posted 1 Jul 1999 in Volume 2 Issue 10
Knowledge Management the New Document Management?
It's no coincidence that many of the technologies and companies offering knowledge management strategies come directly, or with little modification, from the world of document management. Keith Davidson, president of Xplor International, argues that those who aim to manage knowledge need to begin with a thorough strategizing of their corporate documents and a redefinition of the document as a management tool.
Knowledge management must be an important issue 'we've been discussing it for long enough and still no one can agree on a definition. However, it doesn't take too long before you realise that virtually every implementation of knowledge management relies on intelligent document technology. Whether the applications are collaborative work, intellectual capital management, or knowledge sharing they are dependent on document technologies such as content management, hyperlinking and integrated data base tools for data warehousing and data mining. So why didn't document management simply transition into knowledge management?
Rise of the Knowledge Worker
Today, the knowledge worker, a term first coined by modern management thinker Peter Drucker, is the most populous and significant portion of the workforce in the world. Knowledge work, or jobs that typically require some schooling, accounts for one third to one half of all employment and is rapidly replacing industrial and agricultural work as the largest portion of economic output in developed countries. Knowledge work is projected to constitute more than 80 percent of the world's workforce by 2010. This trend is evident in most nations of the world. The dramatic growth and attention placed on the knowledge worker and managing knowledge has interesting implications for those with responsibility for managing corporate departments and other employees.
The role of a manager is to help manage the knowledge asset in an organisation. Traditionally, this has been document-based, but increasingly it is important to be concerned about managing knowledge. The manager develops the systems, documents and communication tools that constitute that knowledge. He provides the arsenal of knowledge tools and an entire range of technology systems and communication products used to leverage that knowledge asset. He profiles the knowledge asset, enables knowledge use and defines the knowledge architecture within the organisation or for the customer.
The knowledge worker is responsible for the design, construction, implementation and maintenance of the tools of the knowledge-based organisation. These tools include the hardware, software, computer networks, printers, document management systems, business machines and communications equipment. It should be any employee's goal to step up to their role as a knowledge worker in the organisation.
Knowledge work, as it is defined, is work that requires schooling, usually formal schooling. You do not learn knowledge work effectively by trial and error or experimentation; it requires an authority or a teacher. For example, a file clerk is a knowledge worker because he can't learn the alphabet intuitively; it must be taught in school. Knowledge work is characterised by rapid change and broad applicability, in contrast to skill work. Skill work is learned by practice in an apprentice environment. It changes slowly and is applicable to very specific tasks.
This view of knowledge management starts to give us a view as to why document management exists today as a separate concept from knowledge management. Documents still contain a vast proportion of corporate knowledge, but the document becomes an integral part of the knowledge management strategy.
Documents are Corporate DNA
Today's company could not function without documents, in whatever form. As we approach the 21st Century, powerful and converging technologies are allowing the document to be redefined as 'any package of data structured for use as information.' This means a document can be a hologram, a CD-ROM, or a video segment.
However, most documents are still designed to exist on paper with the printed form in mind and the paperless office is not around the corner. The technologies that allows us to customise, edit, select, and read documents without printing them is driving up the volume of information that is contained in the documents of the office. One estimate is that the amount of information in offices is doubling every three to four years. So, despite the digitising and electronifying of office documents, the amount of paper continues to grow at 10 to 15 percent each year. Hence there is little chance of your paper-cluttered office becoming virtual in the near future.
Some organisations have seen the power of new technologies to reduce dependence on paper documents as the harbinger of the paperless office. The paperless office, though, is about as likely as the paperless toilet. The office of the future will be less structured, more open, smaller, more often in the home and it will likely be more responsive to those who work there. But the office of the future will certainly not be paperless.
Documents Empower Knowledge Workers
The document in the next millennium will empower office workers like never before, making them real knowledge workers. It will foster more open, more satisfying relationships with our client constituencies. It will foster communication and collaboration in ways that will enhance the effectiveness and satisfaction of office work. It will present a challenge for management to change its command and control, hierarchical structures, policies and procedures to the more responsive, facilitative coaching style that is dictated by these new organisational parameters.
Since knowledge is the most important factor of production in the modern organisation, a dramatic redistribution of power is taking place - one that will forever alter the relationship between employers and their knowledge workers. The employer and employee relationship is changing because the employer cannot own knowledge. Unlike data or information, it is the property of the employee. This new relationship results in the redistribution of power. Empowerment, which has been presented in many circles as a management innovation, is simply a recognition of this powerful fact of life. If the employees own and maintain the most important productive asset 'knowledge' they must be empowered to use it or the organisation will not function.
The emergence of the knowledge worker has required that organisations re-design their management approach' hence, managing knowledge. This view of knowledge suggests that managing people is just as critical as managing office systems and solutions. Popular management trends have sprung up from the corporate need to manage knowledge-based tasks. Some management trends are even making knowledge independent of the knowledge worker by focusing on systems. But in the future, managing knowledge will increasingly determine an organisation's success.
As with most opportunities there are dangers. The document in the new millennium will be less guarded. The protection of privacy and the safeguarding of company information will be more challenging than ever before. Information integrity and archival life for electronic documents will be more challenging than they ever were for paper.
Knowledge also equates to power and, in reality, the power struggle that exists within most organisations means that it is still easier to quantify and implement a document management strategy than it is to define a knowledge management strategy. Employees feel too vulnerable to relinquish a hold on their knowledge and offer it up to the general pool of corporate knowledge. Given the fact that this barrier is not easily overcome, combined with the awareness that the vast majority of organisations do not even begin to manage documents efficiently, a sound document management strategy would seem to be a good place to start for any knowledge management programme.
Keith T. Davidson, Ph.D., EDPP, is president of Xplor International, the worldwide electronic document systems association which represents over 2,900 organisations in the $124-biliion industry. Prior to joining Xplor, Davidson served for 10 years at Xerox Corporation where he held marketing management positions. Earlier, Davidson served in various product marketing and management posts with Mattel, Boise Cascade and Dow Chemical. His ideas are a result of more than 25 years experience in the industry. He can be contacted at :email@example.com and information on Xplor and its Global Electronic Document Systems Conference and Exhibit can be viewed at www.xplor.org
To read more about the rise and role of the Knowledge Manager, read the 'Your Say' section in the September 1999 edition of Knowledge Management.