posted 20 Mar 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 6
Spoiled for choice
With the plethora of knowledge management IT solutions currently on the market identifying the right one to suit your organisation’s objectives has become a challenge in itself. Farzana Hamid describes the solution developed for Marconi Plc to facilitate a more collaborative working environment among its 49 000 employees.
Knowledge management is a widely used term in today’s business world but there is increasing confusion about its real meaning. Although most definitions include sharing intellectual assets within a given community an important thing to bear in mind is that knowledge management should be an organisational strategy that builds on the advances in information technology and the creative and innovative capabilities that lie latent in employees.
IT certainly plays an important role in the area of knowledge management providing as it does systems that facilitate knowledge sharing but it is important to realise that even the most sophisticated computer system can only support a knowledge management programme not run it. The IT industry has recognised this trend and already offers various systems to enable knowledge management programmes. Some IT companies promise to provide the whole solution but organisations looking at creating knowledge management programmes should evaluate carefully whether these companies can really keep their promises and deliver what is required.
A recent KPMG survey Knowledge Management Research Report 2000 found that the majority of leading organisations are now actively pursuing knowledge management. These businesses seem to understand the potential role that knowledge management can play for them and now want to profit from it. Unfortunately many enterprises have rushed into implementing IT solutions without fully thinking the project through. And they are realising too late that their systems have not found the acceptance among employees that they expected. Hence intranets or portals that were installed at considerable cost are being left dormant.
This appears to be the case in many companies but knowledge management – when planned and implemented carefully – can bring a myriad of benefits.
The KPMG survey clearly shows that the benefits of knowledge management are widely realised but also that organisations fail to tackle the real challenge. The main reasons for this are threefold:
- first of all employees appear not to have enough time to share knowledge;
- secondly knowledge is not used effectively;
- and thirdly capturing tacit knowledge poses great difficulties.
According to the survey knowledge access is another issue that needs to be addressed. People are often brought up in systems where sharing knowledge was not encouraged - in school or university it was called cheating. In addition the highly competitive working environment in which most businesses operate encourages people to keep their knowledge to themselves to use for their own benefit. It takes a great deal of organisational commitment and employee trust to overcome these barriers.
The all-important question though is how to tackle these issues. Technology seems to be the first choice for most companies questioned for the KPMG survey. But while the vast majority said that they use the internet or an intranet/extranet to access external knowledge most organisations seem to fail to make optimal use of the technology at hand. The survey clearly shows that although most companies have implemented or are thinking of implementing knowledge management programmes most still have a long way to go before achieving maximum benefits.
So what needs to be done to develop easily understandable and accepted knowledge management systems? And what are easily understandable and accepted knowledge management systems?
Before implementing a new knowledge management system companies need to make sure that they have assessed their needs thoroughly and know exactly what is required and what can realistically be achieved. The problem with almost all kinds of IT programs is that they cannot question their own underlying logic and related assumptions; nor can they sense dynamic changes occurring in the business environment that they have not been programmed in advance to detect. People have to think ‘out of the box’ - where the box is a representation of tried and tested things that always worked in the past. The more complex technologies and their applications impose greater responsibility on the humans using them to determine performance. Considering the plethora of technologies there is no one right way to get the best performance out of them.
Farzana Hamid is Marconi connect project manager at Marconi Software Solutions.