No. 6: November 1996
Virtual Knowledge Enterprises
New Learning Organisation Network
Welcome to the first electronic edition of I3 UPDATE. Some of you may have had hard-copy editions in the past. Others may have registered from our Web page and wondered why you have not received anything yet. From now on our aim is to issue newsletters on a more regular basis (at least monthly), by going online and using an electronic mail list. This is a free subscription service.
I3 stands for Intelligence, Insight and Innovation. Our aim is to help you gain intelligence and insight into innovation in the field of knowledge networking - creating new knowledge enabled by advanced technologies. We analyse and digest news to give you trends, insights and implications in topics such as knowledge management, effective use of the Internet, telework, teletrade and telecooperation.
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David J. Skyrme
More and more people are speaking about knowledge as the next way of gaining a strategic edge in today's dynamic global economy. This year has seen the arrival of conferences on 'knowledge management' in abundance, something our colleague Debra Amidon foresaw in her article Momentum of Knowledge Management. But, research we are doing for a Business Intelligence report on knowledge management (watch this space!) indicates that many companies don't understand what knowledge they have and what they are losing when they restructure, downsize or outsource - quite often some vital knowledge simply "walks out of the door".
Knowing What You Know
I'm struck by one vivid example of this close to home. Only last month a colleague told me he had been made redundant. His organisation was 'slimming down' to be more competitive in their now more deregulated market, and his group's services were were considered 'non-essential'. However, while working out their notice period, and having got plans well under way for a new future together, the company finally realised how essential they were. They had a lot of unique knowledge that was valuable in their business context - gained through years of practical experience in their field as well as much tacit knowledge of their industry. Further, in knowledge parlance, this knowledge was internalised at the team level - though not at the organisational level. They were asked "did they want their jobs back"? What would you say having been treated as such? Now, through planning their future together this team now recognised the value of their knowledge in their industry even though their company had not.
Therefore, whatever programmes of restructuring and reengineering are taking place, has your organisation mapped out its knowledge base? If it hasn't, how can it know what it is losing when restructuring? Also, are we all making the best use of knowledge that is accessible through electronic networks?
If You Don't Have It - Is it in the Network?
Let me bring together four strands of observations based on my own recent work:
- Great minds come together - but do they stay together? This summer, there was a gathering in London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of MENSA International. This brought together people of high intellect from all over the world. I was privileged to talk to them about Internet as a Global Intelligence Network. But as soon as the event was over this formidable brain power dispersed.
- Not 'losing the recipe'. Research I have been doing for a forthcoming Business Intelligence report on Knowledge Management (due for publication early 1997 - watch this space!) indicates that one reason why companies are keen on knowledge management is an attempt to capture knowledge into the firm's infrastructure (its structural capital), making it organisational knowledge, so they don't lose when restructuring (as described in my earlier example).
- The Internet as a connector to knowledge. While many senior managers have scorned the Internet because of its glitzy advertising image (and there are reports of disappointment and many corporate Web sites downgrading their investments in their Internet presence), the fact is that every serious professional will find a growing wealth of useful information. It is the search engines and key resource pages, rather than the advertisements, that act as their starting point to this extensive 'docuverse'. The popularity of search engines, and the fact they they are some of the few sites that can attract significant advertising revenue, indicates their important role they play for Internet users.
- Knowledgeable people willing to be consulted. On serious discussion lists and in conversation I come across many professionals who are active knowledge exchangers. Many, like myself, are ex-corporate (having got 'downsized'), but many still work for a large employer (though you can often sense frustration and stress of today's corporate life). All of us exchange ideas, problems and solutions as part of our personal and professional development.
From these four observations we can draw several inferences:
- throughout the world there is much active knowledge exchange
- some of this is one-to-one, but often it is shared on a wider basis
- these are generally informal, and may be face-to-face or via electronic networks
- companies may lose knowledge, but its out there somewhere
- people place a higher value on information that is categorised and organised.
So why do we still see managers who bemoan the lack of vital information or knowledge (expressed as skills, experience etc.), yet on the other complain of information overload? There is no simple answer. Part is due to lack of effective information management (including filtering and organising). Part, I am sure, is due to companies wanting to own or control knowledge. But the main reason, I am convinced, is that we lack effective knowledge markets, places where knowledge can be shared and traded.
If you are reading this online, and particularly if you use discussion lists, newsgroups or the Web, you are one of the pioneers in emerging online knowledge marketplaces. Just as financial markets have evolved from the cosy coffee houses of yesteryear to vast trading floors and now to virtual markets, virtual markets for knowledge exchange, with some of the efficiencies will surely follow (will be trading knowledge derivatives in 10 years time?!). So, the challenge for all of us is to start with effective principles of knowledge management - of which a knowledge audit is first. More of that in a future newsletter.
Useful Web site: Searchable list of discussion (email) lists - http://www.liszt.com
Recent surveys show that expenditure on in-house 'intranets' is growing more rapidly than on the Internet. That's great, as long as companies don't to become too inward looking. In the general Internet scene, you have to get beneath the hype to discern what is really happening. All the talk on Java would make you think that you are in the Internet dark ages if you aren't using it. Don't worry if you're not - you are in the vast majority. Though it will be significant in the future (what wouldn't with all the vendor backing it has!), it is a small minority of net users at present, and many of the applications are in development (remember it's usually version 3 of anything before it really becomes useful!).
Here are what we believe to be the most five significant trends over the last six months:
- New media - new methods - new companies: large companies are (finally) learning to their cost that you don't just give over your Internet presence to your marketing promotions or media team. Most users give up waiting for the fancy 50Kbyte size graphic on the home page to download. Effective Internet presence involves good use of email and other methods. In virtually every market, from retail sales to property, smaller companies, who understand the medium are more effect than the established market suppliers - banks, and others, watch out!
- Better designed search facilities and directories - most search facilities e.g. Lycos, Infoseek have adopted some of the structure previously found in directories like Yahoo!. Likewise Yahoo! has added more search capabilities. Reviews and ratings are a growing feature (started with services like Magellan). Finding information is getting easier all the time. Update (1999) - Magellan was absorbed into Excite, and Infoseek was absorbed into Go
- Finer segmentation - a good sign of a growth market with business opportunities. Yahoo! has a UK edition (http://www.yahoo.co.uk). There are resource pages aimed at specific interest niches (e.g. truckers). Distribution lists are also becoming more targetted. This is the real future of the Internet - creating and meeting the needs of global special interest groups.
Update (1999) - see feature article on portals (I3 UPDATE No. 31).
Email holds its own - with all the publicity of the Web it is often forgotten that most net activity involves email. Furthermore, off-line readers mean that users can access it quickly and effectively without waiting online for pages to download (though there are now off-line Web page readers). People are finding it easier to handle attachments (such as Word documents) though some of the major in-house mail systems (e.g. Microsoft Mail) do need careful configuration. And of course, email has all the benefits of speed, lower cost and turnaround, compared to other methods such as fax or phone.
- Mega-media, mega-bucks and mega-failures - There has been a scurry of investment by major media interests (newspapers, TV and radio interests) to get online. Many do it with the pazzaz and imagery of their conventional approaches and media, costing them mega-bucks (some have invested tens of millions of dollars). But will they succeed? The Internet is a different media. One day we may all have high band-width cable delivering real time video into our home. But that's not today. Already we have seen the demise of Europe Online, despite initial backing from large investors. We have seen publishers drop out of the CR-ROM market. Others like the BBC and Virgin have yet to launch. They all believe in the huge consumer market out there waiting to be tapped. But, many traps await them in this new media. There are interesting times ahead.
On another note - the expected consolidation of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in the UK has yet to materialise, and companies like Mercury (now to be merged into Cable and Wireless) are targetting small business for their Internet connections. Again, another busy market, where niche and value added strategies are more likely to succeed than pure muscle. We have currently been researching the structure of the UK ISP market and hope to report our findings in a future I3 UPDATE. Update - this was not published.
All of which says - there is plenty of opportunity there for everyone, but investing large sums of money does not guarantee success. After all the Internet is a market where knowledge is power and entry barriers low (though sometimes a little finance does help).
At the House of Lords in London, on 31 October, Lord Thurlow hosted a dinner for representatives of major UK companies and public sector institutions seeking to create a new initiative to cooperate in research and the application of individual and organisational learning. Executives from Anglian Water, BP, Bull Information Systems, ICL, ICI, NatWest Markets, the National Health Service, Premier Oil and Royal Sun Alliance were among those present.
The new entity will comprise a network of practitioners and a not-for-profit directorate acting as a catalyst for building the next generation of leaders and developing the concepts and practice of 'learning organisations'. It will be a member of ENFOLD, the European Network for Organisational Learning Development.
Update (1999) - Contact details removed, since ENFOLD reconstituted itself as European Chapters within SoL, the Society for Organizational Learning.
Knowledge Management 96: 3-4 December, London (Tel: +44 181 544 1852) featuring associate Debra Amidon on "The Emerging Community of Knowledge Practice"
European Telework Week (4-11 November) - http://www.eto.org.uk/etw96/etw96.htmUpdate - ETW now has its own web site http://www.etw.org
Only 3 per cent of UK marketing directors consider themselves well informed about the Internet (KPMG survey)
© Copyright, 1996. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge
management, knowledge networking and collaborative technologies.