Inside Knowledge Magazine /Knowledge Management Magazine Archive
Volume 13 Issue 10
Sun, sea… and web access
Recent research concluding that accessing corporate data when on holiday has become the norm (see page 15) really can’t have surprised too many people. A colleague who works on a fortnightly HR newsletter almost had kittens when I showed her the press material, but I just found myself wondering if this was really ‘news’ to anyone? Albeit this might have had something to do with the fact that one week earlier, I had been interrupting my sunbathing, cheese-munching and general mooching about, in
I’m not one of those fortunate few who have the ability to switch off when I go away. On this occasion, I was still awaiting a few contributions to this editon of IK and even though I knew that others in the office had my back and were more than capable of finishing up, I spent much of my holiday panicking until I saw that every single article was accounted for. Of course, had this not been the case, the world would have stopped turning and I would have been held personally responsible.
From a KM or IT perspective the crux of this story is the issue of security. The research, commissioned by Credant Technologies, found that 64 per cent of respondents were travelling with their laptops (and using up valuable baggage allowances as a result). However, 66 per cent of these machines were unencrypted and 51 per cent were totally insecure, without so much as a password for added protection. Not good.
Are companies doing enough about this? I was mocked by co-workers (I received a text message calling me a ‘loser’ within 44 seconds of dashing off a reply to an unimportant message) and my manager expressed concern that I had been in contact at all. But nobody asked me what device I had been using to work from – or whether the network was secure.
Another key question is why do people feel the need to be contactable 24/7 no matter where they are. It’s great for collaboration and keeping up to date, of course, but there was a time when going on holiday meant no contact whatsoever. Some blame the pressures bought about by the difficult economic climate – people are so concerned about losing their livelihood that they check in constantly to minimise stress and paranoia. I, on the other hand, am used to working independently and just can’t bear the idea of not being in control of my projects. So no matter how organised I am, or how fool proof my planning, I just have to log in.
Whether all this is a positive or a negative depends very much on the perspective you’re viewing it from: either the nervous employee keen to keep in favour, or the stressed IT worker, who has to clear up the mess caused by data leaks or viruses, as a result. Maybe taking a proper break – switching off our smart phones and leaving the laptops at home – isn’t such a bad idea after all.
The politics of information
The politics of information has matured during the digital age and is still developing following the recent general election. This maturation stage began with the attempt by New Labour to modernise public services during the Blair administration. A series of new statutes unveiled by the Labour government set new requirements for access to information and gave bodies, including the Information Commissioners Office, the powers to enforce compliance. The introduction of the Freedom Of Information Act in 2000 marked a new era of open government with the right to know extended to the UKs general public.
Wisdom of the crowd
Crowdsourcing is more often associated with the success of amateurs co-creating the Wikipedia encyclopaedia than with the harnessing of business information to give an organisation a lead over its competitors. But in a few pertinent examples, it can provide huge advantages. Whether its asking your customers or users to help you make better products or services, or to solve a problem, the crowd nearly always trumps so-called expertise, large organisational structures, small focus groups and over-zealous project management.
The goals and principles of knowledge management (KM) are more important than ever, but the practice of KM seems to have dwindled in recent years. However, KM concepts lie at the heart of the emerging disciplines of Enterprise 2.0 and social business design, and if
KM practitioners and advocates can grasp the opportunity offered by modern social computing, then I think there is real hope that they can achieve their goals, albeit possibly under a different label.
Breaking the engineering paradigm
Delivering a keynote at KMUK 2010 came with the bonus of an award for the best advance of KM as a scientific discipline (see Inside Knowledge, June/July 2010). I will admit to being pleased at the recognition for what I and others have been attempting over the past decade and more namely to use natural science, rather than the tail end of systems dynamics to inform both the theory and practice of knowledge management (KM). To me this has always seemed common sense. We are after all human beings not cogs in some machine. We evolve; we cannot, other than in a very limited sense, be engineered. Human beings, especially when considered collectively, have capability that cannot be replaced by technology, although it can be augmented. We have known for more than a decade that the cybernetic models that were in vogue from Turing in the 1950s are to many a modern author woefully inadequate to describe human capability.
Case study: Arup and MTR Corporation
The MTR Corporation operates Hong Kongs MTR railway network, which is regarded as one of the worlds leading public transit systems. Carrying an average of more than four million passengers every day, its system comprises over 200 kilometres of railway across nine lines covering Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
A rail merger in late 2007 brought the railway operations and employee populations of the MTR Corporation and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation under a single management structure with MTR Corporation (the Corporation). At the same time, the Government of Hong Kong gave the green light for the Corporation to undertake a significant multi-project expansion programme to extend the network by more than 25 per cent, with an additional 56 kilometres of railway. This was an unprecedented expansion in terms of scale, complexity and cost.
No more consultants: or are we all consultants now?
The economic downturn is having interesting consequences for consultancy. Public and private organisations have been forced to cut costs and lay off staff. At the same time, many former managers and skilled employees are deploying their skills differently, by offering specialist consultancy services, sometimes to the organisations that had previously employed them. At a time when organisations are looking closely at their budgets, how should they decide when to bring in an external consultant? If they do use consultants, how can they maximise the value that consultancy brings to the business?
Thought leader: One for the lexophiles
A basic premise of knowledge management (KM) is that the ability to learn from previous experience will enable us to avoid repeating mistakes, more effectively manage risk and in the long term, improve our practice. In reality the history of KM is littered with stories of expensive, but completely ineffective, attempts to develop all encompassing knowledge databases full of highly structured, formal lessons learned reports which are so diluted as to lose all context, emotion and relevance to the reader. As Dave Snowden points out, attempts to codify lessons into highly structured documents work against the way we naturally process information. He argues that we have evolved to handle information that is unstructured, so that conversation and connections will always trump codification.
The last word
Talking to each other using e-mail, instant messaging or social networking has become quite the routine for us. Its a safe environment for communicating and its powerful too. The Facebook-based campaign to prevent the 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry from topping the UK singles chart is a great example. The previous four winners had gone straight to number one at Christmas, but after capturing the hearts of users of the social networking site, the creators of the campaign were successful in their their bid to get Rage Against The Machine to the top of the chart.
When I was at infant school, I attended special classes as I had a tendency towards being highly strung. I was a nervous child and prone to cry at the slightest provocation. I recall my grandma making two rag dolls one for me and another for my brother. So that we could tell the two apart, she drew tears running down the face of my doll. Then, from the age of about 13 to 17, I had a bad stutter and I lived in dread of being called on to read the house prayers that took place every month but somehow, it never happened. Thank goodness.
Putting your money where your mouth is
Counterfeit money and an art gallery. The plot from a Bond film? Possibly, Moneypenny but its also part of an activity for engaging senior managers in thinking about knowledge management (KM).
Heres how it works. First, print off a large number of miniature £50 notes. Make sure that they really are miniature, and only printed on one side of the paper, or you might find yourself facing an extended period of reflection time at Her Majestys pleasure.
Next, choose a selection of 10-20 quotations which relate to KM, organisational learning or whatever your focus is. David Gurteens website is a good source for these. Paste each quote into a PowerPoint slide of an empty, ornate picture frame and print them off on A3 paper. This is your art collection, ready for auction. Put them up around the walls of your meeting room, and give the frames a quick coat of spray adhesive. Now youre ready to go.