Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Implementing Knowledge Management: Practical Approach

Knowledge is key for decision making and strategy building. But knowing does not always translate into doing it. It is very critical for organizations to implement right and effective tools for managing organizational knowledge to build and sustain competitive advantage.

Knowledge Management facilitates creation, consolidation, transformation, sharing, distribution, and application of knowledge. No two organization can follow same methodology to implement knowledge management. And it is not necessary, if an approach works for one organization, other organization can use it as a cookie cutter. Knowledge is very subjective by definition and varies from one organization to another. Even if organizations are in same business domain, knowledge management methodology may be same but implementation approach may be completely different.

Knowledge starts with understanding of organization's business perspective and future strategies. Organizations have not been able to implement effective knowledge management practice for very reason that they do not understand their problems, opportunities and strategies clearly. Knowledge management starts with understanding of business processes and offerings. Organization needs to understand what is knowledge for them and what is not. Initially while setting up a knowledge management program, technology should take a back seat. The focus should be on processes and people, and technology should be seen as an enabler. Many organizations make mistakes by throwing technology before understanding the organizational knowledge assets and processes.

For example, Software consulting organization should know that organizational assets are project documentation and code. They need to organize and store the assets in a way that everyone in the organization should be able to re-use it and thereby reduce the learning time. The organization gains the competitive edge by transforming the assets into knowledge and there by improving productivity and developing core competency. The tremendous growth and profitability of Indian Software Industry is attributed to an effective knowledge management programs.

Steps for implementing an effective knowledge management program or practice are:

1. Identifying knowledge - Organizations needs to identify all sources of the knowledge and information so that it can be consolidated, stored in the centralized or distributed repositories, and shared and distributed when required.

2. Organizing Knowledge - Once the knowledge sources are identified, next step is to organize and provide structure to knowledge into organizational taxonomy. It helps not only in removing unnecessary and redundant information but also provides structured navigation to the information. In this step, organization need to understand boundaries of explicit and tacit knowledge. This step requires lot of thoughtful thinking and analysis from people and organization perspective.

3. Transforming Knowledge - Knowledge needs to transformed in a way so that it facilitates in making decisions and building new strategies. The knowledge needs to internalized, socialized and externalized so that it is shared and applied in most efficient manner. Further read 'How to transform the tacit knowledge into explicit form?'.

4. Measuring knowledge benefits - No process can be improved if it it is not measured for success. The key to success of knowledge management is the ability to measure the effectiveness of the implementation and narrowing it down to returns through revenue. The monitoring and control on processes are necessary to identify opportunities for eliminating redundancy and allow for continuous improvement.

What role technology play in knowledge management? As mentioned, technology should only be seen as facilitator or enabler. Knowledge Management program can even be implemented without additional investment but it won't be as effective or productive. Organization need to understand that they would need to make investment if they have to implement any Knowledge Management program. How much, depends on existing technology infrastructure and approved budget. If the organization does not have executive sponsorship for the program, no matter how deep and wide is your vision, the initiative is bound to fail. The executive sponsorship is required from the monetary as well as commitment perspective. Most of the initiatives fails because of half hearted commitment from executive management.

Knowledge Management program should be seen as organizational change management. Despite of great implementation and technology support, knowledge management may fail due to lack of support of organizational culture and adoption. Knowledge Management has same definition of the Democracy, knowledge of people, (utilized) by people and (created and consolidated) for people.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Key Components of Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is more about processes then products. But products and technology enable these processes and provides required tools for an effective KM program. We talked about Knowledge Management lifecycle in previous posts. Knowledge Management provides order to unstructured enterprise data and information into knowledge that is actionable and provides business value. Those who are responsible for knowledge management directly or indirectly should know the building blocks and their interaction with the processes.

What are the building blocks of Knowledge Management from technology standpoint?

Knowledge Management consists of following components:

  • Collaboration
  • Content Management
  • Search
  • Taxonomy management
  • Business Process Management
  • Business Intelligence
  • Portal
How these components interact with Knowledge Management processes are highlighted in the following diagram:

All the components are required for knowledge management practice within the organization. There are vendors that provides all the required components in their product suite to enable organizations to implement effective Knowledge Management program.

Monday, July 23, 2007

How to transform the tacit knowledge into explicit form?

We tried to understand "Why the tacit knowledge be converted into explicit knowledge?" in the last post. We will dig into "how" part now.

It is not only important to transform tacit to explicit, but also be able to share and convert other forms of knowledge into one another.The organization will not be able to generate the value out of knowledge assets in various electronic repositories, if it is not shared across the organization specially with the key decision makers. The knowledge has a value if it is actionable, otherwise it remains just an information.

The following chart explains various forms of knowledge and their transformation matrix.

1. Tacit to Tacit - Socialization

Socialization is sharing knowledge in formal and informal manner. It could be face-to-face meetings, instant communication, emails, any groupware applications like chats, collaboration tools, and also social networking applications.

2. Explicit to Tacit - Internalization

Internalization is sharing and distribution of knowledge with in the organization. Everyone in organization can access the information that is available on intranet websites and knowledge repositories. The end user can either navigate through the repositories or search within. Search is the most effective tool to find desired and relevant information. Knowledge repositories add intelligence to content by creating categorization schema and adding metadata that make search and retrieval faster and more efficient.

3. Explicit to Explicit - Combination

This is easiest form of conversion and is already done in most of the organization. The explicit knowledge is re-purposed in form that is desired for the decision making. It can be done using any technology discussed above including emails, collaboration tools, knowledge repositories.

4. Tacit to Explicit - Externalization

Externalization is the process that transforms tacit knowledge into explicit form. This can be done using collaboration systems, online discussion database, wikis, blogs, forums. The process requires transforming the knowledge that is minds of people, into electronic forms.

All forms of knowledge are critical for business growth and decision making capabilities of the organization. The knowledge can be in tacit (in minds of individuals) or explicit (in electronic form in databases and repositories). It is important to consolidate and integrate the knowledge (in whatever form) in the organization so that people can use it to take appropriate actions.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Why tacit knowledge be converted into explicit knowlege?

Typically 20% of knowledge in average organizations is stored in paper form and about 38 % electronically and astonishing 42% is stored as tacit knowledge. The learning and knowledge is lost when people move jobs and roles within or across organizations. The need of transforming the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is far more bigger challenge than implementing the knowledge management practice with the organization.

The knowledge management facilitates in getting the right information to the right person in the right time. The right information means accurate and relevant information, right person is who is in need of the information and right time is when it is required and as fast as possible. The knowledge management is more about processes rather than technologies. The knowledge should reside appropriately within the organization to bring value to information and its users. If the knowledge only resides within individuals, it only provide great value to the organization till the individual is in the same role and job.

Why do we need knowledge? Usually knowledge is required to take tactical or strategic decision. These decisions are usually based on data, information found in structured form (explicit form, analytics). So it becomes more important to transform tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. The dangers of not converting and collecting tacit knowledge includes:

1. Inaccurate, irrelevant and limited knowledge to take decisions
2. Ineffective use of employee time to obtain right information
3. Poor judgment when when taking decisions
4. Unable to provide information when it is needed most
5. Loose customer and business opportunities because of incomplete information
6. Duplication of effort

In research organizations, lot of researchers attend conferences, seminars, interact with fellow subject matter experts in meetings and phone conversations. They gain lot of knowledge, information through their interaction with other people with similar interest. If the acquired knowledge is not explicitly captured, the organization do not have advantage of the researcher knowledge and time spent. When the individual retires or leaves the job, all the knowledge that he had gained on the organization's behalf goes with the individual. The example can be extended most of the organizations.

While we understand the significance of explicit knowledge but it is important that we emphasize the need to convert and transform the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

Knowledge Management Process or Lifecycle

Knowledge Management is the methodology, tools and techniques to gather, integrate and disseminate knowledge. It involves processes involving management of knowledge creation, acquisition, storage, organization, distribution, sharing and application. These can be further classified into organization and technology components.

The organization component consists of organization-wide strategy, standard and guidelines, policies, and socio-cultural environment.

The technology component consists of tools and techniques to implement effective knowledge management practice which provides values to its business, employees, customers and partners. The tools can furthers be classified into knowledge creation, knowledge integration, knowledge sharing and knowledge utilization.

The various steps are described here:

1. Knowledge Creation - Knowledge is created either as explicit or tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is put in paper or electronic format. It is recorded and made accessible to others. Tacit knowledge is created in minds of people. This knowledge resides within individuals. This knowledge needs to be transformed into explicit knowledge so that it can recorded and shared with others in the organization.

2. Knowledge Storage - Knowledge is stored and organized in a repository. The decision on how and where lies with the organization. But the objective of this phase to enable organization to be able to contribute, organize and share knowledge with.

3. Knowledge Sharing - Knowledge is shared and accessed by people. They can either search or navigate to the knowledge items.

4. Knowledge Utilization - This is end goal of knowledge practice. The knowledge management does not have any value if knowledge created is not utilized to its potential. The more knowledge is created as knowledge is applied and utilized.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What is meant by Collaboration? How is it different from Knowledge Management?

What is Collaboration? How is it different from Knowledge Management? There are so many terms like knowledge management, wikis, blogs, project management that we use when we talk about collaboration, knowledge sharing, team engagement. The priority of terms keep changing and new business terms keep evolving that make users even more confusing. I am one of them who has been working in this area for sometime but feels that I am still a novice and a starter. I am not surprised if there are many who thinks same as me.

Till the last year wikis and blogs were hot in web 2.0 and were go to tools for collaboration. Many organization were talking about how wikis and blogs would change the way we collaborate or share over the web. In less than a year, it seems wikis and blogs fell short of expectation of the users. Now vendors are working on integrating more features like project management, activity management, instant messaging and chat rooms in wikis. The list does stop here. Now wiki products are also calling them selves as knowledge management tools.

Is Collaboration same as Knowledge Management?

I am afraid not. There are multiple vendors who provides collaboration/knowledge suites like Microsoft SharePoint, Lotus Connection, Intel SuiteTwo, Jive Clearspace etc. Every vendor has its own theme and story to explain collaboration and knowledge management. But if you see, they all follow 80-20 rule. All the products have about 80% of common components and 20% differentiating functions. The key differentiator of Microsoft SharePoint is integrating with its Outlook and Project Management tools. For Lotus Connection, it is building Community of Practice (COP). For Intel SuiteTwo, it is integrating best of breed software. For Jive Clearspace, it is providing simple to use tool and additional plugins for instant communication. But truly, none of them fit both collaboration and knowledge management space.

How does Knowledge Management fit here? What is difference between Knowledge Management and Collaboration? Who wraps whom?

My 2 cents, Knowledge Management is a process by which companies organize themselves to generate value from their intellectual and knowledge based assets. Collaboration is process by which company's employees, partners and customers create, manage and share intellectual and knowledge based assets. They are related to each other from dependency perspective. The key is that both add value to each other. Collaboration is one of the components of Knowledge Management. Knowledge Management adds value to the assets generated using Collaboration. Can Knowledge Management and Collaboration exits with one another? Yes, for sure. Knowledge Management utilizes assets not created using Collaboration and assets created using Collaboration may not used in Knowledge Management. But organizations generate more value if they are used in conjunction.

Why are these vendors confusing user community with so many terms here? Why can't we setup a forum for standardization of specification that solves and cater to all user needs and differentiate products?

My next question now is "what would you call wikis and blogs as; collaboration, knowledge management or none?". They were front runners in collaboration and knowledge management space a year back, but seems to lack in functionality to support them now. How do they plan to compete with collaboration and knowledge management tools? Are wikis and blogs going to stay or ultimately merge with other collaboration tools?

How do you classify Google Apps? Since Google provides tools for collaboration and team sharing.