KM With Everything
As KM has become more pervasive in organizations, it has been applied in an ever increasing number of business functions. To fully exploit the knowledge potential within your organization, you need to apply a 'knowledge lens' to all your business activities. Only when KM thinking is applied to virtually every business issue and process will you realize the full benefits of KM.
KM In Every Function
Whatever the function, applying a knowledge perspective - what knowledge is needed to carry out this activity, what knowledge proceses and flows are involved, what new knowledge is generated - can bring significant benefits, as these selected examples illustrate:
- Research and Development - by looking at knowledge flows within the innovation process, it is possible to improve connections that were weak or not there before. One company strengthened its links with university researchers and brought an innovative new product to market months ahead of competitors; others use 'idea banks' to store idea which though no commercial benefit can be seen at the time, often bear fruit in the future when matched with customer problems or developments in technology.
- Quality and Six Sigma - some of the early 'quick wins' in KM were through organizations sharing knowledge of best practice. There is significant synergy between the methods of Six Sigma and KM. APQC (American Productivity and Quality Center) have shown that embedding some core KM methods, such as communities of practice, into the Six Sigma approach, that additional benefits through better quality flow through to the bottom line.
- Marketing - organizing knowledge about products and applications and previous sales can make a tremendous difference to customer account teams putting new bids together; one example was a Siemen's bid for a contract in the Far East, which after the introduction of their intranet portal was able to draw heavily on an earlier bid in Denmark.
- Customer service - understanding the problems that customers are reporting helps build up a knowledge base of the experience of products and services in action. As solutions are found these can be made easily accessible to support staff. Going even further, computer companies claim savings of millions of dollars but putting such 'knowledge bases' online so that customers can find the solutions themselves.
- Risk management - this discipline, like KM, requires being more explicit in what might otherwise be 'expert knowledge'. At its core is a detailed knowledge of the nature of the risk. By embedding good KM practice, such as knowledge acquisition, knowledge harvesting and knowledge sharing into routine risk management activities, a more quantified risk management knowledge base is developed. At NASA an integrated KM-RM approach helped them identify the really critical risks from the many hundreds of 'lessons learned'.
It does not matter what function or business activity, applying a knowledge lens, can give improved insights into what makes those activities effective. Furthermore, applying some of the basic KM techniques, e.g. for learning lessons and sharing knowledge, can improve the performance of that function.
Smarten Your Business Processes
A business process represents an articulation of best practice knowledge, which can then be re-applied on a routine basis. Many business processes cut across several departmental boundaries. Information and knowledge flows as an integral part of the process. But how explicit is this knowledge? Is there a reservoir of guidance or 'pointers to experts' for help in carrying out specific steps? By thinking of a business process as a set of knowledge stores and flows can significantly enhance the quality of that process.
One insurance company embedded knowledge into its underwriting as follows. First it identified their best underwriters, and used their knowledge to build a knowledge map of the factors that led to successful outcomes. It then used these experts to inform the development of a completely new underwriting process. The process was implemented with a desktop application and supporting databases. For example, at a given stage of the process, an underwriter could access additional guidance. The net result was a significant improvement in the profitability of its business.
Apply a knowledge dimension to each of your core business and management processes by:
- Identify your core processes (management as well as routine) and review the process maps if available (if they aren't, your job is harder)
- Through the individual concerned find what knowledge inputs they need to succeed in their part of the process
- Vonsider what KM practices, tools and techniques can enhance the gathering, processing and dissemination of this knowledge
- Identify potential users and uses of the new knowledge created and how it can be stored and/or packaged for re-use
- Is the process sufficiently generic or widespread that a community of practice could be a focus of excellence for knowledge about this process?
Last updated: 19th March 2011