The Business Improvement Network

Knowledge in a box

By Sharath Kumar

Sharath Kumar

In this year my team has had to respond to several invitations to tender, most of them asking for implementing a “system” or a “tool” to manage their work. Using the information systems in place, not all organisations manage their work in the form of projects or programmes. Some service-based organisations focus on ticket resolution, measuring the number of tickets resolved per unit time as one of their key performance indicators. Other product-focused organisations use their core business information systems to perform end-to-end product development from R&D, concept design, prototyping and scaled development. Some other strategy houses and consultancy firms use information systems to on-board their consultant workforce with the insights from industry to improve staff service capability and skill. While the message is clear that the information asset management tool is not by itself the panacea for all cure but an enabler for achieving specific functional objectives, today’s firms still emphasise that they intend to address their intrinsic information challenges with a tool or an enterprise system. It is not debated that a tool is needed to store and manage business information, however organisations should focus more on the achievement of outcomes with a holistic approach to addressing their challenges. 

Eyes on the Prize

Outcomes need to be the focus for firms trying to reap the benefits from managing their knowledge effectively. The people that form the organisation undergoing the change help realise and demonstrate these outcomes. The question that every firm should ask is “What will take me to my outcome and how?” Some organisations or functions may not be clear about what exactly they want or where to go to obtain the outcome they are after. For instance, an organisation that wants to improve business information management capability in an organisation may brainstorm the need for an enterprise tool like an Enterprise Resource Planning system or ERP. But in addition, the organisation will need to focus on the overall change that needs to take place for this capability to be achieved, the processes that need to be rolled out to make these outcomes real, and most vitally, on the people that can bring about this change. 

So, what then, are the specific components that make the solution complete and make this implementation real? 

Process: To embed the solution into a set of executable, repeatable steps so that the outcome becomes simpler to achieve by the people in the organisation, it becomes critical to rollout a process. The ‘as-is’ process needs to be assessed to understand the gaps and remediate with an improved process in place. To do this, the people in the function who have a solid understanding of the as-is process need to be involved. This will ensure good quality and accurate input to the design of the target-state process.

Best Practice: to provide a consistent interlock with the firm’s existing practices, improve the way of working and information management methodology. This is crucial for organisations in relatively lower maturity states and with a steep learning curve.

Tool: To enable the process and best practice with technology and provide people with a tangible system to obtain their work outputs.

People: The main component of the solution. People are what make the solution real. It is the conversations, the interactions between the personnel peers and management, the discussions that are supported by the tool, best practice and process. The tool supports the key decisions made by the authority by providing reliable, current information.

Governance is at the heart of all the components Process, Best Practice, Tool and People. Governance provides the controls and supports smooth operation of the solution while ensuring the accountability and ownership.

Understand the ‘Knowledge Ecosystem’

Drawing from my experience in delivering Knowledge Management services, organisations often miss out on the “big picture”. In addition to setting up the solution and rolling out the process for information management, to gain an understanding of the environment in which the information exchange happens and interactions taking place is also crucial. This is because the same information that gets documented during a meeting, during an interview, or during project boards turns into content if stored in a central information repository. This content, when applied to delivering projects or in performing day-to-day operations, is interpreted as ‘Knowledge’. This knowledge transforms into ‘wisdom’ when the key aspects of knowledge are applied to achieve outcomes that add substantial value to the business. The wisdom is seen and shared as insights. Meanwhile, the knowledge that is used by the firm’s people to perform their work is shared using various mechanisms such as interactions between Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or team member peers. The other known mechanism to share knowledge is the tool itself, which we have discussed earlier. When we sum up the components, we get the following aspects to think about:

(1) The interactions from where information from people’s knowledge of subject matter is captured

(2) The tool in which information is captured or created

(3) The environment in which this knowledge is shared or exchanged

(4) There is a fourth aspect arising from point (1), which is the ‘tacit’ knowledge. It is the type of information that is hard to capture or transfer between people by voicing it. 

The 4 aspects together constitute the ‘Knowledge Ecosystem’, or the holistic environment in which a knowledge culture thrives. It is highly vital for organisations to understand their respective ecosystems, as this will help them to define the learning objectives better, manage their tools, the ownership of content and the knowledge sharing process more effectively. For instance, an organisation looking at building Training capability can define their training needs and objectives if they understand the type of, and the medium through which interactions take place. The tool enables effective capture of the training curriculum to feed knowledge creation. By understanding the environment in which knowledge is shared, a decision can be made to evaluate and purchase the best training delivery mechanism tailored to the learning styles of the trainees and specific needs of the environment.

The driver to share knowledge is a key topic of debate for organisations incorporating the change via knowledge management. If a sprint exercise is carried out to capture all the knowledge in the organisation and store in a central repository for uses to apply in performing their operations, it serves as ‘knowledge in a box’. However, if the knowledge repository is not used or adopted by the user, it remains ‘dead knowledge’. User adoption is key. To enable adoption, information or knowledge need to be kept current. This is achieved through content ownership, clear responsibilities and accountability, which requires good Governance, standard Process supported with Best Practice. The technology solution is an enabler of the change. The key component is the people. Organisations that open the ‘knowledge in a box’ to its people through a well-governed defined process and a robust technical solution have lesser likelihood of failure and more effective chances of achieving the state of a successful change to a knowledge sharing culture.

About the author

Sharath Kumar (BEng, MBA) is a senior management consultant with 14 years’ consulting experience, he has delivered projects across Oil, Nuclear, Government, Automotive and Banking sectors. Sharath enjoys making time for mentoring and professional running for charity fund-raising.

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