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Knowledge Management - A Fad or a Ticket to Ride?
Notes accompanying a presentation to the Institute of Information Scientists, February 1998. This was subsequently updated and presented at their 40th anniversary event in September 1998. You can browse the presentation given on this occassion or download the Powerpoint file. (203K)
Since you are here and reading this, you have already bought your "ticket to ride" the knowledge management bandwagon. Its a roller coaster ride, and only those with the right skills and know-how will not be thrown off course. Hold tight and enjoy the ride!
New, yet not new
We have tracked its strategic impact since the mid 1980s (when I was Strategic Planning Manager at DEC UK), and its importance has been slowly but surely gaining momentum over the last decade or so, culminating in its widespread visibility as a strategic lever in 1995 (USA), and 1996-7 (UK).
Like all new terms, the number of definitions grows daily. Here’s our synthesis of the mainstream:
Typical Knowledge Management Initiatives
Two main thrusts:
Several key strategies - exploit knowledge in products, people, processes (see article). Also not forgetting what you knew e.g. downsizing.
What has happened to your corporate library?
Explicit vs. Tacit knowledge - that which is codifiable e.g. in documents, databases; that which is in people’ heads.
Nonaka and Takeuchi conversion processes:
Effective knowledge sharing is more than ‘explicit’ databases. However, information professionals can help the organisation move towards ‘knowledge bases’:
Your best contribution - the personal interface between the business need and the database(s) of information; the link between those with problems/queries and others with solutions. Be a ‘business partner’ and consultant. You are a key link in the organisation’s ‘web of vital knowledge’.
New roles identified in our research:
Some Key Skills
Shades of a hybrid, with varying depths of knowledge in particular areas:
Note: Specific knowledge e.g. of sources, needs continually refreshing, and decays faster than the basic skills.
Implications for Information Professionals
Knowledge is gaining visibility at top management levels. You can either be part of this, or watch it happen from the sidelines. If you want part of the action:
You have some key skills your organisation needs to succeed with its knowledge-based strategies. So go with the flow - join the bandwagon, and be successful!!
Journal of Knowledge Management - quarterly (with case studies)
By the presenter:
Knowledge Centres - Aggregating Dispersed Knowledge
Do you need a knowledge center, particularly since all the users and sources of knowledge are dispersed? Too often, we see organizations investing quite heavily in document management software, Intranets, and groupware technologies such as Lotus Notes/Domino, yet giving scant thought to the structure and organization of information they support. The management consultancies, in particular, have realized the benefits of a knowledge center, that puts order and structure onto an internal Intranet. In the Skyrme/Amidon report 'Creating the Knowledge Based Business' we feature Booz Allen & Hamilton's Knowledge Online and Price Waterhouse's KnowledgeViewSM. These systems have information specialists who manage content and provide services to their consultants. So why should an organization invest in a central services group rather than leaving it to individuals?
Consider the services that a typical knowledge center provides. It:
In short, they are a focal point for collection, structuring and disseminating information. That does not mean they do it all themselves. They set the framework and structures, develop the good practice guides, and provide information management expertise.
A 'center' saves costs on generic information processes by:
It can also act as a monitoring point that leverages knowledge for the rest of the business. Over time the cumulative knowledge and expertise within a center helps:
All this adds up to concentrated competence, a good example of the benefits of aggregating knowledge that would otherwise be dispersed and lack critical mass.
Since writing our report, we have become aware of the Knowledge Centers at American Management Systems, managed by Susan Hanley. Their brochure explains this point very well:
Hanley emphasizes that their centers offer more than a collection of information: "they actively and creatively link people". They provide "virtual communities of experts who find and deliver information to client teams". AMS have six knowledge centers and an AMS 'hotline', that consultants can call to get access to their knowledge. Hanley estimates that the center saved AMS $5000,000 in its first year of operation, mainly through faster query handling - on average, the experts at the centers can come up with relevant information and answers 8 times faster than the typical consultant!
Its a paradox of our times, that during a period when management consultancies have been building their centers, many industrial organizations have been running down their corporate libraries. If what's in their place can deliver these benefits, all well and good. However, how many corporations are missing the benefits of a critical mass that delivers the kinds of benefits experienced by AMS?
On the other hand, perhaps that why companies are spending so much money on consultancies - since the consultancies can now can put their fingers on vital knowledge quicker than the firms can themselves. Have they unwittingly outsourced a strategic asset, which once they had themselves? An interesting thought!
AMS is at http://www.amsinc.com
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