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.


Is the term “Knowledge Management” misleading?

May 10, 2007

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The term “Knowledge Management” can be misleading at times. When i first got into this field a couple of years ago i was a little wary of what i was supposed to accomplish. The very idea of Managing Knowledge was something i just couldn’t wrap my head around.

Today, after having practiced KM in the real world and studied it, i’ve come to understand that true KM is more environment management than actual managing of knowledge.

So what is environment management? Well, simply put, it’s creating an enviroment that fosters knowledge sharing. Attempting to actually manage knowledge is a hopeless task. This is because the very nature of KM frowns upon the use of strict guidelines and processes that most other functions require.

I’ve seen and heard the way KM is practiced in a large number of organizations, from both the private and public sectors, small, medium and large companies and the one principle that has ensured the success of KM is the fact that its been driven by a change in the cultural and perception of its employees.

Another common mistake that a surprisingly large number of corporates make is “re-defining” their existing information management processes by calling them Knowledge Management processes. While content management and information management do constitute part of the KM initiative they do not define it. This only serves to further confuse end users to the meaning of knowledge management.

The situation has gotten so bad in some instances that employees associate KM with the process of uploading a couple of documents every year to fulfill their “KM” contribution quota. It is practices like these that give Knowledge Management a bad name.

In a previous post i’ve tried to address the issue of why knowledge sharing is so different in the corporate world. However, there have been many instances where these hurdles have been overcome. This is only when there is solid support from the management and when the initiative is viewed as a means to improve the way employees work and not just a way of increasing margins.

Tying all of this together is a framework that includes a rewards and recognition program, branding and a very robust communication strategy. Communication is a large part of knowledge management and i have a few thoughts on this subject that i shall put down in my next post.

So, for the rest of you out there…… Does the term Knowledge Management acurately convey what you actually accomplish?

Branding, Branding, Branding!

April 27, 2007

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As any marketer will tell you, A large portion of a products success depends on it’s brand value. The same holds true for a Knowledge Management initiative.

There is no doubting that you have a good product, otherwise you wouldn’t be taking it to the market ( being presumptuous here ) . However to ensure its success, you need the brand. Once people start associating KM in your organization with something prestigious the interest in it will automatically increase.

Strong KM practices can be run into the ground because of a lack of branding. Unlike most other job functions Knowledge Management has to be sold to the general public. You need to approach your employees like customers.

There is another reason for branding, as with most KM initiatives there is invariably a rewards and recognition program tied to it. When an employee is recognized as a knowledge contributor , the prestige is much greater when there is brand value associated with the award.

The underlying idea behind Branding is to increase awareness and promote its use, there is also the added benefit of the “wow” factor.

One of the biggest ways of doing this is to ensure that there is senior management presence in most of the award ceremonies. The idea that automatically gets conveyed by this approach is that in order to get recognized by the top brass you need to be a Knowledge Contributor.

There is a lot that needs to go into an initiative like KM, but branding is something that almost always seems to lose out…

Metrics and Knowledge Management

April 24, 2007

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For the longest time ( well, since a couple of weeks ago ) , i’ve been trying to come to grips with how Knowledge Management in theory differs so much from actual practice in corporates.

My previous posts on corporate KM and ROI on KM are an indication of my thoughts on this subject. As those of you who practice KM in the corporate world know, the success of any initiative is determined by its ROI.

The problem of addressing ROI is one which we face on a daily basis. The question they all ask “How do you determine , in numbers , the effect of a KM program?”.

The basis of any analysis is numbers, and the process of collecting “meaningful” numbers, metrics. So, how do you gather metrics on Knowledge Management initiatives? and by that i dont mean how many hits you get on your portal or which document was used the most. These numbers do not mean anything unless put in meaningful context.

While metrics are important there isnt any definite way to capture the benefits of KM. Due to the variable nature of Knowledge a standardized metrics capture process would not give a clear picture of the benefits of knowledge transfer and its re-use.

Now while metrics in KM is a very vague subject, trying to quantify knowledge transfer in a large organization where just getting knowledge to flow is such a challenge, seems an impossible task.

Though at the end of the day its a numbers game, and without metrics backing knowledge management initiatives in the corporate arena, management buy-in seems bleak.

So, for those of you out there who have managed to implement, successfully or otherwise, a KM metrics methodology please feel free to leave comments.

Why is Knowledge Sharing so different in the corporate world?

April 17, 2007

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Users spend over a hundred hours every month on collaborative sites like Wikipedia. While it seems cruel to call this Knowledge “Management”, it does describe the very foundation of KM. Get people to share their knowledge.

More importantly, this cultural phenomenon has shown long term sustainability of such initiatives without traditional drivers like Rewards and Recognition. ( Read Here ). Which addresses the basic question this post raises : Why is Knowledge Sharing so different in the corporate world? For a lot of you the answer might seem obvious, but with the trend of KM adoption in corporates rising there is a serious need to understand what can be done about this.

There are many instances where KM seems to flourish outside the corporate sphere. Now the question is, why does this happen? In most cases these are the same people doing the sharing. What makes it so different within an organization?

True, there are certain pre-concieved notions about corporates. The biggest of which is that you always seem to have someone looking over your shoulder. Add to that the fact that you need to be extremely careful about the things you say or do and you have a system designed to cut off free information sharing at its knees.

Wikipedia is a prime example of Knowledge Sharing, here thousands of strangers help put together an amazing collection of information without any percievable reward. You might say the reward here is recognition. However, if you take a closer look, a large portion of these contributors are annonymous.

So why do they do it? What drives this need to share knowledge , when everything we’ve learnt so far tells us that we shouldn’t. Would you spend that much time contributing?

The answer i feel lies in the fundemental issue of competitiveness. It exists in the corporate world, it does not outside it. When you remove an individual from those restrains you get to see the true “sharing” potential of a person.

As always, please feel free to put down your thoughts on this subject…….

Rewards OR Recognition ?

April 16, 2007

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One of the biggest challenges in Knowledge Management these days is getting people involved in the process. Unlike other initiatives which use a mix of the carrot and stick approach, KM can only be promoted using the carrot.

Now the challenge is, what motivates the average users to contribute towards the system? Is it the rewards or the recognition? From what i’ve seen its a balance between both.

However, for the long term sustainability of any KM initative there has to a be focused move from a rewards based system to one of recognition. For one, its cheaper , second and more importantly, studies done in corporates have shown that the single largest motivator amongst employees is recognition by their peers and superiors.

Knowledge Management is that perfect platform that enables even the youngest of employees’ to show case their ideas and talents on a corporate platform. It ensures that if you are good at what you do, your voice isn’t lost in the crowd. This, i feel is the biggest selling point of KM to the average employee.

The driving force behind KM implementation for an organization is a little different. Numbers speak volumes, and unless corporates see a monetary benefit towards implementing a KM initiative, chances are they’d rather invest the money somewhere else.

So, the method with which you decide to promote Knowledge Management in your organziation depends entirely on your people. Rewards will only get you so far.

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.