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Sea Change

Lt. Eric Morris, who along with retired Capt. Fred Bertsch sketched out the concept of NKO in February 2002 and now manages the portal's operations, likes to say that NKO "tilts the Navy's vertical structure just a little bit. It lets our leadership see what the sailors think."

It's precisely that concept that had forced Morris and Bertsch into the shadows of the Norfolk, Va., naval base. Their idea was and may still be a threat to some Navy brass. In this culture, the more budget dollars an admiral controls and the more data a unit CIO manages, the more powerful they are. Flatter and more open organizations don't work in their favor, some observers point out. Besides, in the private sector, knowledge management has been known to expose business units that are overmanaged. What if it revealed that the Navy could get by with fewer admirals and commanders?

Put Up or Shut Up

When Morris and Bertsch presented a white paper describing NKO less than a month after their initial brainstorming session, they were met with skepticism and even defiance. They were told that a project like that would require a decade of planning and billions of dollars.

No one would be cutting them a big check to launch a KM portal. Instead, they would have to find any funds they could and produce a prototype. "We decided we have to show them something," Bertsch says. "We have to show them what we mean, because if Jiffy Lube can do this, if the gas station down the street can do this, why can't the United States Navy do this?"

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