In the age of the e-business, merging explicit (recorded) knowledge and tacit knowledge (something that people know but that has not been communicated) within a flatter organizational structure is the key to boosting freer knowledge-sharing both inside the office and outside to suppliers and customers.
Even within the computerized office, where every worker has ready access to data, several industry analysts say that too many knowledge workers have "power niches" that stifle innovation and impede the flow of information across the organization.
"Generally people don't want to share because, ‘If I know something, well, that's my power,’" said Greg Dyer, senior research analyst at International Data Corporation. "’If I give that up, then my value—or at least my perceived value in my head—goes down. So I think I'm not going to be as valuable to the company, and I might not get promoted.’ You have to change that mindset."
In our first article, “Knowledge Management: A vital business practice for CIOs,” we took a broad look at knowledge management (KM), and how CIOs should be involved in its implementation. In this article, several analysts share their strategies for dealing with impediments to KM and introducing the practice into your corporate culture.
French Caldwell, an analyst with GartnerGroup, contends that some may perceive knowledge management, a relatively new business practice, as a threat. However, there are ways to alleviate people’s fears. He suggests taking a small but important project and using it as a KM pilot program.
"For example, I was talking to people at a utility company recently, and one of their major business objectives was deregulation," he said. "Establishing a knowledge management program around deregulation was a way for them to share information and to have all the various parties—from the lawyers to the line employees who were affected by that—collaborate and draw those resources together to create new value for the company.”
Since deregulation was not something that would immediately impact the other ongoing operations of the company, the level of cultural change that was required to accept the company’s knowledge management effort was minimal, Caldwell said.
Implementing KM first as a small, short-term pilot project can also foster collaboration across disciplines, expose organizational weaknesses, and give management immediate and measurable results before long-term plans are made.
"And it helps to develop buy-in—of both the employees and the management," Dyer said.
However, Caldwell emphasizes that enterprise-wide KM, as many Internet-based companies have done, shouldn’t be discounted. “Some of the dot coms are examples of where knowledge management is so much a way of doing business that they don't even talk about knowledge management. It's just management."
Depend on the CIO
Connie Moore, an IT industry analyst at Giga Information Group, believes the CIO’s role is crucial to a business’ attempt at KM.
"If the business is already moving to a knowledge-sharing environment, then the CIO's role is to be an enabler of knowledge management,” Moore said. "But, if the company has not really thought about knowledge management, then I think the CIO can take the educational and leadership roles to build awareness within the organization of knowledge management.”
And while outside consultants can reference instances where KM has worked and facilitators can help guide management, direction must come from the CIO.
“Outsiders can't change cultural barriers or establish collaboration and trust, or institute incentives for changing people’s behavior,“ Moore said. “Ultimately, it has to be done internally."
Cooperation across departments
Moore suggests that CIOs examine their organization’s business process to determine where knowledge is being used as part of that process—such as in product innovation.
"It may be that the engineers are working partly in a vacuum, and for product innovation they need more information about customer preferences," Moore said.
Gartner’s Caldwell cites Ford Motor Company and General Motors as non-IT businesses that have successfully used KM approaches to fuse customer feedback into product research and development.
"A good example is Ford's ‘Connections’ program on the Web,” he said. "They're giving customers the knowledge they need to get the products as customized as they can," Caldwell said.
"By empowering customers on the Web—letting them see the various options and enabling them to build the product they want—the company is giving them a terrific amount of more access to knowledge than they used to have. And they don't have to go through the dealer, which is probably a big concern to the dealers."
Caldwell sees the use of XML technology in automating routine tasks as one of the most promising tools in eliminating the inefficient use of human resources in the KM-savvy workplace. XML-enabled workplaces could help provide systems “that make knowledge-sharing frictionless.”
"If your creative people are tied down with routine tasks, they're not able to contribute the best value that they can," Caldwell said. "With XML-enabled workflow, you truly have content that you can trust. People then can focus on more creative activities that add value to the enterprise.”
Allow time for KM
Moore argues that the main barrier to KM taking off within a company is a lack of time devoted to the process. "You may put technology in place, and you may establish communities of practice, but unless your workers are given the time to share knowledge and build interactions with other people—and have times for meeting or participating online—then it's not going to go anywhere.
The long-term view is that knowledge is critically important to a company's success and how it does its business processes, how it builds its products, and how it services its products and customers," Moore said. “In the long run, that really makes a difference in the bottom line in the performance of the company, but it takes a farsighted leader to understand that.”
Has your business made efforts toward implementing KM? How has the process worked? How well was it received? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.