Why bother with knowledge management?

Knowledge is the only input or resource you don't have to buy, says Nevena Sloan, GM of Portals and Collaboration Digital at Britehouse

Knowledge is the only input or resource you don't have to buy, says Nevena Sloan, GM of Portals and Collaboration Digital at Britehouse.

It is a rather disturbing irony that, although we operate in an information-driven economy, most organisations simply don't put to work the invaluable in-house knowledge assets they already possess, says Nevena Sloan, general manager Portals and Collaboration Digital at Britehouse.

The information freely available in an organisation's employees and its history is a massive competitive resource that no organisation could afford if it had to pay for it. Every organisation owes its stakeholders the value it should be able to realise from this resource. No other asset would be allowed to lie unexploited in the way that information is.

Yet, there is still reluctance to systematise knowledge assets so they can be beneficiated.

Understandably, the reluctance has its origins in the very considerable expense that used to be associated with systems that pull together enterprise-wide resources. Today, however, thanks to digitisation, gaining access to information in systems is both affordable and easy. Also, thanks to digitisation at consumer level, getting users to want to use information is easier than ever before because they have become so accustomed, through their personal devices and social media, to doing their own research and staying connected.

In addition, knowledge management (KM) systems are designed to sit on top of or work with software that is already in place in most organisations. So, although there may be some implementation activities – and a licence or two – needed to get a knowledge management system up and running, the process is not onerous, disruptive, or costly.

Which KM is best?

In essence, a KM system is any system that enables your employees to capture, store, and retrieve information while also enabling them to easily share what has been captured with colleagues with whom they can connect through these, or other systems.

The objective, always, is to prevent employees having to re-invent the wheel by performing an activity that has already been done because they don't know that the activity has already been completed or can't find evidence or results of the activity.

Benefits to the organisation include the elimination of unnecessary work, costs, loss of time, negative customer service, and failed delivery.

The other core focus of KM is helping employees find specific information on how to do something. Over time, long tenure employees gather processes and detail of which newer employees are ignorant. As a result, newer employees inadvertently go against company procedures or do things incorrectly, all of which have reputational and cost implications.

On the proactive side, KM enables employees to collaborate easily, constructively, and in real-time, often from within individual documents, such as requests for proposal, that need several types of highly specialised input, usually in a very short time frame. This saves money, time, and effort, increases accuracy and compliance, and enables enriched content.

Fit for purpose

The system can be as simple as a well-structured document management system or as complex as a fully-fledged enterprise content management solution served through an enterprise portal. Whatever the system you choose, it needs to be able to impose some level of control, such as not sharing sensitive information. Ideally, you want users to share as much as possible as broadly as possible while, when necessary, sharing sensitive information only within restricted groups.

Another crucial capability is consolidation. For a KM system to deliver financial, reputational, and customer satisfaction value, it must bring together all your organisation's knowledge assets.

This is usually best achieved through an enterprise portal combining various content management and knowledge repositories, with consolidated employee pages and contacts. Often these solutions also include a search page, with federated searching across the various systems.

Various platforms, some of which you may already have, support knowledge management:

  • Workflow systems, which route and collect information from one person or system to the next;
  • Content or document management systems, which classify and store content;
  • Enterprise portals, which consolidate information from multiple enterprise systems; and
  • Learning management systems.

Key to success

Clearly, some planning is necessary upfront, to ensure your system delivers the outcomes you want. Just as essential is user buy-in.

Your system will be as useful only as the information it contains – and it is your employees which provide the input. I have seen many great systems fail and some very bad systems succeed, always as a result of user adoption.

You therefore need to promote what you have to your users, ensuring they know and can use it. This involves typical software change management and participation from business representatives, end-users, and solution implementation team members.

It is then vital to keep promoting the culture of knowledge sharing and re-use and to regularly revisit the supporting systems to ensure they continue to support the means by which knowledge is most efficiently – and most likely to be – shared in the organisation.

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