posted 1 Dec 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 4
Your Say: The future of knowledge
management, part 1
As we stand at the eve of the new millennium, it seems an appropriate time for Your Say to explore how knowledge management may develop in the future. Will the phrase be superseded by a new one when companies develop into intuitive high level communication infrastructures, or will we continue to strive for an ideal that can never really be attained. Fortunately, the views expressed here look on the optimistic side of the future.
Innovative collaborative organisations
As we enter a new century, many organisations are focusing on systematically leveraging what they know. As the speed of change continues to increase and global e-business opportunities become a reality for many organisations, Knowledge Management (KM) will increasingly form a major plank in their strategies. However, KM is only the beginning, what lies beyond is something considerably more valuable, the Innovative Collaborative Organisation (ICO).
What is an Innovative, Collaborative Organisation?
The planning for many KM initiatives has not fully understood the organisation's people and what motivates them to perform. A reduction of return on investment from KM is the result. The bigger loss however, is that the organisation fails to mature into an Innovative Collaborative Organisation.
An ICO motivates and rewards its people to innovate and collaborate. It develops ways of working that will sustain innovation, often using knowledge enabled systems and processes. An ICO provides incentives and rewards that reflect the vision and strategy of the organisation. In this environment, individuals feel well supported and energised when working in an uncertain or changing environment.
Experimenting to develop a flexible infrastructure that supports working in the Innovation Age may mean implementing something that few people have tried. This is essential but is also seen as risky by many. The combination of incentive and infrastructure will influence the way employees communicate and exchange knowledge. Ultimately, it will determine the capacity of the organisation to sustain a cutting edge of innovation.
An ICO is not constrained by its organisational bonds; it seeks new and innovative ways of working with other organisations, including its rivals, in an attempt to move far beyond the existing business landscape. Many talk about this but few actually attain it!
How can you spot an ICO? One key indicator is the look and feel of the workplace. If set up optimally, it will provide:
|Convenience to work when and where you like|
|A standard user interface|
|Shared access to archives or knowledge assets|
|An ability to share knowledge across functions|
|A capacity to support the need for a shared physical space when required.|
The impact will be evident in:
The way people meet. Meetings will move from being a place for information transfer from one to many, to developing knowledge and innovations through group discussions. The right knowledge delivered to the right person at the right time helps shortcut the lengthy "getting up to speed" aspect of a meeting. This can be achieved same time/same place, same time/different place (video conferencing or on-line group ware) or different time/different place (Team Room or collaborative group ware).
The workspace in which they operate. The office will be seen as a resource that supports innovation sessions and some project activities. Individuals will be able to reserve a space when they need it but will feel supported by the virtual office whether at home or on the road just as effectively as if they were in the physical office.
Benefits and barriers
The flexibility of work together or alone, irrespective of location and environment is the most obvious benefit. A key outcome is a decrease in costs related to infrastructure. More people working away from the office decreases the need for physical space.
In parallel, constraints of travel and time are loosened as the facility to support a meeting over different times and locations is provided, giving greater capacity to be productive and to collaborate with others.
In an ICO individuals are sewn together by alignment to the vision and are encouraged and rewarded by striving towards it while sharing their learning and knowledge. Communities are created around knowledge rather than process, further aiding the innovation capacity of an organisation by bringing experts together for collaboration. The ICO as a business will be more flexible and effective than its ancestors but will inevitably encounter barriers in its development. Issues arising may include the usual KM barriers (e.g. resistance to change, inadequate measures for quality and success). Further, there are some specific ICO barriers such as resistance to embrace a virtual working environment and a lack of support for communities of practice both within and outside an organisation. As ICOs offer a win-win situation for the organisation and employee, these challenges are often overcome more easily than with KM.
Organisations able to tackle and overcome these challenges will be the pace-setters of the future. A truly successful ICO will go beyond knowledge management and enter the Innovation Age. Far fetched? - or are you just hoping the competition aren't already doing this?
Tony Davies is at CEO of Crystal Innovation. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Integrating KM with other learning initiatives
While knowledge management addresses both individual and organisational learning, in most organisations knowledge management is not integrated with other learning initiatives. Often separate groups are responsible for knowledge management and learning, and there is little attempt to leverage the two. This is a significant lost opportunity. In the future, learning initiatives and knowledge management should be designed and implemented as one consistent and continuous 'closed-loop' process to maximise the performance of the individual (human performance).
In this process, employees acquire the prerequisite skills through training prior to job performance. They receive knowledge support as they perform job tasks, and they capture 'lessons learned' to improve their own individual learning, as well as contribute ideas, insights, or innovations to organisational learning. This newly acquired and synthesised knowledge capital is then fed back through the loop. In this way, knowledge management is the engine that transforms ideas into business value. To facilitate this process the KM tools used in training should be the same ones used in the workplace. This process leads to continuous human performance improvement that is conveyed through both learning and knowledge support.
Here is one example of how knowledge management and learning initiatives reinforce each other. A major insurance organisation is transforming how it does business, moving from a transaction mode to a web-based customer-focused mode. It needed to both transform the workforce to the new way of doing business and continuously improve the new business model. It also needed to get the commitment of the work force in this new business model and enable them to have a sense of ownership and participation in its definition. It needed to transform the workforce into one that was committed for integrated individual and organisational learning.
Learning activities were developed to mirror the job environment and use of the new business applications. During these 'business simulation' activities, employees were trained on several knowledge management tools and allowed to use them as they progressed through the simulated business activities. One of these tools collects employee input on the newly defined business procedures. The use of this KM tool during training allows the business simulation exercises to support both individual learning for the participants and organisational learning around the newly defined business processes as participants record insights on these evolving business processes. The activity also promotes the desired new culture of continuous improvement and knowledge sharing. Upon completing the classroom-based simulations, participants are still able to call up the knowledge management tool as they perform work tasks. Inputs are fed to process improvement analysts for evaluation and implementation. Another of the knowledge management tools introduced during training focuses on distributing and capturing best practices in handling currently undefined customer issues, allowing for a continually expanding library of best practices.
The challenge for any organisation going forward is to determine how knowledge management fits into the total array of learning initiatives and to bring these initiatives together successfully to maximise the return on investment in each. It is through the integration of knowledge management and learning initiatives, in a 'closed-loop' process, that human and organisational performance can be best maximised.
Adam Gersting is a manager within Andersen Consulting's Technology Practice. Bill Ives is an associate partner within the Change Management practice. They can be contacted at:email@example.com
Santa under threat!
As e-commerce and knowledge management concepts converge into the 3rd generation of Internet styled businesses, recently referred to as advanced networking concepts, it accelerates the pressure upon new and old businesses alike, to change yet again.
Far, far away, Santa Claus and his elves are operating using advanced e-commerce (2nd generation Internet business, whereas the 1st generation was web-sites). However, though this is good news, Santa's morale is at an all time low. He is increasingly feeling under threat. The demand for his services is in such decline that there is now public discussion to how much longer he can survive. One of the elves tries to lift Santa's darkened mood by saying:
'At least our e-commerce service is brilliant. Already, e-mails we receive are converted automatically into e-orders to strategic manufacturers, who in turn send the toys directly to our other strategic partners, who specialise in logistics and distribution. Christmas Eve is now a lot less pressure. We can electronically monitor the progress of the deliveries. In reality, we only really have to monitor the exceptions, and even then there are so few of those these days. We now have so much spare time'.
Santa's mood doesn't change when he responds 'Yes, it's wonderful.' Oh, he thinks I just hate the word strategic. Very soon, I can imagine children sending their e-mails directly to the manufacturers and then I, myself, will be nothing more than a footnote in history.
Another elf tries a different tactic: 'Maybe there is something about this 3rd generation Internet business concept that potentially takes us back to some of our great past traditions way before everything became over-commercialised'.
For a moment, Santa's heart misses a beat as hope starts to rise. Could we recreate the excitement and bring back that dream? Suddenly, all the elves and the reindeers sense the mood change as Santa stands at his full height and, with passion, says: 'Let me tell you how we will change. We are going to recreate a magical experience for everyone. Our Internet service will rekindle the dream. There will be communities for children on everything that really matters. Toys are for playing. Playing is for imagination. Imagination is for ideas. Ideas are the dreams.' Suddenly, there's a buzz of excitement as all the elves start talking at once:
' When someone is fed up with their toy it can be given to someone else that wants it.'
'We can capture great stories from children all around the world.'
'We can provide interactive experiences for everything that brings our dream alive.'
'We can have Santa appearing live in a community at any time.'
'We could sell our know-how to other businesses and use the money for making a child's dream come true.'
'We will be strategically strengthening our brand...'
'Thank you. Thank you.' said Santa, 'I can already hear the virtual sleigh bells. Let's get to work. And recreate that dream'.
Freddie McMahon is Director and Chief Strategy Officer of Iqport He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Innovation Age
In the past 10,000 years we have evolved through the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Age, and the current Information Age. But, as we reach the close of the millennium we are entering a new age. We are on the verge of what I consider the most transforming age yet - The Imagination Age.
Historical periods are defined by the common commodity of that time. Up until the Industrial Age, the standard commodity of a society was a tangible product. The Industrial Age changed this by placing power not in the actual materials used to create items, but in the knowledge of how to organise groups and companies to exploit new technology. The Information Age expanded on this (and continues to) by placing power in those who control the information, whether or not they implement the processes associated with this information. The Imagination Age will change all this. Information is becoming a commodity item. It is accessible freely, or at a reasonable cost, to all those who require it. Therefore, what becomes important is not what you know or what you alone have access to, but what you do with it. The power of the individual's creative consciousness will be the commodity of the future.
Getting back to reality a bit, this is important in terms of Knowledge Management because it helps us set sights on the future, and, more importantly, helps us understand the goals of today. The most pressing goal today is to change organisations into ones that share knowledge in an effective and timely manner. By sharing, workers will have more time to explore other interests and ideas. Managers must realise this as well and not immediately fill free time created by knowledge sharing with other mundane tasks. It is my contention that in the future, workers will be rewarded not by the time spent in the office or the number of reports produced, but by the creation of something completely outside the bounds of traditional thought. Worth will more effectively be based on quality rather than quantity.
Critics might argue that this will not be the reality for everyone. This is true, but it is equally true that the fact that certain societies still exist in the Stone Age does not prevent computers from existing elsewhere. For most individuals in Information Age societies, the standard aspects of life have become commodities, and in a sense meaningless. The average worker today has a material quality of life that far surpasses all but the wealthiest of individuals from previous ages. Most workers in today's information-based society work less than ever and have more to show for it. The result of this is an excess of 'free' time. My wish for the new millennium is that we as a society can use our free time to achieve miracles.
Jon Goldberg is a freelance consultant and trainer based in the Netherlands. He can be contacted at Jon_D_Goldberg@hotmail.com