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6/15/2004
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Lockheed Finds A Way To Connect Questions With Answers

Lockheed Martin Space Systems found a tool to help people collaborate when they don't know with whom they should collaborate.

Collaboration on the job isn't rocket science; people have been working together toward common business goals since commerce began. But for a company like Lockheed Martin Corp.--comprised of more than 130,000 employees spread over 939 facilities in 457 cities, 45 U.S. states, and 56 nations and territories--the challenge of working together while miles apart can be daunting. Even for the company's rocket scientists.

"We're a highly distributed technology company and the result of many, many mergers," says Ron Remy, deputy CIO for Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "We probably have 30 or 40 operating units within the corporation. The question really is, how do you collaborate if you don't know with whom you want to collaborate?"

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is hoping to answer that question with a recent expansion of a 500-seat deployment of Tacit Knowledge System Inc.'s ActiveNet, which began late last year, to more than 5,000 employees in the company's Space Systems group. The $6 billion a year unit includes the space launch, commercial satellite, government satellite, and strategic missiles lines of business.

ActiveNet works by scanning documents--E-mail, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and instant messages, among others. Based on patterns the software detects, it identifies people who should be aware of others doing related work.

A system that can connect people works because people like to talk about what they know, Remy says. "Organizations don't like to talk about what they know," he says, "but people like to. And so if you can connect these things, connect people on a peer-to-peer basis, you can really have a pretty free flowing sharing of information."

The ability to locate expertise within an organization is difficult, but critical in the information age. "An army travels on its stomach," says Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst of collaboration technology research firm Basex Inc. "A company like Lockheed travels on its knowledge."

Tacit CEO David Gilmour says that companies like Lockheed--large, dynamic, complex, and geographically distributed--nonetheless need to act as a single entity. Gilmour cites ActiveNet's capacity to make serendipitous connections as a key feature. He describes how Tacit's software alerted pharmaceutical giant Aventis to the fact that a research project to develop certain chemicals had already been completed by researchers at one of the company's other labs.

Remy says the problem with a lot of collaboration tools is that they're difficult to maintain. Profile information, resumes, and other data upon which the tools depend to connect people gets dated quickly. Tacit's advantage, he says, is that it gives more weight to the content people create rather than how they rate themselves in profiles.

He offers an example of how researchers in California for one of Lockheed Martin's missile programs were worried about condensation build-up inside missile canisters over time. So, they framed a query to the company's information process-improvement center in New Jersey. As a member of a technical special interest group, Remy was among those to whom the question was posed. He went into the Tacit ActiveNet system--which Lockheed calls TeamNet within the company--and found a researcher who also was in California at another Lockheed office that had an answer. "What surprised me was how quickly people respond and with how much substance," Remy says.

While ActiveNet is generally considered to be part of a category of collaboration called knowledge management, Gilmour rejects the term. He casts it as real-time software that's part of an on-demand enterprise infrastructure.

Spira suggests that terms such as knowledge management, expertise location, and document management have largely blurred. Based on what he hears from clients, confusion about these terms can result in over-investment in tools that provide similar capabilities. "And you know what happens to CIOs who over-invest significantly," he says. "They write their resume."

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