posted 18 May 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 8
Why KM practitioners should look to overcome their self-imposed siege mentality. By Jerry Ash.
One of the tactical mistakes many knowledge-management leaders have made during the infancy of KM is unintentionally isolating ourselves from the fabric of the organisation, particularly from the overall infrastructure, information technology and information management.
We have our reasons. We all know the history of the hijacking of KM by software companies, and we have seen the intensity with which budding KM professionals have sought to protect their role from the influence of other areas of the business. Too often, when we hear of a KM programme being pushed by a CIO or taken over by a CLO, we jump to the conclusion that it is an information-management initiative wearing the disguise of KM, or that an existing KM programme is about to lose its identity in a professional environment that doesn’t know the difference between information and knowledge, training and learning.
But our battles against these forces have created a bunker mentality among us and a perception among others that we are not part of the whole. How tragic for a discipline that touts knowledge sharing and connectivity.
The most impressive aspect of the Department of the Navy (DON) vision for KM (see cover story, page 14) is its understanding of the overarching importance of the connection of information management and knowledge management to improved decision making. This understanding has led the DON to conclude that managing information and creating and sharing knowledge – rather than owning the technology – is the primary role of IM/IT. With a diminished role of the ownership of IT, technology can be treated purely as a service. According to the DON’s vision, people are the centrepiece of a human system of communities of practice and networks, supported by the enabling elements.
One of the early graphics produced by the DON in its campaign to formalise KM in the navy and Marine Corps was a four-tiered depiction of the roles and connectivity of infrastructure, IT, IM and KM in a knowledge-centric organisation.
The intention of this visual is to remind knowledge workers within the navy that the role of IT is to support the infrastructure; that IT in and of itself exists to facilitate the management of information; and, that the management of information is in support of decision makers, ie, people.
KM cannot be effective without IM, which must be supported by good IT, which is embedded in the infrastructure. Additionally, KM, IM, IT and the infrastructure all have elements of human capital, social capital and corporate capital.
Follow the vertical lines in the graphic and you will see that incentives, education and training at the infrastructure level enable innovation in technology, which in turn leads to success stories and lessons learnt, which enables the utilisation and growth of human capital. Likewise, integrated product or process teams at the infrastructure level enable connectivity, which produces relationships, which build social capital. The physical assets of the infrastructure pay for software and hardware for data, information and mapping, which in turn become corporate capital.
This is a good picture of a healthy partnership of IT, IM and KM with a knowledge-centric organisation. C-level leaders (CEOs, CIOs, CLOs and CKOs) would do well to frame this graphic and hang it in a prominent spot on their office walls – maybe even in the entrance of the main lobby. And live by it. A culture that accepts such an integration of energy and resources is essential to success on every level, not least KM.
By developing seamless processes and flows that reach through the four levels, the DON has been able to support and capitalise on the human passion that naturally motivates people to engage in continuous learning, sharing and acting on behalf of themselves, their colleagues and their organisations. If the sixth-century-BC general, Sun Tzu, were alive today, he might be tempted to revise or extend his statement about the use of knowledge “to overcome others and achieve extraordinary accomplishments”. Perhaps he would say this: what enables an intelligent organisation is, first, overcoming ourselves in order to build working partnerships with people who can help us, and whom we can also help, to achieve extraordinary accomplishments.