ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 3, 2013) -- Linking people around the globe, milBook, an internal military social media tool similar to Facebook and LinkedIn, recently became the choice site for 41 Army Professional Forums.
"On any particular day, there are about 40,000 people in the Army that log on to all of the forums collectively to find out information," said Ron Pruyt, knowledge management officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned, or CALL. "So thousands of people who were on the old Army Professional Forums, or APF, platform and the thousands of users already on the milBook platform can talk together now, [and exchange information] in a way that was not possible before," he said.
MilBook is a component of milSuite, a DOD-wide, secure suite of four collaboration tools that mirror existing social media platforms, but are located behind the DOD firewall. MilBook, which currently comprises more than 300,000 users, is a central hub for networking professionals with similar interests or work responsibilities. Users create working groups or communities of practice to collaborate and share information.
In addition to milBook, milSuite also includes milWiki, a living military encyclopedia designed for DOD subject matter experts to share their knowledge; milWire, a micro blogging site to share and comment on internal news and events; and milTube, a video-sharing platform for the military workforce. MilSuite is provided by the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical Military Technical Solutions Office, and it is accessible to most DOD military, civilian and contractor personnel through Common Access Card authentication at https://www.milsuite.mil.
The APF migration to milBook provides its members a much broader community with which to collaborate at no additional cost. Additionally, CALL will no longer need to purchase, manage and maintain costly servers or hardware to host the forums. The transition also eliminates costs for software licensing fees and the need for additional personnel to support the software and hardware. It is expected that the migration could save CALL an estimated $400,000 each year, one of the biggest factors driving the move to milBook, Pruyt said.
CALL uses the APF to help disseminate knowledge and lessons-learned for the Army. These forums are structured communities of practice that enable Soldiers and civilians across the services to share observations, insights and lessons-learned. CALL was instrumental in the APF migration to milBook and worked with the APF to ensure that all the information and discussions were properly migrated.
The APF itself, which was launched in 2004, was a way for members to share their knowledge and experience with peers throughout the Army to promote professional development. The original four forums had approximately 20,000 members, but current membership has since multiplied to nearly 15 times that, to more than 295,000 users.
While many of the APF concentrate on Army knowledge management concepts and doctrine, there are several staff function-related forums, as well as operationally-specific forums. One of the largest forums included in the milBook migration, referred to as S-1 Net, is an Army staff element that is responsible for all personnel-related actions within the Army. With 104,000 members, S-1 Net provides numerous resources including: the latest personnel guidance from the Army; unit-level best practices and lessons-learned; a forum for human resources questions and answers; and promotion letters and lists. The members of this forum will now be able to leverage the capabilities of milBook to collaborate and share this information.
The APF migration to milBook also provides a centralized location in which to retain information and a single tool for users to access. Because milBook is built around familiar Web 2.0 concepts, users can also control how they create, share and consume content.
Since milBook is accessible across the DOD, migrating the APF increases the Army's visibility and gives other services an opportunity to learn and benefit from Army practices and lessons-learned.
"In our current operational environment, where joint operations are the norm, it is increasingly important for the Army to engage the other services, especially in questions of a joint nature," said Tom Curran, milSuite project director. "MilBook was designed as a DOD-wide collaboration tool to enable users from all services to communicate across geographic boundaries."
By reading a discussion thread on milBook recently, the Air Force Software Organizational Development Office discovered information about a government off-the-shelf product, the Rapid Online Content Creation Environment, or ROCCE. By using the ROCCE to deploy a web-based training and development application, the Air Force not only avoided paying licensing fees, which saved an average of $10,000, but also the usual review process required by the government for a new product, which would have taken a year.
As part of the larger milBook community, APF members now have access to other users and unlimited content from across the far corners of the DOD that otherwise would not have been available to them.
"We have people accessing the forums from Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, all over the world," Pruyt said. "Chances are, when a user has a question or a problem, someone else has experienced the same situation and the APF gives them the ability to share their best practices."