Web Extra: Who's on First?

An interview with Ron Remy, Deputy CIO, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, with Debra D'Agostino

What led you to install an expertise location system?

We're a large, distributed organization made up of many companies that merged. But when we merged, we didn't merge our operating cultures. So we have this huge, untapped resource called "each other." How do you tap into that? People use their individual social networks-who they know. And maybe they know people who know people and so forth. But searching within the corporation for expertise remains extremely difficult.

Now Lockheed Martin has a magnificent collaboration infrastructure. And not just e-mail, but videoconferencing, distributed document management, the Internet meeting-type stuff. But it's only good if you know whom you want to collaborate with. If you and I want to have a teleconference, no problem. But what if you're looking for someone who has knowledge in a particular area, but you don't know who that person is?

So a few years ago we started thinking about how we would solve this problem. We started off with profiles where people would essentially develop résumés and then put them up on a Web site. That was a complete waste of time, because no one maintained them. Even if the profiles had been maintained, the questions people typically asked were extremely specific. Then about a year and a half ago we did the old Google search and found five expertise location systems. We brought them in and put them through a rigorous evaluation, and picked [Palo Alto, Calif.-based] Tacit.

How did you sell the ELS to your colleagues?

We undertook a pilot in our Advanced Technology Center in our Palo Alto office. It's a 500-person research and development facility co-located with Stanford University. They do research on aerospace-type projects and weird stuff like phenomenology, and they build very delicate instruments that they fly on planetary missions and satellites. They do some incredible things there. So that was the corporate community we focused on.We got about 150 people or so to participate, and out of that came some unique experiences, interesting things, things we didn't expect. For example, we had a beryllium-welding problem solved by linking up two people who worked down the hall from each other, and they didn't realize that one had the answer the other one needed to solve this very serious technical problem that was holding up the entire project. We deemed the pilot to be very successful.

Are there plans to tie the expertise system to a human resources system that works to make sure that you don't lose that talent?

I hope so, though I haven't done anything with it yet. The HR people I work with in the corporation are interested in that, but we haven't done anything with it so far.

I'd imagine at a place like Lockheed, where so much is top secret, the idea of sharing expertise would be counterintuitive.

It is counterculture in many ways. But when you think about it, an organization is just a community of interest anyway, it's a guy or a lady at the top controlling a network of people, and when you come in with this technology, you corrupt that whole structure. Because all of a sudden your people are off talking to people they don't normally talk to, and sharing things and collaborating and so forth. Frankly, the people who are more traditional in their view of the old command-and-control stuff don't like this. They see a project as a homogeneous group of people located in one spot who are controlled absolutely. And this system fundamentally corrupts that. And you know what? That was the way it was 20 years ago when there was a lot of defense budget and a lot of people studying science and engineering. But all that's changing. What will drive this tech is the demographics of the workplace. The baby boomers are going to retire and there's an enormous gap between the retiring generation and the young people who are just coming in. I'm hoping that we'll play Johnny Appleseed with this.

So you're hoping to spread it companywide?

Yes, because the value goes up exponentially and you reach a point where you start to produce a network effect, like they did with the Internet and the Web. People realize that for this little bit of effort I can get huge value out of this system, and that is in direct proportion to the people who are participating.

Now you're right, it's peer-to-peer so it's very threatening to the traditional organization, just like the Web was very threatening. But we've got to get over that. It's going to happen.

This article was originally published on 07-09-2004
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