The new order of the global information marketplace is upon us. If the Marine Corps wants to be a true information merchant in this exchange, it must adapt now to the unique technologies, practices, and possibilities of the Internet.
During the past several months, some dot.coms have morphed into dot.bombs. Some Internet billionaires have shriveled into millionaires. Is the Internet a passing fad? Do not be fooled; new technologies cause businesses to gyrate up and down, but the transformative power of the Internet continues to expand. The Navy recently signed a $6-billion Intranet contract with EDS—which will provide new network structures and services that will accelerate changes already under way throughout the Navy and Marine Corps.
Signs of these changes are everywhere, sometimes in small projects, other times in larger ones. All of them, however, are part of a transformation of not just the Marine Corps but every sector of the Department of Defense. The Internet, a term that encompasses all the ongoing advances in networking, communications, and interactivity, is sweeping through the Corps now just as electricity did years ago. The transformation begins with small projects, such as a recent success announced by the Marine Corps: putting the lineal list of officers on the Internet. This is just the beginning. While the core of the Corps never will change, the way we do everything is changing now. We cannot predict all the patterns, processes, and procedures that will emerge, but emerge they will.
A transformation of this size requires orientation. Chaos theory tells us the most interesting and productive area is that space in between stasis and chaos; a proper orientation helps us move away from stasis and keeps us out of chaos. A common Internet orientation helps us address a variety of issues that surround the one key question: How do we orient ourselves to the Internet so we gain the most from it? As the late military philosopher John Boyd taught, orientation gives birth to proper decision and action, but only after first being rooted in observation.
Observation: Ubiquitous Connectivity Is Nearly Here
Random Observation #1. The Internet, which once was just another small experiment by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is growing into the acme of interconnectivity. In much the same way Francis Fukuyama argued in The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992) that nothing lies beyond the ideal of liberal democracy, there is nothing beyond the ideal of a fully mature Internet. The Internet encompasses all advances in telephony, wireless, satellites, broadband, and all manner of personal digital assistants.
Random Observation #2. The military has worked ceaselessly to improve communications from the very earliest years. The initial problem was, how does a commander pass instructions to thousands of men spread out on a battlefield? How does a commander learn what "frontline" people know when those people are literally in front and in line? The chain of command was the answer. This tremendously effective communication device became an organizational imperative. How we communicated drove how we organized, trained, and conducted operations. Today, we might need the chain of command for other reasons but it no longer is essential for communications. That means that the raison d'etre for much of how we organize and how we conduct our business is beginning to fracture.
Random Observation #3. Even the way we conducted training and education in the past was driven in part by the limits on our ability to communicate. For example, we typically bring experienced platoon and company commanders back from combat and send them to the Basic School, where they spend their time teaching their experiences to new lieutenants. Lieutenants now can use the Internet to tag along on operations while they happen.
Random Observation #4. The Internet is a way both to manufacture experience and to transfer it to the point where it is needed. The rich ingredients of long experience—as Gary Kline and others have suggested—cause good decisions to arise like an aroma from a stewpot. The problem, of course, is those inexperienced people whose stewpots are empty; they are short of aroma and thus short of good decisions. The Internet can provide experience-not quite as authentic as the actual thing, but close. We can send seasoned retired Marines along with new lieutenants on their first operations, the two groups consulting through a network before, during, and after the operation. The Internet's real-time connectivity means cyber experience and backup advisors for everyone.
Random Observation #5. The argument about getting real-time information to frontline Marines is over. They either will receive the information they desire from inside the Marine Corps or they will acquire it for themselves from outside. It began in a dramatic way when hundreds of Marines during the Gulf War supplied themselves with Global Positioning System receivers and got the location information they wanted. Today, Marines can use their credit cards and order satellite photos from commercial sources; tomorrow, they will have their own micro-- unmanned vehicles (wireless webcams).
Random Observation #6. Special networks are proliferating and will continue to flourish. The Marine Corps already has several secure and non-secure nets. In addition, the Corps is building a special network for senior generals. There no longer is any reason why we cannot build networks and websites for every rank, specialty, and project in the Corps. Taking advantage of all the benefits of special networks requires us to make the Internet accessible to all Marines and their families.
Random Observation #7. The Internet will force us to make changes in how we do things—changes we might not want to make. We can delay adapting to this new environment, but we cannot defeat it. For example, less than a dozen years ago the Encyclopedia Britannica was the world's greatest English-language encyclopedia and a very successful company. The key to selling the $1,500 bound encyclopedia was getting people knee to knee with a Britannica sales professional. Ten years later (and completely against its desires), Encyclopedia Britannica has dismantled its skilled sales force, virtually discontinued its paper volumes, and now provides its encyclopedia on its website for a small fee.
Random Observation #8. The Internet creates new problems of security, privacy, maintenance, and command. But all new technologies have a negative side: the machine gun created enormous problems of ammunition resupply, and gasoline-powered vehicles created enormous fuel problems. But the benefits of these powerful new technologies were so great that we had to embrace them and find ways to deal with the problems that went with them.
Orientation: Understand the Target, Tools, and Test
The key to gaining a better orientation toward the Internet is understanding the target, the tools, and the test. The target helps us answer the question: To whom are we trying to connect? "Connect" means two different but related activities: exchanging information and building relationships. Marines must connect with a wide variety of people, who can be organized into five categories—Marines, family, civilians, Department of Defense, and foreign.
As the Commandant noted in his guidance issued in the summer of 2000, the Marine Corps each year separates the equivalent of more than two infantry regiments before the expiration of their active-duty commitments. The Internet can help: we could join every first-term Marine into a "cyber fire team." These teams could consist of two retired Marines, an active-duty noncommissioned officer, and an active-duty junior officer. Their job would be to communicate with the first-term Marine weekly, get to know him, answer his questions, and keep him connected to the Corps. We also could track each team's progress.
Another important category is the family, which includes the spouses of first-term Marines. These are our youngest spouses, often away from home for the first time, with their active-duty spouse often gone and their money tight. We have worked hard for several years to increase our key volunteer network, and this program is paying great dividends But the Internet can help here as well. Why not activate the whole Marine Corps family and give each first-term spouse a set of mentor spouses, some from active-duty families and others from those of retired Marines?
The Corps needs to study each category systematically. For example, consider the subcategory of Congress. Are we using the Internet to its maximum effectiveness to exchange information and build relationships with congressional principals and their staffs? The Marine Corps has a problem with the backlog of maintenance and repair. Optimally, this backlog should be reduced from the $700-million level that General James Jones discussed with Congress during his confirmation hearings to about $100 million by 2010. This is a job for a "backlog of maintenance" website. Congressional staffers could go to the website to see with their own eyes the problems caused by the backlog: the rotting roofs, collapsing roads, and decaying bridges. We no longer have to write memos—we can take members of Congress out in the field without forcing them to leave Washington.
The same kinds of dramatic increases in connectivity can be achieved outside the Corps. We need to begin communicating in depth not just with friendly foreign militaries, but with non-friendly foreign militaries as well. We also now have the power to send information into terrorist cells directly. The Internet opens up closed places and connects the formerly isolated. Cyberwar does not mean just disrupting networked communications or flooding an adversary with misleading or untruthful information; it also means injecting hostile cells with powerful truthful information. Does this sound farfetched? Recently, guerrillas at war with government troops in the Philippines have taken to sending insulting text messages by cell phone to government troops during lulls in the fighting. With the Internet, there is nowhere to hide.
There is an array of tools that allows us to reach these targets. There are four connectivity alternatives available: broadcast, direct push, direct pull, and grid. Broadcasting simply means to send information to as many people as possible. The quintessential broadcast approach is a 30second commercial during the Super Bowl. It is true that advertising experts use the broadcast method to target certain sectors of the audience, but they do not target individuals. The Marine Corps for years has focused on creating interest in potential recruits by using television, radio, magazines, and billboards. This is an impersonal approach and does not permit interactivity. Direct push, on the other hand, means sending tailored information to a particular person. By using paper mail and, to a lesser extent, e-mail, the Marine Corps pushes information to specific people—mainly, potential recruits.
The direct-pull tool is even better suited to the Internet. Direct pull means, for example, creating a website so interesting, exciting, useful, and compelling that it pulls people into it. A particular person is drawn there and comes back again and again. The foundation of Marine recruiting is maintaining strong grassroots support between parents and educators. With the right kind of website, these parents and educators can buy into the Marine Corps with a click of a mouse. Several innovative Internet programs meant to build support have been developed, including adopt-a-squad, microtraining, values vitamins, and others.
The fourth tool is the grid. The grid method means building a matrix of conversation, community, and relationships that weaves in, out, around, and through your website. Some of this conversation concerns you directly, some of it does not—but your website becomes part of an ongoing swirl of participation and exchange. The grid is the most advanced connectivity tool; it recreates the town square in a distributed electronic form.
Today, the Marine Corps and the other services allocate communication resources among the four tools in an imbalanced way. Roughly 60% of resources are used for broadcast, 25% for direct push, 10% for direct pull, and less than 5% for grid. What we need is a more balanced approach. We should decrease our emphasis on the broadcast and direct-push methods and increase our use of the powerful direct-pull and grid methods.
The final part of orientation is the test, which provides a way to evaluate each of our connections. The test has three parts: What is the type of connection? What is the strength of the connection? How productive is the connection? In order of importance from lesser to greater, the four types of connection are bureaucratic, monetary, group, and personal. In the Marine Corps, we have a strong group connection: we are Marines together forever. But we do not appeal to near-separation Marines systematically on a group or personal basis—though by using the Internet's powers we could do so easily. Would some individual attention for these Marines lead to fewer separations? Of course.
The next step in the test is determining the strength of the connection. Will it survive problems and pitfalls? Is it transparent, immediate, interactive, informational, relational, detailed, and fun? If the answer to all of these is yes, then we have a strong connection. The final step of the test is to measure the connection's productivity. Is there ongoing, measurable mutual benefit? If not, why do we have the connection? What do we need to change? Understanding all of our crucial connections in depth is key to making good decisions about the Internet.
Decisions: Vote for the Internet and Internet Best Practices
- Treat the Internet as a serious opportunity, not as fad or frill, and support, encourage, and increase the hundreds of Internet projects already ongoing in the Corps by developing an Internet campaign plan.
- Adopt Internet best practices; our competition is not the other armed services but the best companies worldwide—where we mostly are behind. Reap asymmetrical hard-dollar savings through targeted quick-win projects—e.g., the Army estimates that from a small investment in a web-based Internet software program called Document Coordination System, it will reap a 78-to-1 savings in the preparation of large documents. This program now is available free to the Marine Corps.
- Build strong informational connections, and ensure that the three issues associated with every Internet project are taken seriously: security, privacy, and maintenance.
- Build wired and wireless infrastructures; we need not only the broadband connections between bases and stations but the broadband connectivity inside each base, between offices and desks, as well.
- Make Internet access available to all Marines and sailors. Ford Motor Company is making the Internet available to all its 350,000 employees for a nominal fee. Can the Marine Corps afford to do any less?
- Make sure there is more real-time and just-in-time education and training.
- Adopt a "recon-pull" model for Internet projects-our leadership must buy into an Internet vision and provide appropriate resources, support, and guidance. Use outsourcing where the Corps can benefit the most. Application service providers can take some of the burden of Internet projects off the shoulders of our already overcommitted active-duty Marines.
- Assign some of our top active-duty and reserve officers to monitor and coordinate the EDS Internet contract. This is a big opportunity to make good things happen.
Action: Move Quickly and Gain Long-term Momentum
A few key actions are better than a host of off-target busy work. There are three crucial short-term action steps: create a Corps-wide Internet working group to develop a Marine Corps Internet campaign plan, which would be separate from the ongoing public affairs and strategic initiatives group communications campaign plan; produce a single doorway to the Marine Corps Internet presence with a consistent look and feel across all sites and pages; and present the draft of the Internet campaign plan to the General Officers Symposium in fall 2001 for feedback.
The Internet has brought change and will bring even more in the future. But Marines always have been quick to adopt new tactics and technologies. With typical practicality, they will continue to embrace the Internet and put it to work. In one of his more inscrutable passages, Sun Tzu intoned, "It is according to the shapes that I lay the plans for victory, but the multitude does not comprehend this. Although every one can see the outward aspects, none understands the way in which I have created victory." Perhaps he had in mind something like the Internet—a powerful tool that has obvious outward aspects but that is much more difficult to understand completely. If the Marine Corps takes time to get oriented to the Internet, then it will be not just the first to fight, but also the first to focus and function on Internet time.
Lieutenant Colonel Kuntz is the officer in charge of the Peacetime Wartime Support Team, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, at San Antonio, Texas, and is a member of the Internet Strategy Cell at Headquarters Marine Corps. In civilian life, he is an Internet strategy comsultant.