During the last five years, technologically advanced military forces have seen phenomenal growth in the digitization of command, control, communications, and information systems (also called C3IS). The Canadian army is part of this trend and has recently fielded a fully integrated digital C3IS for combat service in southern Afghanistan.
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These applications allow military commanders to track friendly and enemy forces using GPS, radios, and digitized maps. They also enable the digital transmission of orders and plans using land lines, various types of radio, and satellite links, as well as the automation of a number of control functions within a tactical headquarters.
There are lessons for business and the wider organizational community from the military experience in creating user skills for digitization. Here are some key lessons learned for creating a digitally successful and enabled workforce. The focus is on improving training, or making extensive training less of a requirement.
Lesson 1 – Only teach skills that are immediately useful.
The Canadian army learned the hard way that isn’t enough to sit people in a classroom and teach them the “buttonology” of a new app. The trainees should also be taught how to use the programs in their day-to-day work. Otherwise, money is spent on breadth of subject matter, rather than depth and applicability.
As a result, trainees learn all about the more obscure functionalities, but they still don’t know how to enhance their workplace productivity with the functionality that is likely to have a disproportionate impact on their ability to work faster and more efficiently.
Lesson 2 – Make maximum use of commercially available applications.
The simple reality is that most organizations only make minimal use of the total functionality and power of many commercially available apps. My estimate is roughly three-to-five percent.
The lesson for businesses is to use what you’ve got to the greatest extent possible rather than multiplying the number of apps or acquiring specialized programs. I’m not knocking specialized software, just the idea that every investment in this type of application is justified.
Lesson 3 – Applications should be scalable and “forgiving”.
“Scalability” allows a user to easily expand the use of the application beyond that originally intended, either in breadth or in depth. “Forgiving” refers to software which allows users to easily correct mistakes or to change an approach to its use as experience is gained.
The organizational lesson is users are drawn to use applications over which they feel they have more control—even at the expense of power and functionality. This also reduces the total training bill as they feel more comfortable using the software. Naturally, for a large organization or for certain types of data, this may provide an unacceptable level of tinkering ability by individual users.
If your talking about financial or HR data, then allowing anyone access to data structures makes little sense. However, if you’re trying to get users to input competitive information and data into a common pool, it may make sense to provide a level of flexibility to evolve the data structures as experience dictates.