US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) challenged Team 7 to develop a method of tracking external engagements to better coordinate external interactions and increase networking opportunities among Commodity Area Directors. After an introductory meeting with LTC Joe, we sought out interviews with his suggested contacts.
CW4 Jimmy – Tech Targeting Commodity Area Director(CAD)
- Used example of 3D printers. If a CAD meets with a potential vendor to discuss 3D printers, he or she sends that report to whoever they know is also working on 3D printers. An individual outside that person’s direct network has no way of finding the report.
- Expressed a desire for dropdown menus to enforce some standardization of terminology. Wants any standardized trip report form to include who they visited, the time frame, and the topic of discussion.
- Noted lack of standardized trip report form; trip report could be submitted in the form of a Word document, PDF, or Powerpoint presentation.
SGM Katie – Tech Targeting Commodity Area Subject Matter Expert
- Said there is no organized view of vendors. Something as simple as being able to search which vendors have made some kind of contact would improve immediately.
- Expressed a desire to know which offices have been in contact with a given vendor.
- Emphasized cutting down time of data entry. A solution should not require a substantial time investment.
SGM Alex – Tech Targeting Commodity Area SGM
- Most of the redundancy that stems from lack of communication leads to time wasted rather than redundant expenditures.
- Person filing trip report currently faces dilemma of not sending report to those who could benefit and spamming people unnecessarily, which can drive down engagement of trip reports.
- There isn’t necessarily a tangible benefit to the person writing the trip report if someone else finds it useful, other than knowing their trip wasn’t a waste.
Mike – Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) Commodity Area Deputy
- Uses a OneNote system that can move reports up the chain of command but program clunkiness, bugs, and trouble functioning as historical record all prevent it from being an ideal solution. Trip reports are included but not updated.
- Also use “purchase orders” as documents they manage within database.
- Doesn’t believe people outside their group are interested in their trip reports. They are shared internally and up the chain of command.
- Also believes his unit is primarily interested in their own trip reports and wouldn’t get much value out of knowing what other units are doing.
MSG Tom – Future Concepts Technical Subject Matter Expert
- MSG Tom tracks what other units are doing and tries to inform them of relevant capabilities, which currently requires point to point connections because there is no defined process or centralized distribution point. He does not have authority over who submits what kind of data.
- Does not believe people will take the time to perform additional data entry. Believes people who go out to find solutions are “problem solvers” first.
- Some standard data points are captured in the process of going on a trip. Trip reports also typically include who they met, what they discussed, the date, and agenda. However, some local meetings particularly in the DC area could lack typical data points.
- Has yet to find any example across USG of successfully cracking this particular problem.
CW3 Jeff – R&D Section Leader
- Working to develop an effective system of information sharing. The “wicked” problem: their ability to collect information rapidly outpaces their ability to process and disseminate.
- Due to the wide variety of trip report formats, particularly PDFs and Powerpoints, it is difficult to extract pertinent points of data and put it in a palatable format.
- The system of emailing trip reports is the biggest problem, such reports can be lost forever in someone’s inbox.
- Has tried Skype and MERCchat to more actively share information.
- Currently exploring the possibility of working with Slack or developing and deploying an in house solution, both are still in the nascent phase.
MAJ Josh – R&D Section Leader
- MAJ Pugh’s unit works primarily on drones.
- Lots of other groups depend on drone tech & would love to see trip reports from this group such as which drones are relevant to a particular capability and which drones don’t meet performance requirements.
- They built a sharepoint database that contains trip reports and other data in hopes to share this knowledge with others. It is brand new and unproven, but could potentially be scaled if it works. However, most people in agency do not know about it and MAJ Pugh is not sure how to get the word out.
LTC Chris – R&D Section Leader
- LTC Chris’s section functions more as a team of “requirements generators and subject matter experts” than focusing on a particular tech sector.
- Particularly interested in engagements across agency, has attempted to coordinate outside interactions via Microsoft Sharepoint. They went so far as to have in house engineers attempt to modify the program to better meet the unit’s needs with no success.
- Believes that trip reports are viewed as administrative work, separate from the “real work” of problem solving. As such, individuals filing trip reports are unlikely to take a lot of extra time to make sure any proposed solution functions as intended.
Seth – R&D Section Member
- Microsoft Outlook’s calendar tool is great for organizing meetings but can’t be seen on sharepoint and can’t be posted publicly so everyone can see.
- While the system is more organized, it still essentially requires point to point contact to work with the added burden of a non-intuitive system.
- Believes any effective system must be quickly responsive; if the system is slow people will give up on it.
MSG Tom Followup
- Follow up to discuss challenges associated with implementing a systemic knowledge management solution.
- Noted that the majority of trip reports start out as Word documents.
- However, when they move between classified and unclassified networks they are printed to a PDF, making it exceptionally difficult to search.
- As a result, one report may have multiple associated digital files.
- A solution must also account for transitions between classified and unclassified networks.
- Not all units treat trip reports the same way. Trip reports have no standardized formats, different units use different systems to track their data, and not all units see value in sharing trip reports across the agency or spending considerable time on them at all.
- Individuals across USASOC have attempted to develop solutions to the problem ranging from leveraging existing Office programs to building an in house program from scratch. Such attempts were typically isolated to the unit of the person promoting it, and individuals who developed solutions consistently expressed the difficulty of spreading the word and building support.
- Groups are often unaware of the activities of other groups, both in terms of having no access to their documents, and even to the extent of having no awareness of their efforts to share those documents.
- There is no centralized repository for trip reports. Individuals submit trip reports along the guidelines of their unit’s process. Short of combing the entire email system for Office attachments, there is no place to find the entirety of the agency’s trip reports and relevant data.
- Customers will benefit from greater access to trip reports. While this hypothesis did not prove universally true, several of our customers actively attempt to connect deployment efforts as part of their job description and would directly benefit from being able to track trip report data more reliably.
- There may be other types of data beyond trip reports within our scope. The sUAS group mentioned their most recent efforts to catalogue trip reports included other data beyond just trip reports, suggesting we may need to widen the scope of the inquiry. Furthermore, Tom informed us that there are other type of events similar to trips (such as bringing vendors to the base) that generated the same kind of information, but are not being captured in trip reports, suggesting we may have to solve social problems around how the unit captures data to begin with.
- No good solutions to this problem that would be appropriate for deployment here exist. We have more work to do to confirm this, but Tom, for whom solving this problem is one of his central responsibilities, has attested that he has been searching high and low within government agencies for how other groups solve this problem, and has found emphatically no success.
- Units within the agency have not spent considerable time developing a solution. Our initial interview with Joe gave us the impression that he attempted one type of solution on his own but that support was not widespread. Our interviews revealed a number of these individualized efforts, many of which also failed to garner widespread attention.
- We can count on individuals to file trip reports. Our interviews revealed a general lack of accountability when it came to tracking who filed a trip. As such, some individuals do not see the value in filing them at all. This countered our initial assumption that trip reports may be hard to track but are reliably submitted when a trip occurs.
- Customers who file trip reports will benefit from having a central repository. While Commodity Area Directors saw an obvious value in being able to track various trip reports, our customers consistently reported that individuals who file trip reports don’t expect to benefit from an expanded network. As such, we cannot assume they will be particularly motivated to perform additional data entry.