While the concept of knowledge management (KM) has been around since the early nineties, its acceptance as a tool to solve specific business issues has only recently been recognized. However, to many organizations, implementing a knowledge management strategy can initially appear to be a daunting and overwhelming task. Many questions must be addressed before users feel comfortable investing in a KM solution, including: Where do I begin? What technology do I need? How do I ensure the process is managed correctly? How do I measure the effectiveness of my knowledge management solution?
This article aims to answer these questions and arm you with the necessary steps and processes for implementing knowledge management within your organization.
Where do I begin? Establishing a KM strategy can be much less daunting if you think of KM as organizing, locating and reusing actionable information. The same concept that you would apply to a collection of recipes applies to KM solutions of a much more complex and organizational level -- ensuring that relevant and necessary data and experiences are readily available to help solve problems.
In developing your KM strategy, you should focus on three key points to ensure its success:
- A knowledge management plan should map directly back to the business strategy of an organization.
- It should be designed to help solve business issues, such as accelerating innovation, or line of business requirements, for example speeding new product introductions or improving customer, employee, or partner relationship management.
- A KM strategy should highlight and intertwine three areas: people, processes and technology.
Knowledge that has an impact on your business strategy is broken down into two distinct categories -- tacit and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is the information and expertise that is difficult to document. It is the knowledge stored in employees' minds, such as anecdotal experiences with customers that is often shared around a water cooler or over the phone but never captured electronically. Explicit knowledge is that which can be found in documents, databases, e-mails and logged instant message chats.
So what is the starting point? An organization's existing infrastructure and application environment, integration challenges, innovation needs, corporate imperatives and cultural readiness dictate the starting point for a KM strategy. In many cases, it is best to begin with a departmental pilot that gradually roles out the technology in several phases. This departmental implementation will help to iron out the kinks in your KM strategy and technology implementation before rolling it out enterprise-wide.
What technology do I need? A robust KM solution that utilizes both tacit and explicit knowledge boils down to seven core areas -- entry points, collaboration, document management, taxonomy and workflow, search, expertise location and e-learning. Once a starting point has been identified, organizations can start to deploy the technology needed to drive their KM solution.
For the purpose of this article, let us assume that an organization already has one technology entry point in place. Entry points indicate areas where employees access the technology supporting the KM initiative, such as a portal, virtual workspace or e-mail environment. It is imperative that these entry points are integrated with the places where employees spend their days, such as those highlighted above. An organization that has already identified and integrated appropriate entry points should begin with a focus on basic control over documents and sharing tacit knowledge.
This often leads to implementing collaborative technology, such as instant messaging and e-meeting technology, as well as technology with document management abilities. Distributed organizations need to be able to communicate and collaborate in productive and meaningful ways and have a central location to store information. By making documents and information, as well as authors of documents, easily accessible and manageable, organizations can make quicker and better-informed business decisions and increase their employees' productivity.
Texas Utilities, for example, uses a document management solution to ensure all of its employees have access to the most recent versions of important documents and to identify the public policy analysts and subject matter experts associated with these documents. Document management helps the company ensure that its position and messages are consistent and controls the information used by its advocates with legislators, policy makers and the public.
According to IDC, enterprise employees may lose as many as three hours per day on often-futile information hunts, causing an enterprise employing 1,000 knowledge workers to waste nearly $2.5 million per year. A document management solution helps to ensure that employees are never searching for the most current version of a document or using older versions that may have incorrect information. A content management solution gives organizations a virtual place to store all of their digital content, including audio and video files. Content management solutions help centralize files digitally for easier and more efficient management.
As the amount of content within an organization increases, two specific needs arise:
- The ability to organize this content using taxonomies and workflow A taxonomy is a way to classify information resulting in a catalog or knowledge map of an organization's content. A taxonomy should start small and evolve over a period of time in terms of quality and completeness. When employees find the information they need, workflow can then improve the quality of collaboration amongst employees by automating interactions between them. This is especially useful if employees are frequently unavailable or traveling away from the office.
- The ability to search and locate answers or insights from this information Searching needs vary from searching the Web, searching documents or databases or searching for insights into specific questions. With a solution that performs federated searches, employees can easily access information stored in an organization's file servers, databases and e-mail servers, as well as on the Web, from one location. With just one mouse click, employees can find the information they need to complete projects. Employees then spend less time recreating the wheel and more time conducting business. Once an organization is comfortable with the availability and classification of appropriate content, it is time to focus on expertise location. Expertise location helps users pinpoint the subject matter experts within their organizations and provides ways for employees to collaborate with these experts. No matter how much information is available to an employee, effective business decisions frequently require the input of other experienced people. When an employee or team has access to these experts, partners and customers receive faster and better answers to questions and improved responsiveness and customer service, while the organization reduces cycle times and ultimately achieves a competitive advantage. Approaches to expertise location can vary from a people finder to identifying subject matter or keyword affinities for employees. Question and answer management systems that provide rule-based workflow capabilities to guarantee response from the "best" expert may also be required, depending on employee work patterns or habits.
How do I ensure the process is managed correctly, and how can I measure the effects of my KM solution? It is important to remember that more than 50 percent of a KM solution is about change management and ensuring that your organization's culture and behavior patterns are appropriately accounted for in the strategy. At this point, e-learning technology can help to train distributed employees on the new technology at a time that is most convenient for them. E-learning can also be used to train managers on how to encourage their employees to share information and utilize the solution through incentive programs and other management policies. An organization or business unit's leadership needs to wholly support the implementation of a KM strategy to ensure success. Strong leadership will identify possible corporate challenges, enforce a change management policy and set metrics that can be used to measure the success of the implementation. These metrics can also be used to gauge areas that may need to be adapted to better fit the needs or usage patterns of the employees within the organization. The best knowledge management strategies are focused on solving a business problem and enabling that company to become an on-demand organization -- one that is integrated, flexible and responds with speed to customer demands and market opportunities. Organizations that follow the methodology delineated here and refer back to the three key points highlighted above are the ones who achieve the highest return on their KM investments.