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What you need to know about Knowledge Management (Pt. 1)

Arrows and blocks [1]
If you’re like me, then you’re coming to lofty concepts like ‘Knowledge Management’ through a technology lense: you’re a practitioner from an IT background and you’ve been tasked with addressing a business challenge you feel is much bigger than your abilities or experience.

You’re not alone: for all the big business talk about the knowledge economy, managing intangible assets (i.e. the knowledge in employees’ brains) and creating value by hiring the best people and giving them great tools, remarkably few organizations use experienced KM practitioners to lead KM projects. More often than not, it’s someone from IT who has to figure it out.

I’m going to assume – for the sake of this post – that you (like me, when I started working in this field a few years ago) are full of good intentions and curious about what knowledge management is. I’m also going to assume that your focus is practical and that you need to get things done. All you’re looking for is to learn some basic business concepts related to your KM/intranet project – concepts that’ll help you

Organizations that are part of the ‘knowledge economy’ (anything service-oriented, examples include: financial services, telecommunications, software, consulting, etc.) face an important issue today: their success is dependent on the people working for them, and the information and processes these people are able to access in order to do their work. ‘Information work’ of this kind is characterized by

I’m sure this list could be much longer, but maybe we can start with these items. They establish a basic tenet: information work isn’t necessarily about repetitive tasks (at least not repetitive physical tasks), but about bringing intelligence and creativity into the workplace to create economic value.

The value of an organization is determined by how well its people capture, retrieve and use information in the execution of their tasks. What do these terms mean? Let’s define them quickly:

Together, these three high-level activities are the defining factors of a knowledge organization. Their respective effectiveness directly translates into KM success.

It should now be pretty clear where knowledge management systems (intranets, BI applications, CRM systems, etc.) need to focus. Systems can make capturing information easier, but cannot bring about a culture shift that’ll make an organization’s employees want to capture knowledge. Systems can make retrieving information significantly more efficient (search, information architecture, notifications, etc.). Systems cannot really help employees use information better, but they can certainly provide the information in a usable context to make its application as easy as possible.

Knowledge management intranets therefore need to support the activities of information workers. In the next few posts in this series, I’ll look to explore each of these concepts (capture, retrieve, use) in the context of a variety of Microsoft technologies (Office, SharePoint, etc.). This will illustrate my points practically and provide implementation examples at the same time. I look forward to your feedback and thoughts.