IT Systems and Infrastructure
Since computer systems are likely to be a big component in any KM programme, this stage of the assessment reviews existing and planned ICT (information and communications technology) capabilities. Unlike other parts of the asssessment, most organizations can draw on hard statistical data, although it will need supplementing with user inputs.
Layer of Capabilities
There are several frameworks that we use to depict ICT capabilities. These include:
- IT support for the knowledge value chain - from creation and identification, through classifying and organizing, to dissemination and delivery
- the 6C layers of connectivity, content, communications, conversations, coordination and collaboration
- a simplified layered model of IT architecture
A good perspective of the ICT contribution to KM which incorporates the first two models is given in David Skyrme's article Is IT Delivering? (PDF). Here we use the third model, which is an expansion of the bottom two layers of our KM Capability Model.
For each layer, the assessor should identify both levels of functionality and performance. Much of this information should be obtainable within the IT department, but in our experience many pieces of data that are relevant to users and KM are not well kept or analysed. It may well require supplementary questionnaire (or inclusion of relevant questions in audit questionnaires or interviews) to extract this key data. Here is an outline of what should be sought at each layer:
- Access devices - what devices do users use at different locations to access knowledge - both information sources, applications and their peers? How much of their time is spent using each device and in what mode (e.g. voice or data)? What restrictions are placed on their use? What security measures are in place to protect proprietary information? Don't forget the use of technologies such as video-conferencing and tele-presence suites.
- Networks - what is the capacity and pattern of use of different networks? What is availability and achieved bandwidth from different locations? How reliant are knowledge workers on the network, e.g. what happens if the network goes down for any length of time?
- Tools - these include tools like email, office suites, social media and general information processing tools.1 Here it is important to find both common tools and specialized tools that are used in only a few parts of the organization but which their users regard as essential. Data such as availability, usage, fitness for purpose (includes functionality, quality, effectiveness) and interoperability form the bulk of the data needed.
- Applications - many of these are function-specific, such as engineering CAD packages; as well as basic information on usage etc. two aspects need special consideration: interoperability with other applications and tools (do they use open standards?) and (related) how easy is it to access (and synchronize) the knowledge they contain for other purposes?
- Information stores - user data from these should emerge from the knowledge audit. However, user perspections are often misleading. A common question I ask is "how many files are stored on shared drives?" Usually the number is underestimated by a factor of 10! And many of the files are duplicates or obsolete versions, helping to make the case for a more formal document management system. Another thing I usually find is that web statistics for external facing websites are more informative than those for intranets - page referral sources, number of page views, time spent viewing per page, number of user sessions etc. Often even more inaccessible is the degree of use and usage patterns for specific databases. These may have to be derived from systems questions in the knowledge audit or analysis of business processes.
Although the primary focus of this stage is on the here and now, any data should be augmented by an understanding of what the ICT strategy for the future is, and what developments and plans are currently in progress. It should also be matched against user needs, such as quality of search results, speed of accessing and using databases. In several cases it has been found that a good definition of user's needs, spelt out as far as possible in quantitative terms, provides a good basis for developing a business and user focussed ICT strategy and performance indicators.
1. Email is one of those technologies with which users have a love-hate relationship. In almost every KM programme, making more effective use of email (such as by promulgating an 'email charter' and sharing email best practice) is often a 'quick win'. We are currently preparing a comprehensive K-Guide. In the meantime see Best Practices: Email.
Last updated: 30th April 2012