems from a sea of information.
13. Recommendations. The specific knowledge handling characteristics of an aerospace force will depend on the typical nuances and specificity of its environmental conditions and resource base. This paper however highlights the basic requirements of a knowledge management organisation within an aerospace force.
(a) Centralised Policy Making Body. A body would need to be incorporated that would form the 'Knowledge Management Grand Strategy' of the organisation and continue to assess the performance vis-à-vis the goal and provide the necessary corrections and impetus for success.
(b) Organisational, Inter Disciplinary and Intra Disciplinary Repositories and Network. A network would have to be put in place in the form of actual knowledge network that would comprise the knowledge management system of the organisation down to the grassroots level.
(c) Technical Infrastructure and Support. A very important ingredient of the system, the vehicle for knowledge circulation, will be the technological infrastructure. This would cater for easy storage, modification, upgrade, access and feedback in relation to the knowledge resource of the organisation.
(d) Responsibility and Accountability Allocation. The major key to success of a knowledge management initiative is the assigning of responsibilities and accountability of each member of the organisation towards the knowledge management initiative.
(e) Feedback and Canvassing Plan. A substantial part of the knowledge initiative would be the canvassing for expression of the benefits actually derived from the initiative by the organisation and the key contributors in the issue. The corrections required are also to be percolated down to each operator.
(f) Validation, Relevance and Upgrade Mechanism. This would be the most daunting of the tasks to validate information prior to recording it in the knowledge base of the organisation, retaining a level of relevance and carrying out continuous upgrades of the system.
(g) Assessment, Appraisal and Motivational Measures. The success of a knowledge management system depends on the participation and faith of the employees. Therefore, a major activity chain has to be developed for providing career motivations to employees for their involvement and contribution to the knowledge management effort of the organisation.
14. Conclusion. The primary resource for an Aerospace Force is the continuum from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. The technology induced complexity and quantum is going to be ever increasing, thereby making the task of handling/managing this domain more daunting by the day. The force that administers this dimension well would have better survivability as compared to the ones that regard this as a modern 'Buzzword'. Knowledge Management is therefore a necessity we can't overlook. The challenge however lies in the transition. Acceptance of the importance of this facet is of essence. The action will then follow. Due to the specificity of the purpose of an aerospace force, the strategy can't be borrowed from its commercial avatar. It has to be forged and tempered from the specific needs by men in uniform. It is therefore time to commence looking at this concept with more than academic interest alone. It can be safely surmised that survivability, efficiency and effectiveness of an aerospace force in the coming days would depend largely, if not wholly on its ability of handling knowledge.