posted 18 Mar 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 6
The 60-second interview
Jacquie Bran, project manager with the Knowledge Management events teams, talks to Chris Hancock, who directs the Knowledge Network project for the Office of the e-Envoy in the UK Cabinet Office. In February 2002 the Knowledge Network was awarded the Management Consultants’ Association award for the best IT project of 2001. For more information, visit: www.e-envoy.gov.uk
When and why did the UK government first consider incorporating KM and setting up the Knowledge Network?
The Knowledge Network started within the Department of Health in 1997 when we built a briefing system to bring together a number of types of material into a common repository. In December 1999 we were asked to see if it would be possible to produce a similar system for use across government.
To be honest, in the beginning we did not think of the system as a knowledge management system but rather as a tool that helped us do our jobs better. It was only after the event that someone pointed out that we actually had a model KM system.
What have you done to encourage and promote knowledge sharing in such a diverse environment, and what barriers have you faced as a result?
We started with the departments themselves building a system that met their needs first, only joining them together much later in the project. We deployed a number of communities, the largest of which is the Government Legal Service. Common interest and access to role-specific information and knowledge is a great driver for the sharing of information.
We have ensured that there is senior owner for each of the systems, providing top-level leadership. We have aimed throughout the project to ensure that there are visible wins for those providing the information. I can’t stress enough that there are numerous barriers that need constant attention and require the use of multiple strategies to overcome. We have gained valuable insight through our own experience and that of others and proved beyond doubt that there is not a universal panacea to this problem.
How did you progress to implementing an infrastructure to support KM and what changes were necessary to ensure its success?
We built upon the existing Government Secure Intranet, deploying a Lotus Domino solution. This has been a complex process of technical changes both to networks and internal departmental systems. We have had to develop metadata standards and common templates for material to support this process. This has required a vast amount of collaboration and co-operation between the individual departments and the Knowledge Network team.
Has KM enabled you to improve your electronic service delivery and join-up your information and knowledge services across departments and channels of communication?
We are still at a very early stage in the programme. However, I would say that we are already starting to see some major benefits from the deployment of these knowledge sharing systems in terms of increased efficiency, better communications and the joining up of departments.
What are the main lessons learnt and are there any new milestones on the horizon?
The major lesson we have learnt is that people and their understanding of their business processes are the critical factors. Many organisations start with IT, but I would be surprised if they succeed. IT is a fantastic enabler but it is not the driver that will make these types of systems succeed.
It is vital to think big but plan and deliver small manageable pieces that contribute to and build on the wider vision. This ensures regular success and allows changes of direction and focus to occur with the minimum time and cost impact. We have built the systems in a very modular fashion, which has allowed us to make maximum re-use of component parts within multiple systems. This drastically reduces the cost of solutions and the time required to deliver them.
Senior level customer buy-in and visible leadership is another vital ingredient of success. On the community front, we established very early that you cannot create a community that does not already exist in some form. You can, however, use a knowledge system to enable and increase the effectiveness of an existing community.
A fantastic team of talented and committed individuals sharing a common vision doesn’t do any harm either.
There are a number of milestones on the horizon. We have a number of new communities under construction and continue to develop existing facilities. My colleague, Joe McCrea, is leading a programme to develop a policy framework for KM within government. This will draw heavily on our own experience and those of others both within and external to government. The framework will be grounded in good research and knowledge management principles but will be focused on good practice examples and a toolkit of resources that can help to embed knowledge management within any area of government activity, not just the Knowledge Network.
The Office of the e-Envoy is one of a number of organisations presenting at ‘KM for the Public Sector’, the forthcoming event from Ark Group. The event takes place in London from the 9-11 April 2002. For more information, visit www.kmmagazine.com or call Henry Anson on +44 (0)20 8785 2700.