As noted by Swedish daily paper Metro, Findwise is working with JCDEC, the Joint Concept Development & Experimentation Centre at Swedish Military Headquarters. In Metro’s words the project aims at developing a knowledge management system for the headquarters of tomorrow. The system is expected to be up and running in time for the international military exercise VIKING 11, to be executed in April of 2011.
Good decisions stem from good information; this is true for both military and civilian enterprises. Vast amounts of time and resources are being invested in order to collect information. But to what end? Granted, somewhere among that information there is probably something you will find useful. But large amounts of information quickly become incomprehensible. In order to combat information overload you need a select-and-filter tool such as Search, and that’s where Findwise comes in.
However, for JCDEC it is not enough to simply locate the information they have available. Captain Alexandra Larsson, Concept Development Lead for Knowledge Support, makes this fact very clear. It is just as important to get an idea of what information is not there. In essence, JCDEC is in the process of creating information from information. This is also one of the great differences between the kind of web-based search and retrieval systems we have come to depend on and a state of the art knowledge management system. The latter is not just a retrieval tool; it is an information workbench where the user can select, retrieve, examine and manipulate information.
The key to finding information gaps is to study patterns. For example, consider the trivial problem of birthday distributions. Without any prior knowledge one would probably expect there to be roughly as many births in May as in August or November. This is not always the case. Depending on where you are in the world birth figures may actually be skewed so that one month has significantly more births than other months do. Why does this happen? Being able to pose that exact question may in turn teach us a lot about the mysterious workings of the Stork.
In military intelligence the filling of information gaps may mean the difference between victory and defeat. Why is there an increase in partisan activity in that district? Why were eight weapons silos raided over the course of two days? Why at this moment in time? These questions are expected to lead to insights into the plans and activities of suspects and to notify those in command of looming threats.
The envisioned work-flow for JCDEC information operators is threefold: retrieval, visualization and communication. Each research session will typically be initiated through a keyword search interface, much like you would issue a web query on Google. Just like its online counterpart the system would present the results ordered according to their expected relevancy to the operator’s query. Using facets and query refinement the result set can be narrowed down until the information in front of the operator is expected to contain that which is being sought for.
Captain Alexandra Larsson hints at another strategy for getting to information. Facets are so speedy these days that they can be applied on the full document set without any delays. Clearly, JCDEC is using search technology to provide directory listings much like websites such as the Open Directory Project, although completely dynamic. The option of simply browsing these directories is also available to operators.
The next step, visualization, employs an array of tools for visually displaying the results. These include plotting objects on maps and timelines and looking for groupings where objects have a disproportionately dense distribution, so called cluster analysis, among others. This is where clues are uncovered and questions posed: why there, at that time, with those people? In some cases a field investigation is necessary in order to answer these questions. Other times the answers can be deduced from the tools themselves. The tools also allow the operator to formulate new search queries based on the visual information. The operator may choose to limit the scope of the search to one or more of the clusters in the timeline or map, for example.
If or when the operator finds something interesting this should be recorded. But to JCDEC it is not necessarily the results themselves that are important. The act of getting to the information is valuable in itself. The reason for this is that different operators have different backgrounds and possess different types of information. Where one operator filters or deduces information from a search result in one way, another operator might choose a completely different approach and unveil other clues.
According to Captain Alexandra Larsson it is absolutely necessary that operators share knowledge as well as refinement strategies as part of their work. One of the paradigms that JCDEC is looking to experiment with is social bookmarking along with the ability to search through sets of bookmarked objects. Objects can be both tagged and commented on, useful for conveying meta-information to fellow operators. It is likely that there will be custom-based filters, where an operator can inform the system of types of objects that do and do not interest him or her and have the system automatically filter the result sets based on this information. These filters can of course also be shared with other operators.
An evolving system
The process of retrieval, visualization and communication is only one, albeit the most prominent, feature of the JCDEC knowledge management system. The system itself will be put to use in the spring of 2011 and development will surely continue beyond that point. The ideas and concepts at work today will most likely be refined over time as Captain Alexandra Larsson and JCDEC learn from hands-on experience with working with information. And as evolution progresses I hope to be able to go into more detail on some of the other tidbits.