Huntsville Center harnesses technology to retain institutional knowledge
Kaitlyn Davis, a summer intern at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, Alabama, accesses a library of training tutorials developed by the Center. These tutorials were designed to capture the organization's institutional knowledge... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Faced with the reality that 16 percent of its workforce is eligible to retire now and another 35 percent or about 500 employees within the next five years, the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is actively seeking to minimize the anticipated "brain drain" when seasoned employees exit the workplace.

According to the Pew Research Center, the fact that 10,000 baby boomers are reaching age 65 each day is also causing corporations to rethink their processes to retain that institutional knowledge, making "knowledge transfer" the buzzword du jour.

"We've heard about this -- the massive exodus of federal employees and the expected loss of institutional knowledge. We think this is new, but it's not. Ever since man first drew on cave walls to illustrate how to spear and kill a T-Rex for dinner, we've done knowledge management. We're just trying to migrate the process to the digital world," said Russ Dunford, Strategic Planning and Integration, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville.

That knowledge transfer is vital, Dunford said. "The nature of the Center's work relies on its ability to adapt to the changing needs of its stakeholders, and much of that expertise relies on those individuals nearing retirement."

Like the corporate world, the Huntsville Center has looked outside its parameters to address how best to retain its institutional knowledge. One such resource identified is the International Organization for Standardization 9000, a network of national standards.

"ISO 9000 defines the organization's processes from start to finish, incorporating quality control measures," Dunford said. "Its methods can be replicated and add value to how we capture that institutional knowledge. So if I retire, get another job or just leave my current job for another, a replacement can literally fall in and perform the exact same job process without deviation. This is huge in manufacturing. This is knowledge management."

But just how does an organization like the Huntsville Center capture that institutional knowledge given that today's millennial workforce is accustomed to getting information visually and almost instantaneously.

"While employees once referred to standard operating procedures to learn how things were done within an organization, millennials communicate visually and aren't accustomed to getting that information from an SOP sitting on the shelf," Dunford said. "Through advancements in technology, we've all grown to expect short, concise vignettes that walk us through the process, basically showing us how things are done."

Walmart Stores Inc. recognized this and has adopted the video vignette format to capture that information for its employee training.

"The company realized that the incoming workforce has more computing power in their smartphones than the Saturn V rocket," Dunford said. "In the past, organizations often subscribed to the principal of taking five minutes of information and stretching it to 50 while millennials want only those facts needed to execute the mission."

To facilitate this process, the Center has adopted the Snagit 12 video recording tool to help its workforce develop short video tutorials.

"Individuals literally sit at their computers, walk through the process such as completing a time and attendance transaction and record the video," Dunford said. "Now when new employees come into the organization, they can view the tutorial to learn how to accomplish the process, task, form, TDY request, etc.

"This replaces the SOP and though it's not a 100 percent solution for all situations, it's one tool being adopted by USACE," he said.

For the Army's information video site, go to: