Knowledge is power. The more you know, the better equipped you are to handle and control events. But given how much information organisations have to deal with on a daily basis, managing all of this data can prove troublesome.
The rate at which information and knowledge is being produced is increasing by the day, notes Henri Fourie, GM for content and collaboration at Decision Inc. "Being able to find the right information easily and quickly is becoming more important than ever. Connecting to peers and experts across the organisation that can guide you in finding the information relevant to the decision you need to make is also becoming increasingly important," he adds. Luckily, Knowledge Management (KM) systems and search technologies have advanced into 'intelligent' tools, which are able to suggest what information may pertain to the employee's needs, rather than them needing to go out and search for it.
In many organisations, there exists a chasm between top management, with its years of experience and expertise, and junior employees, who have limited experience and expertise, says Dirk Prinsloo, SharePoint team lead at Intervate, a T-Systems company. "Effective KM can foster a sharing of insights that makes young and inexperienced workers feel empowered and, if applied effectively, can bridge this gap." This also drives positive work behaviour, as those at the top are leading by example, he continues. "Leaders should encourage broad collaboration where people are not only seen as colleagues, but as allies."
Capturing and sharing knowledge within an organisation provides an enormous competitive advantage.
When organisations look at information-sharing, they often focus all of their effort and funding on KM systems that enable the sharing of formal information, says Greg Griffith, product manager for business solutions from Konica Minolta SA. But these systems do not address the arguably more important informal knowledge – peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing. "Effective collaboration is therefore only achieved with knowledge management systems that link the formal information to informal information by accessing the experience and expertise of the people behind the formal information."
Prinsloo describes KM as a business process that is geared towards streamlining ways of working. Effective KM boosts productivity by reducing the amount of tedious communication between people within the organisation, thus reducing repetitiveness. Similarly, new technologies are making the process of storing and accessing information much more effective, he adds.
Power of tech
Traditionally, data analytics and reporting provided an 'after the fact' view of what happened and these tools were used to measure the impact of a decision rather than to guide a decision, says Fourie. This was due to the fact that a certain amount of time elapsed between the data being captured and that information actually being analysed. "With real-time analytics, decision-makers are able to not only measure the impact of their decisions, but they can also adjust such decisions based on the outcomes they are seeing in real-time."
KM should not be an after-thought, it should be a symptom of working, states Tal Nathan, MD of products for Britehouse, "KM is no longer the task of a librarian or a taxonomist working in isolation, but rather an appreciation that we are all contributing to the intellectual capital of an organisation." Echoing Fourie's statements around the importance of being able to access information quickly and with ease, Nathan details how slow collaborative information-sharing can be, especially when trying to get a response from colleagues. Automated self-service portals offer astronomical value and save hundreds of hours each month in productivity. "A field service technician can find a solution to a problem with a piece of equipment without needing to go back to the office. Medical professionals can get live diagnostics to assist with healthcare. We are moving into a world where we will have all answers to all the questions in fractions of a second."
If information isn't properly indexed and stored, employees can spend more than 20 minutes searching for the data they need, Griffith points out. When this is the case, research suggests that this document could actually be considered to be lost. "The effect of search efficiency on knowledge worker productivity can be huge."
Making an organisation's information operations more streamlined and efficient can only be done through greater use of technology, notes Fred Steinberg, MD of Communication Genetics. "If you are still using manual information workflows that are largely dependent on humans doing classification tasks, or if a large amount of your information is still stored on paper, or if losing your e-mail server for three days would bring your organisation to its knees, then you are already working in an organisation at high informational risk." Businesses need an effective strategy to support users and empower them to become efficient knowledge workers. "Information flow is the life blood of the modern organisation and without an effective information governance programme, your organisation runs the risk of becoming an information swamp."
Out of my head
According to Griffith, one of the key elements of KM is capturing, storing and making available the information stored in people's head. "Knowledge, when locked into systems or processes, has a higher inherent value than when it can simply 'walk out of the door' in people's heads." Organisations should be looking at knowledge management as a strategy that adds value to the organisation by ensuring that talented people are viewed as assets and retained within organisations.
It's not uncommon for knowledge and expertise to remain with individuals, says Steinberg. "These people are the only ones who are able to effectively access it. And this knowledge is lost to the organisation when they leave." In line with this, Prinsloo believes that a great deal of insight and ideas are lost during informal interactions both inside and outside the workplace. Dubbing these 'coffee station conversations', he outlines how the information that is shared during these casual chats is not utilised by the organisation because it isn't captured in any way.
Often, individuals with shared interests come together in person, or virtually, to tell stories, to share and discuss problems and opportunities, discuss best practices and talk over lessons learned, says Fourie. These communities of practice emphasise the social nature of learning within or across organisations. "Conversations in the hallway are often disregarded, but in large and geographically distributed organisations, it's essential for these conversations to be facilitated by becoming virtual."
Good information governance means taking control of the organisation's information flows and ensuring that vital information is captured, properly identified, searchable, continues Steinberg. In addition to this, the lifecycle of the data must be properly governed in accordance with regulatory and legal requirements, the organisation's own information policies and good business practice. "In an information governance environment, knowledge workers can be sure that they are working effectively together, because they are able to more easily find, use and reuse relevant information and are less distracted by information that is redundant, obsolete or trivial."
Know thy knowledge
For Henri Fourie, from Decision Inc, knowledge is most commonly categorised in one of three ways. Understanding how best to utilise and derive value from these different types of information is essential to gaining valuable insights from the intellect at your disposal.
- Explicit knowledge: Information or knowledge that is set out in tangible form, i.e. in a document or system somewhere.
- Implicit knowledge: Information or knowledge that is not set out in tangible form but could be made explicit.
- Tacit knowledge: Information or knowledge that one would have extreme difficulty operationally setting out in tangible form.
Path of least resistance
Introducing any new technology or business process is often met with resistance, states Dirk Prinsloo, from T-Systems company Intervate. When faced with the task of learning how to use unfamiliar software or technologies, older generations tend to be more uncomfortable than their younger counterparts. Prinsloo suggests that a rollout plan should be devised very carefully so that everyone in the organisation is eased into the ins and outs of the new work process. Offering incentives is one way to encourage people to get on board. "It can be hard for people to engage with a new piece of software if it is just dumped in their laps and they are unaware of how it will improve their ability to get their work done."
The systems and mediums that a company employs for KM are equally as important as change management efforts and communication with staff around how and what these new systems will be used for, adds Fourie. "Good KM systems often fail because people don't know how, why or for what to use them." Knowledge management initiatives, like all projects, benefit enormously from having a clearly defined scope and objective, he notes. "True, successful initiatives will change and adapt over time and expand through demand, but that expansion should also be clearly defined and should have tangible objectives."
Britehouse's Tal Nathan agrees that buy-in from customers and employees is key to the success of any KM strategy. "KM and digital technologies often fail because they just aren't adopted." One of the main reasons that users fail to embrace new technologies and processes is that the new architecture is designed in such a way that end-users must be trained to fit into the system and not the other way around. This idea needs to be reversed, he stresses. "The KM system needs to be molded to fit into the average knowledge workers life and pocket."