Why adopt a Knowledge Management strategy?
Key pointers about the value of adopting a knowledge management strategy. Is KM a business or an IT tool?
True knowledge management?
I keep hearing about KM and I can see there is value locked away somewhere that has to be harnessed. We are looking at KM from a standing start and practical advice seems to be very vague. I don't just want to throw money at a project that will give us an extra layer of information. Is KM an IT issue or a cultural issue? Can you give me three clear pointers about how to approach KM adoption?
Verbal garbage causes confusion
Knowledge management (KM) is a meaningless term dreamed up as a fad, designed to make consultants a shed-load of money. Its greatest advantage in this respect is that no-one has a clue what it means, and so it can mean anything the consultant tells you it is. The big question you have to ask yourself is, "Can you put KM in a wheelbarrow?" In other words, is it tangible, measurable, is it a real thing? No, of course it's not, and many people are now realising this. Here are three ways to approach KM:
Never use the term again - instead look at what you are really going to achieve - the clear outcome
If you are defining KM as your people's knowledge and skills, then put in place a programme of cultural change that will ignite and release insight and ideas
If you are defining KM as the information inside your IT systems, and piles of paper printouts around, then invest in an intranet or new executive information system (again, be clear what you are looking at, and what will be the outcome).
KM is the type of verbal garbage that causes confusion. If you don't believe me, try asking five people what it means - you'll get five different answers.
It crosses boundaries but must be business-driven
Dr Karin Breu
Research fellow in IS, Cranfield School of Management
KM crosses organisational and functional boundaries. It is both an IT and a cultural issue. Initiatives at adopting KM should always be business-driven and include:
Starting with your organisation's business objectives and strategy, determine how KM will contribute to their delivery. Design an organisation-wide KM strategy. When seeking to exploit your organisation's knowledge resource strategically, take KM onto the board agenda and appoint a chief knowledge officer or KM director to how your organisation values KM
Implement an organisation-wide KM framework to evaluate and plan projects. Design reward systems that incentivise people to begin to share knowledge. Use rich technologies that combine multiple channels such as text, video and voice in order to effectively support the exchange of knowledge that is far more complex to communicate than information and data
Assess where in the organisation KM can realise the greatest value and prioritise investments.
KM novices need culture switch
To answer your key question first- yes, if you are looking at KM from a "standing start", then KM is primarily a cultural issue. In most medium and large businesses executives are facing an information overload so that merely providing more is counter productive. Also, although a knowledge infrastructure will become necessary it is unlikely that this can be driven by IT initiatives alone. What advice can we give?
There has to be a top-down commitment to a knowledge-driven culture, where knowledge sharing is actively encouraged and rewarded and where best practice is actively sought and promulgated. For example, by promoting the transfer of knowledge across projects
Drive the implementation of both Internet and intranet environments; although this in itself is not a sufficient strategy, these environments are crucial to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge
The most immediate return and most visible benefits may well be found in the customer service area, in marketing and in customer-focused operations.
Do an information audit first
Senior consultant, NCC Group
While KM is both an IT and a cultural issue, in most organisations the culture would need to change quite significantly so that information and knowledge are viewed as a resource and an intellectual asset - and recognised as being of significant value to your organisation.
The first step in the adoption of KM throughout your organisation is to perform an information audit. This will need to:
Identify what information exists within the organisation, where it resides, who uses it, at what cost and to what effect. Seek to establish where information needs exist and which are not adequately catered for, and what the consequences will be for individuals, their departments and for the business as a whole
Understand how information assets are being put to use and how these can be more effectively harnessed to achieve optimum productivity and strategic advantage. The audit should focus primarily on information and knowledge that benefits business activity, initially you should look for breadth rather than depth, identifying criticality as you go. Information activity should be quantified, gaps in existing provision identified and any redundancy of information gathering and storage effort highlighted. The audit should map out how data flows, or fails to flow, and confirm who owns and who manages critical resources.
As we are living and working in the most information rich era in human history, it seems criminal not to use the knowledge the asset can provide for our benefit. The trick is to liberate it without reducing productivity in the process.
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This was first published in August 2000