posted 1 Dec 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 4
Structural Damage, how to fix
Unstructured knowledge can damage your company's performance . In this article, Mark Savinson explains why there is a need for the reinforcement that portals provide, and shows how Nomura International experienced a 450% increase in intranet traffic since the implementation of their knowledge portal.
Economists are announcing the onset of the Knowledge Revolution where the value of a business is no longer based on its Capital value, but its Knowledge Value. This is now especially true of all the 'net' businesses where valuations are based on knowledge and the perceived value of that knowledge.
With a capital valued business it is obvious where the value resides, but with a Knowledge Valued businesses where does the Knowledge sit?... usually within individuals. Therefore companies have attempted to release that knowledge from the individual so that it is held within the organisation.
The need for knowledge sharing is therefore at the forefront of making an organisation successful. However, knowledge sharing is not to be seen as an unstructured library; it needs structure and management.
Does technology alone deliver knowledge sharing?
The technology buzzword in the knowledge-sharing world is 'Portal', every day there is an announcement of a new portal application. But what is portal technology? 'Portal' is a much abused word, as all it means is single point of access. The Internet community have taken this concept on to describe a 'web page' that provides links to everything you need, or could need. From a knowledge sharing perspective, a portal should provide a single access point to all the user's knowledge requirements. Once the portal exists then users can find all the knowledge they need, and share their knowledge with others. However, just deploying portal technology does not create a successful knowledge sharing solution. Much more is involved.
Creating a knowledge sharing environment
Companies and organisations have recognised the need to create ways in which the owners of information could publish this for the benefit of the organisation in general.
The preferred method for addressing this has been to use Internet technology in the form of a private network called an intranet. In the beginning few people understood the potential power or the mission critical aspect of knowledge within the organisation. Today many organisations appreciate that the corporate intranet is the standard method for publishing information. However, there is for many organisations a long way to go before they move away from the 'creator centric' information model to the 'user centric' model. After all, information is not valuable until you can share it with the people who need it.
To fulfil this requirement two conditions must be met:
|1||They must know that it exists.|
|2||It must be accessible.|
As simple as this may seem in theory, in practice these conditions are difficult to meet. The reason for this is that organisations are disparate and few have a preferred interface to unite all the information repositories.
The consequence of this is that few people get access to the vital information they need, in spite of the fact that they have access to tens of thousands of pages of published documents. The most effective way of locating and retrieving information is personal contact and email. The Intranet will fail to deliver its investment return, as the reality is that the organisation has not moved ahead in leveraging the knowledge within the organisation.
What is missing?
The only effective way to unlock the knowledge base of the organisation is to liberate the information which is contained within the intranet - in some organisations there are hundreds or even thousands of intranets across many locations.
A simple approach is to simply determine who needs what! If this sounds too simple, don't worry, its not. If you agree with the proposition that everyone can be more effective by getting only the information they need to perform their role (i.e. eliminating all information they do not need or is not relevant them) then follow this simple four step plan.
1. KNOW YOUR BUSINESS: The first but most obvious point is that you must understand your business, its core activities, aims and objectives and the way in which the organisation functions to support these goals. If you do not understand these fundamentals you will fail with or without a knowledge management strategy.
2. INFRASTRUCTURE: You will need to understand your infrastructure issues. If you are serious about making investment in your intranet pay then you have to get this aspect right.
3. INTERFACE: You need to give the people in the organisation the means to build and deliver information and applications to users.
4. AWARENESS: You will probably need to recognise that as the intranet has not been seen as a useful tool, it is necessary to create awareness amongst users.
The point is that organisations hire talented people for their specialist skills. These individuals face a significant investment in time to discover the information they need to perform their role, particularly in the first three months of their employment. The whole point of the exercise of reviewing the organisation is to make sure that you deliver information to people in a format they can use.
For example, most organisations are structured in the following way:
1. They make profit from engaging in TRADING activities which are
2. based on RESEARCH into the opportunities in their markets and
3. supported by MARKETING activities which
4. tell SALES where to focus attention and who are
5. responsible for CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT which
6. generates FINANCIAL INFORMATION.
7. EMPLOYEES implement the strategy and need
8. to know ABOUT OUR COMPANY.
There may be other activities under this high level index. It is essential that the business be viewed as functional as well as hierarchical (rather that just hierarchical). This view enables you to see how the organisation works together rather than who reports to whom. People work in functional groups irrespective of seniority within the organisation. This involves looking at a group or individual and determining the core functions of the job. After this exercise is complete then you simply match the individual user's information needs to their core needs.
This also requires a change in the way the intranet is managed, separating the role of Infrastructure management from that of administration of users and their information needs. The role of IS becomes one of managing the use of Web technology to facilitate the sharing and provision of knowledge. Remember, information does not become knowledge until you deposit it in the hands of a person who can use it in pursuit of their core activities.
One of the key advantages of a managed portal environment is a significant reduction in the use of email, the modern information plague. Intelligent use of the portal will eliminate a high proportion of emails, particularly those with attachments. Today, this is one of the most common ways in which uncontrolled use of bandwidth is generated, creating large cost implications for the organisation.
Delivering a knowledge sharing environment
To deliver a comprehensive Knowledge Sharing environment, organisations need to use a Managed Knowledge Portal as the interface between the user and the information available. This knowledge portal must be non-intrusive i.e. it should not constrain how content is created, but help make the content/application more visible.
Many organisations take the first step towards a portal by introducing search engines. This takes the view that the user will know what they are looking for and have the time to search for it. This approach creates two new problems (based on user feed back):
|'I don't use the Intranet because I don't have time to work out what to search for. It does not deliver the information I want quick enough'|
|'What am I supposed to do with the thirty content areas the search pointed me at, it's easier to go and ask someone if they have the info I require'|
The introduction of search based portals does not improve knowledge sharing, instead it opens users eyes to the amount of content available and then scares them off. The second stage is to look at more intelligent search environments that pro-actively tells you about content that may be of interest. This moves us a long way towards good knowledge sharing, but it still puts the onus on the individual to define their information needs. If our original supposition was correct that the organisation needs to own and control knowledge, then shouldn't the organisation manage the distribution of knowledge?
The final stage is a managed knowledge portal, where the organisation defines the knowledge needs of users and pro-actively delivers that information. The end result is that users have immediate access to information that delivers their knowledge requirements without having to spend valuable time searching for the information. This type of application must be easy to administrate so that the business can constantly update the knowledge needs to reflect the evolving nature of business and its employees.
Nomura International is one of the world's largest securities firms and one of the leaders in the use of managed portals. Since NOMURAnet (the knowledge portal) was implemented there has been a 450% increase in the use of the intranet. They have moved from an intranet that was seen as non-mission critical to one where staff log-in every day as part of their business process.
Within Nomura, staff selling the same products in New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo as well as Europe now use the common infrastructure of NOMURAnet, enabling consistency across business processes and working practices and encouraging improvements through group ideas. They now depend on the intranet to do their jobs, rather than as an occasional reference point.
It is often difficult to calculate the value of knowledge sharing as most evidence is anecdotal, however within Nomura even anecdotal evidence highlights the possibilities of knowledge sharing. As with most organisations Nomura offers flu jabs to its personnel, but has historically relied on word of mouth to promote its availability. Since installing their knowledge portal, Nomura has promoted the availability of a flu vaccine via NOMURAnet to users. The results were astounding. Practically everyone in the company logs in everyday simply because it provides them with a useful interface. As a result of this greater access to people the incidence of flu was greatly reduced because there was a 300% increase in take-up for flu jabs.
Does knowledge sharing enhance the business?
Knowledge sharing has always existed within organisations, but usually this has been taking place in an informal manner using 'contacts'. This often creates a sub-culture based around 'experts' who propagate their means of solving problems. By formalising and managing this knowledge sharing, organisations re-take control of their knowledge and ensure consistency of processes and practices.
The experiences of organisations show that the creation of Managed Knowledge Sharing Environments enhances business practices and communications. Initially the ROI will be hard to calculate, but as organisations such as Nomura show, they are enhancing their business through the sharing of knowledge.
What is the future for portals and KM?
We are already seeing companies moving towards a complete eBusiness strategy, where all communications (and transactions) with staff, clients and suppliers takes place via a browser. For this to succeed companies are building corporate portals that manage all access to the company knowledge base. These portals provide different users with a different view (look and feel):
Knowledge will be seen as the major asset and the winners will be organisations that manage knowledge delivery to enable eBusiness.
Mark Savinson is Managing Director of BCN Intraview. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org