Knowledge management is all very well and fashionable, but there is an alarming bottom-line problem inherent in it - you never really know what information your users will consider useful until they ask you for it.
BG Technology, the research and technology arm of British Gas, provides a case in point. By its nature BG Technology is an extremely knowledge-intensive organisation, providing a range of services and expertise in all areas of engineering consultancy.
It also needs to know about newts. This is not because a megatonne of dead newts can be liquefacted into a microgram of organic neo-fossil fuel, but because the great crested newt is an endangered species - if you bung a gas pipeline too close to them there's hell to pay for disturbing them. Work may have to stop and large costs may be incurred.
This explains why one of the challenges deliberately presented to BG Technology's knowledge management system at a demonstration to engineers was to search for material on the great crested newt.
Fortunately, its search mechanism, which can look through more than 400,000 word meanings and 1.6 million word associations, found its target in the first hit. It was an article from the internal BG magazine, published on the company intranet, about an employee who was a government-licensed newt-handler and officially allowed to move and rehouse newts.
BG Technology uses knowledge management for all sorts of important tasks for its 16,500 users, such as holding "pre-done" client demonstrations so that a presenter doesn't have to spend his weekend making up foils and ordering bullet-points.
Its central repository provides a single point of reference for what is or has already been done across the organisation, saving duplication of effort. Thus, when one business unit researched the hand-held computer market, it was able to post its findings to the knowledge bank so that no other unit would have to repeat the work.
"We have learnt to treat knowledge as a resource," says Martin Vasey, general manager of BG Technology's Applied Knowledge Solutions. "The importance of knowledge is often overlooked, but it can add value to a business and even drive it in new directions."
And it's great for newt-spotters.