WASHINGTON - Last week as Army Knowledge Online had its 1 billionth log-on, staffers were working on improvements such as Wiki and a new mail interface.
"In today's world, the U. S. Army cannot afford to remain stagnant -- and neither can the online presence that supports it," said Sheldon Smith, outreach officer for AKO and DKO.
"We constantly seek ways to provide our users with the functionality and accessibility they need to do their jobs," says Lt. Col. Ken Fritzsche, the chief operations officer for AKO. "We also recognize the importance of family and community and as such, are creating an active social networking environment and other Web 2.0 tools our users are familiar with through other outlets online."
The AKO Wiki, which will conclude its limited user test in November, is evolving quickly. Inspired by the immediacy of online tools bearing the same name, the AKO Wiki has functionality far beyond a typical wiki, Smith said. Soldiers can create online communities, discussion threads, and blogs. They can also share valuable information about a variety of topics such as time-sensitive information about an area of operation, weapon system or how to submit a 4187 for a change of station, Smith said.
"It's entirely up to the individual how involved they want to get; they can simply post project timelines or they can build an entire network of documents, conversations, and experts," Fritzsche, explaining that the portal mimics features available on sites like Facebook or Wikipedia. "A new Soldier can post questions about being stationed overseas and will get answers from around the world. Conversely, an experienced infantryman returning from deployment can blog about the challenges he faced, sharing lessons learned without compromising operations security by posting it in an open-source environment like MySpace."
Beyond the new wiki, AKO users will soon have a new mail interface designed to mirror popular commercial software they may be more familiar with using, Smith said. Additional enhancements include an improved search capability and expanded personal profile features. Soldiers will also benefit from Business Process Management (BPM) in the near future.
"BPM will be especially useful to organizational leaders, because it gives the power to design, implement, measure and control processes necessary to work efficiently within a unit or department," said Fritzsche. "Currently every command has its own version of the staff action sheets or routing slips. BPM will replace such forms, allowing actions to be coordinated online. This will create consistency, save time and increase productivity."
With BPM, users can build custom applications to facilitate the coordination of work between multiple users and organizations. Routine processes, such approving and executing credit card purchases, can all be built into business process models on AKO so they are available to all soldiers within the organization, shorten turnaround times and simplifying daily tasks.
Years of success and continual improvements factored heavily into the decision to make AKO the baseline technology for Defense Knowledge Online, a related site tailored specifically for the wider Department of Defense audience which includes all branches of the armed services.
"For more than a decade, AKO has provided a secure, scalable single point of entry for DoD net-centric enterprise services -- making it the logical choice as DKO's foundation," said Fritzsche. Each branch of service using DKO will set its own policy regarding family member accounts. "Working together as AKO/DKO strengthens our position and improves our ability to help the Warfighter communicate and collaborate."
Joining forces has also played a role in hitting key milestones. Now serving more than 2 million users, up from just 61,000 in June 2000, AKO/DKO recently passed its one-billionth logon. Hitting that mark on Sept. 29 was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jon Cahill, a senior maintenance technician with the 116th Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho National Guard. With 26 years of active and guard service, Cahill has seen first-hand how the Internet has changed the way the Army gets business done.
"When I first joined the Army, everything was done by written correspondence thru the U.S. Postal Service and you always needed carbon paper for duplication," he said. Cahill praises the positive impact AKO has had on communication within the Army. "AKO provides us with unlimited access to enormous amounts of information and creates the ability for immediate authorization to perform our duties.".
He's also personally experienced its ability to connect Soldiers to their families in a time of war. Cahill used AKO's webmail during his deployment to Iraq to communicate with his unit and stay in touch with his family.
"During this period of tight fiscal resources our user base continues to grow because AKO makes sense; it eliminates the need for units and organizations, especially those deployed to remote locations, to purchase and maintain e-mail and file storage servers and applications" said Fritzsche. "We do the back-end work for them, while also providing the functionality they need -- instant messaging, unit-specific Web pages, interactive forums, document management, a fully functional wiki. All they have to do is log on."
(Gina Gray and Dana Hinesly serve with the AKO/DKO support staff.)