top of page
  • Gary Pine

Capturing Latent, At-risk Knowledge in the US Navy

Updated: May 23, 2023

CASE STUDY | United States Navy

The term "latent, at-risk knowledge" refers to valuable information that exists within an organisation but is at risk of being lost due to factors such as employee turnover, retirements, or evolving operational practices. In the context of the US Navy, this knowledge could encompass strategies, techniques, or practices developed through years of service and experience.
Capturing Latent, At-risk Knowledge in the US Navy


In 'Capturing Latent, At-risk Knowledge in the US Navy', we spotlight a prevalent issue in complex organisations like the Navy. Here, experienced personnel possess profound knowledge of their individual roles but often lack comprehension of their impact on others and the organisation at large. This leads to a significant but under-recognised 'key person risk.' This phenomenon, particularly prevalent in engineering contexts, is known as the 'greybeard' problem.

In this case study, we focus on the challenge of preserving ship design knowledge in the US Navy - an issue of relevance not only to the government, defence, and marine sectors but also to a wide range of industries. The issue becomes particularly pressing in sectors with an ageing workforce possessing deep expertise acquired in a pre-digital era. While the context may be specific, the lessons are widely applicable across products, services, and vertical markets.

In This Case Study You Will Learn

  • How is the BOXARR Platform revolutionising the landscape by empowering even novices to encapsulate their knowledge?

  • In what transformative ways can BOXARR facilitate a joint endeavour of knowledge elicitation?

  • How can the wealth of knowledge amassed in BOXARR ignite a boost in collaborative productivity?

Our Customer

Holding an impressive position as the most massive among the Navy's five system commands, the United States Navy Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) operates with an astounding annual budget nearing $30 billion. This considerable allocation represents a quarter of the entire US Navy’s financial plan, underscoring the significant role that NAVSEA plays within the military structure.

NAVSEA proudly manages a formidable naval force unparalleled in history, comprising 74,000 resolute individuals, both civilians and military personnel. These people are the driving force behind the construction, procurement, and upkeep of the Navy's powerful fleet of ships and submarines, along with their accompanying state-of-the-art combat systems.

Their responsibilities extend beyond national defence; NAVSEA also supervises 150 acquisition programs and foreign military sales cases, dealing in billions of dollars in military sales annually. These initiatives foster and strengthen military partnerships with nations worldwide, furthering international defence cooperation. The breadth and depth of NAVSEA's operations are truly vast, extending its influence and impact on a global scale.

Their Challenge

Over time, the US Navy has witnessed a concerning erosion of its design expertise, most of which has been outsourced to the very shipbuilders entrusted with the construction of their paramount assets - the ships themselves. This gradual depletion of in-house knowledge presents a significant issue, particularly considering recent experiences with ship-build projects.

These initiatives have frequently missed their cost and delivery time estimates, creating additional financial and logistical challenges for the Navy. Moreover, several instances have surfaced in the public eye where project costs have escalated drastically, more than doubling initial projections in some cases.

This trend of overshooting budgets and delivery timelines not only impacts the Navy's operational readiness but also strains its resources, potentially hampering future fleet expansion or modernisation efforts. Hence, there's an urgent need to address this loss of design expertise and control costs effectively to ensure the successful and timely delivery of naval assets.

Why did US Navy have this problem?

The US Navy is grappling with a twofold problem. Firstly, they're confronting the rapid pace of technological advancements outpacing the design cycle times. This technological acceleration necessitates a more agile and adaptable approach to ship design, lest they be left behind.

Simultaneously, they're also dealing with an ageing cohort of expert Naval architects. These individuals possess a wealth of critical knowledge and experience essential to effective ship project management. However, as they approach retirement, there's a risk of significant knowledge loss, which could undermine the Navy's ability to efficiently manage future ship projects.

Recognizing these challenges, the Navy has made a strategic decision to capture and codify the preliminary ship design process from approximately 100 Naval Architects. This represents a concerted effort to transform tacit knowledge into explicit, easily transferable knowledge.

The intention behind this initiative is to create a foundational model that can be used as a launchpad for new ship design projects. This approach aims to facilitate smoother and more effective collaboration by providing a general plan that can be customized for specific new ship projects.

In this way, the Navy aims to future-proof its design processes, maintain the rich knowledge of its seasoned architects, and foster a collaborative environment that can more readily adapt to rapidly evolving technology.

Nowhere to store knowledge and no tools to help facilitate its capture

Facing a significant knowledge retention challenge, the Navy had already initiated workshops with their Naval Architects to document and retain critical design knowledge. However, they quickly realised they lacked a suitable platform for both the storage of this knowledge and the tools to assist its capture effectively. This left them with a wealth of insights but no adequate way to organise, store, or apply them.

The discovery of BOXARR represented a turning point. This platform provided a solution for the challenges they were facing - it was a tool that facilitated the capture of knowledge in a collaborative and networked fashion, providing a suitable and secure repository for the information gleaned.

Beyond just storage and knowledge capture, BOXARR also offered visualisation and analytical capabilities. This allowed the Navy not only to collect and store critical design knowledge but also to meaningfully engage with and draw insights from it.

Recognising the advantages of BOXARR, the Navy made the decision to cancel existing plans to develop an in-house tool. The power and versatility of BOXARR's capabilities presented a ready-made solution that aligned with their needs, proving it an invaluable asset in their quest to retain and capitalise on their design expertise.

The BOXARR Solution

How did BOXARR approach the challenge?

To facilitate knowledge extraction workshops, BOXARR was set up on several laptops, dispersed across multiple rooms within a conference centre. This setup provided an accessible and collaborative environment for the attendees to share and record their insights.

Following the workshops, the collected knowledge was stored securely on a network of permanent servers. These servers became the central repository for critical design knowledge, available for continual access and exploration by multiple users within the Navy.

In addition, a copy of the knowledge model was made available on a Navy online network. This web-based platform ensured broader access to the information, providing an additional layer of flexibility and reach, as well as strengthening the overall continuity of knowledge within the organization.

How was our client involved in this stage?

During the workshops, roughly a hundred Naval architects gathered in approximately ten specialised groups, each focusing on a unique area of expertise. Despite having minimal prior training, they successfully facilitated the manual capture of critical design knowledge.

This collaborative effort resulted in a preliminary ship design model, documenting thousands of distinct ship design activities. The model they created now serves as a foundational blueprint for subsequent design initiatives.

What was the solution?

Upon completion of the workshops, Naval personnel and major contractors took to task the application of the compiled model as an initial blueprint for launching new ship design projects.

Utilizing BOXARR's visualisation and analysis capabilities, they formed the groundwork for crucial design discussions. These strategic meetings, drawing insights from the interactive BOXARR model, led to the development of customised project plans for four upcoming ship designs.

This practice not only streamlined the planning process but also ensured that these new designs were built upon the collective knowledge and experience of the Naval architects, thus bridging the knowledge gap and mitigating risk.

Annualised Return on Investment

Annualised Return on Investment (ROI) is a useful metric that shows the profitability of an investment over a period of one year. It allows investors to compare the performance of different investments over the same timeframe, regardless of the actual length of the investment.
Annualised Return on Investment

If you would like to know more about the Case Study please contact us.


bottom of page