Is technology necessary for Knowledge Management?

May 21, 2007

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A large percentage of my posts so far have touched upon technology in the KM sphere. Now, while a portion of you practicing KM out there might feel that technology has no place in KM i still feel that in this day and age creating a robust technology platform that can support a KM initiative is one of the most important milestones you can set for your company.

Let me be very clear about the meaning of my statement above, technology is not Knowledge Management. As stated in earlier posts, a warped understanding of the term “Knowledge Management” have led a large number of companies to re-christen their information system initiatives under this umbrella. This aside, i do feel very strongly that unless you have a strong technology framework your KM initiative will not be as widespread as it should.

A prime example would be in the area of communications. The single biggest challenge to sharing knowledge in any organization are its barriers to communication. Once you’ve opened those up knowledge automatically starts flowing. Environment management, that’s what KM is all about.

Technology helps overcome personal limitations as well. A considerably large number of people are not very outspoken in the corporate world. These people are just as smart, if not more, than the outspoken ones. Creating a communications framework to allow them to contribute should be an organization wide goal. A technology solution, something as simple as a discussion board, would solve this problem almost instantaneously.

One thing that you need to keep in mind when creating a technology framework is, do NOT over-engineer. While you might build the most advanced KM system, at the end of the day what determines the application’s success is how well its received by the end-users. Engineer the system around their requirements and there is a good chance you’ll walk away from an application that truly helps with knowledge management.


Choosing the RIGHT technology for KM

April 11, 2007

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This is a question that a lot of you might have battled with at some point in time and if i’m not mistaken continue to do so. Before we get into the “meat” of this post let me sum it up for you , there is NO right technology for KM.

While we all agree KM is more of a cultural initiative, there is no doubting that without a solid technology backbone chances are you’re heading down a dark road.

I’ve reviewed a large number of applications that claim to provide the perfect KM solution, and guess what? they don’t. No surprise there for those of you who’ve spent time trying to find an application that suites your needs. Please feel free to disagree with me, and if you’ve stumbled upon that “Perfect” KM tool do leave a comment. I’m sure the rest of my readers would love to get their hands on that information, as would I.

Traditionally speaking, a large percentage of corporates seem to have gone the Microsoft way. Starting at Sharepoint 2001 then migrating to 2003 and now 2007. The reason this is the case is because unlike certain other very specific applications like documentum which cost the earth, Microsoft’s Sharepoint is a lot cheaper and integrates extremely well with all its other products. Let’s face it, MS Office Suite is the basic technology foundation upon which almost every company works on.

I’m currently working on a MOSS 2007 deployment, and while this isn’t my first choice for a KM product, certain constraints ( like those i mentioned above ) prevent me from going in any other direction. Though, i was pleasantly surprised to see certain major improvements in the technology (There are a number of posts on MOSS 2007 in my blog if you are interested).

At the end of the day, If you want an application that is simple and easy enough to use – get one that provides the very basic features right out of the box. However, if you have more specific requirements i’d advise you to develop one from scratch.

This is a balancing act, if you have a great technology team to back you up its probably a good idea to go this route. I’m certain you’ll find open source applications that cater to your every requirement. Its just a matter of integrating them to ensure that you get a functionally seamless tool.

Would also appreciate it if you could leave comments on the various tools that you’ve used and the benefits and drawbacks you’ve observed.


Knowledge Management and Technology

April 9, 2007

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When i started this blog the underlying reason was that there was a huge disparity between what i’ve read about knowledge management and the way its actually implemented in most organizations.

If you ask any KM expert about whether there is a standard method of implementing KM chances are he/she would probably say there isn’t one. It entirely depends on what your goals are and how these processes are received by your audience. At the end of the day, that is what really matters. The greatest KM Framework would still flounder if there isn’t buy-in from the grass roots level.

It has always been stated that Knowledge Management is not about technology. However from what i’ve seen in most companies (these are relatively large corporates which have their people spread all over the globe) technology seems to be the backbone of the KM initiative. Unless you have a platform that allows people to extract the information they want and allow them to contribute to the system, chances are your KM strategy will not work.

This is because the average employee in the organization is so focused on his job that anything above and beyond is considered an effort. Though, dont expect people to come running just because you have built a system. There has to be a benefit to the employee, this can either be in the form of making his job easier to do, or providing an incentive for him to contribute to the system.

There are exceptions however, the whole open source community is built on a knowledge management model. The initiatives here aren’t driven by incentives – and while there were skeptics, at the end of the day these have showed us that knowledge management can sustain itself in the long run.

I’ve tried to put down the basics of KM in the form of strategies that you might want to use to create an underlying framework to tackle an initiative like this. You can read those articles here.

The bottom line is, regardless of what technology you use, at the end of the day you need to get your people the right information at the right time, with as little effort as possible.


ROI for Knowledge Management

March 26, 2007

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As with every business venture , unless there is a solid case built on the ROI chances are the initiative wouldn’t get the backing of the executive team. It’s a numbers game, and without a clear indication of some benefit, in terms of a dollar figure, it get more and more difficult to justify the costs.

Now the reason i started up this post is to get an idea of how companies , if at all, calculate the ROI on a knowledge management initiative. Based on my experience, figuring out where the knowledge is and getting it to flow is tough enough, adding a number value to it seems next to impossible . Sure , there have been methods where people have attempted to calculate it. But the question of a methodology robust enough to calculate the ROI of a KM intiative doesn’t seem to be here as yet, then again i could be wrong.

So, if any of you have managed to implement an accurate ROI calculation in a KM environment i’d love to hear about it. Do leave a comment , against this post so other people can get involved in this discussion.


Launching your KM initiative

March 2, 2007

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You’ve already spent a lot of time identifying where your company is placed in terms of launching an initiative like this as well as chalking out a strategy to deploy KM. Now comes the really difficult part, launching the initiative.

The first step is to identify whether its time to transition to this phase of KM. There are certain key indicators you can look for.

  • You have created strategies to learn from your KM initiatives
  • Strategies have been mapped out to replicate your pilot initiatives across the organization.
  • There already exists certain communitites of practices, or you have a KM intranet site.
  • You have set the stage for initiatives by recruiting and training facilitators.
  • You’ve set up a tracking mechanism to gain valuable feedback on your initiatives.

The points mentioned above are a few indicators that should prompt you to move into the third phase of your KM life cycle.

Now that you’ve moved into this phase there are certain intiatives that you can carry out.

The first being capturing of lessons learnt. This is critical to the long term sustainability of your KM initiative. Unless you know what went right and what went wrong in your pilots you might continue to make the same mistakes when you try replicating it elsewhere. Based on the lessons learnt you can take an informed decision on whether you want to carry on with the intiative or move on to something more lucrative.

Establishing replicable methodologies is another important part of this phase. The launching of a pilot allows you to focus on capturing best practices. Information of this nature can be easily used somewhere else in the organization. So a concious effort must be made to track and capture all best practices during the course of the pilot.

The primary focus of this phase is to identify best practices , processes and lessons learnt so you can replicate it again and again. This is probably the single most profitable take away from a KM initiative.


Your KM Strategy

March 1, 2007

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When do you know its time to move into the second phase of your Knowledge Management Roadmap?

  • If, you have successful initiatives already been conducted at the grassroots level.
  • If, An executive sponsor decides to support KM initiatives.
  • If, You have identified pilots to showcase the benefits of KM.
  • If, A KM steering committee has been put in place.

The points above make a very good case for establishing a KM Strategy in your organization.

The first and most important step is to identify a KM task force. Unless you have a group of people dedicated to designing and implementing KM initiatives, these activities will start taking a back seat.

Create a set of pilots that can effectively be used to promote KM. If there are already grassroot level initiatives being conducted make sure you bring them under the KM umbrella and provide visibility to them.

Once you’ve have a team set up to tackle KM and have identified a couple of pilots start the process of putting together resources to enable the execution of the pilot. This is a very critical phase as even if you have chalked out a comprehensive KM strategy and found a set of pilots that do showcase KM well a mistake in this phase could complete ruin your chances of successful implementation.

An overall KM strategy is built on the success of its pilots, failures in the initial stages could become a huge deterent towards establishing KM an organization wide initiative.


Getting Started

March 1, 2007

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Over the past few posts we’ve talked about a variety of subjects, Strategies to implement KM , How to run communities of practice, the effect of blogs on KM and so on. The most common question however is not how to implement KM but when. I thought i’d put together a few thought on when you should start think of looking at a Knowledge Management initiative for your organization.

So when is your company ready to start a KM initiative? If any of the following statements are true then its probably time for just that.

  • A number of people have already started exploring the benefits of implementing KM in your organization.
  • Someone has a personal stake in developing KM.
  • KM has emerged as a topic of interest in your organization.
  • The organization has a high-level vision of pursuing and implementing KM.

Right, now you’ve figured out that its time to implement KM in your organization, but how do you go about doing it?

The only way an initiative like this is going to gain traction is if people see a clear benefit to what they are already trying to accomplish. The main aim of any Knowledge Management initiative should be to make a person’s job easier, not more difficult.

The first step is to de-mistify KM, do not use complicated terms and strategies to define what it is, rather use simple definitions and examples that provide a clear, tangible picture of what its all about.

The second step involved finding people who are really interested in pursuing KM activities. Launching an initiative amongst this group of people will most definitely ensure a much higher success rate. Recruiting well respected and influential people in your company is a very smart way to promote the value of the initiative to the rest of your organization.

The third step involved looking for oppurtunties to implement KM. Use groups you feel can benefit with an KM initiative. Target low hanging fruit, market any win you have with the initiative however small , as it can be used as a platform to promote other initiatives as well.

The last step involves creating a technology framework that can support the initiative. While KM is not just about technology it does form a large part of it, without the technology infrastructure it might be difficult to sustain many initiatives.

The biggest road block to any KM initiative is culture, ignoring it is the single biggest mistage many people commit while rolling out KM initiatives. Most importantly – Do NOT sell an enterprise level KM solution without the evidences to back up your initiatives.

While these are just some of the thoughts on how you get started, you will find dozens of smaller ways to improve on it once you get started. Remember, start small and work your way up.