In an organization, the richness of knowledge that is learned, built upon, interpreted and managed on a regular basis grows exponentially over time. Many organizations don’t recognize that managing their own internal knowledge is far more challenging in a world where we are increasingly surrounded by more information and yet don't feel sufficiently informed. Some of an organization's knowledge is lost to employee turnover, some wasted in the absence of any systematic capture and reuse, and some will always be impossible to codify and share.
The basis of sound Knowledge Management is the ability to identify the critical knowledge within an organization and then leveraging it to serve up at the right time for the right purpose. The classic KM approach of instituting a labor intensive process of gathering and disseminating that kind of knowledge for the greater good is hard to sustain and is giving way to an alternative approach that uses both technology and adaptive behavior to manage knowledge that is internal and external to an organization.
Originally considered a means of preserving the institutional memory of longtime workers as they moved from one job to another or retired, events like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and corporate mishaps like product recall failures, have highlighted why Knowledge Management is critical as a discipline to aggregate and share critical information.
The purposes of Knowledge Management are to improve productivity in an organization and to propel the organization to be more competitive in the marketplace. That makes Knowledge Management a hybrid of organizational development and change management that contributes to efficiency and revenue generation. The need for Knowledge Management to build out an ecosystem of content, collaboration, and communication is greater in organizations that are geographically dispersed, with a wide spectrum of digital literacy among its employees who have varying needs for collaborating on projects or business opportunities.
CIO's ensure that the infrastructure behind the firm's digital existence is humming well in the background. Chief Knowledge Officers tie together emerging enterprise knowledge needs with technology, revising outdated business practices to keep up with the changing nature of work and opening up honest dialog regarding information governance, learning and adopting technology for personal knowledge management.
As the CKO of a law firm, I straddle the world of business strategy and technology, working closely with my firm's CIO and CMO. CKO's introduce their corporate citizens to a multi-dimensional approach of specific tools, processes and ideas that will enable faster and more effective access to useful and actionable intelligence. This actionable intelligence materializes through traditional database research, codifying explicit knowledge, strong Search capabilities and a powerful internal ecosystem that ties together the systems critical to business development and operations.
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Mega themes for KM
The broad themes that have amplified the need for KM in the past decade are:
Diversity in content
We create, curate and share digital enterprise information in many more forms today than ever before. Going beyond the standard MS Office documents, companies that have empowered their employees with video generation software and social streams find themselves in unchartered territory where they are addressing questions on shelf life, usage guidance and company policies around internal communications.
There is an explosion in terms of enterprise level artifacts. By some estimates, it is estimated that by 2020, the digital content managed by enterprises will grow by 14 times. As the volume of content grows, the scale and complexity of interactions between people, business and content leads to increased business risk. This creates the need for a thorough retention system that is in compliance with e-discovery needs (audits, litigation). For their part, employees need to consider the usefulness of sharing specific content against its sensitivity. Success depends on a collaborative effort between Knowledge Management, IT, HR and Risk Management so that a holistic approach ensures that change management, employee training and policy revisions occur in alignment with each other.
Outside of the self-research and selflearning tools that are available to professionals in an organization, there are tremendous possibilities that emerge from cultivating tribal knowledge. The benefits of peer to peer learning range from employee engagement to breaking down silos. The CKO ensures that the employees are educated on concerns around privacy and access, while giving them the tools for connecting and sharing internally.
The KM Toolbox
A full Knowledge Management toolbox constitutes the following in a wellintegrated suite. This piece focuses only on the technology aspect of Knowledge Management, not the change management or content aspects. The marker of successful Knowledge Management technology is in its full adoption of the technology, sometimes referred to as Enterprise 2.0 tools.
Portal: this is usually in the form of the organization's intranet, a gateway that connects to the standard Q&A of the firm (standard content like company policies, office information, floor plans, subscription sources) and a dashboard to connect to other enterprise systems (conference room scheduler, self-service HR, and so on). Some of the systems should be integrated for a user friendly and efficient experience. Having several niche information systems and vendors presents the challenge of catalog sprawl, but even then it can be argued that not all stove piped systems should be integrated into a common dashboard of operational information. Even if it is technically possible, more is not always better.
Collaboration: this is a platform where internal communities within the firm use social features to collaborate, ask questions, share quick notes, discuss new rulings, client news, firm news, office level news, opinions, and professional articles. These discussions and announcements are best left out of email, given the overflowing inboxes of busy professionals. Social capital is recognized as a valuable currency in today's workplace because it greases the engines of productivity, knowledge exchange, learning, employee engagement and professional growth.
Search: this is the third leg of the stool but equally critical to tie together both content and context for the employees within an organization. Employees have come to expect the same kind of ease of findability that they experience with the Internet. Although early Enterprise Content Management systems started with the idea of manually tagging documents, the exponential volume of data has tested the feasibility of that approach and made auto-tagging tools the wiser choice to make.
Knowledge Management operates in the hybrid space where corporate culture, strategy, business development and learning intersect, and where the hard logic of productivity and the soft sell of employee engagement cross paths. It is the space where informal learning, hybrid thinking and serendipitous innovation will quite often provide an organization a unique competitive edge.