ICT in Knowledge Management
As suggested by Zyngier (2003) Information and Communication Technology works as a facilitator and a tool of knowledge management. Where Document Management, GroupWare etc. continue to play a crucial role in KM, Internet has emerged as the greatest source of information as well as knowledge. The social media platforms like LinkedIn are major players in professional collaboration outside ones organization. Also no organization can anymore ignore a collaborative intranet platform as part of its KM platform.
Organizations need some mechanisms for effective creation, distribution and application of knowledge. Knowledge should be accessible across the organization, and sometimes outside the organization e.g. to its customers, anytime and anywhere. The key criteria are fast, easy search & access, easy to share, meaningful presentation, customized to the requirements of the target user groups and so on. The help of technology is a must to achieve all these. The common technologies used in the KM space are Content Management and Portals, Communication, Collaboration and Analytics.
A Knowledge Portal is not only a repository of meaningful information, it also works as a collaboration platform, supporting discussion forums, virtual teams, subscriptions, personalized content delivery and so on. The Content Management software enables easy upload, efficient storage of multiple file formats – including images and multimedia files, fast search, retrieval and display. Knowledge workers and users can define their profiles and preferences based on which personalized knowledge delivery takes place. Co-located and virtual teams can have shared work spaces set up for them to work together in a collaborative manner. Communication technologies such as internet, emails, mobile technology and video conferencing are crucial for effective knowledge sharing and distribution.
A few scenarios
One of my previous organizations is a matrix organization which is structured into verticals (Retail, Telecom, Healthcare, Banking & Financial Services, Travel & Logistics etc.) and horizontals (ERP solutions like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft; BPM, Mobility, Cloud, Business Intelligence etc.). There are also regional Sales and Presales teams. Each and every division of the organization is heavily dependent on a robust knowledge management system for efficient delivery and revenue generation. E.g. the horizontals or technology teams have created reusable solutions and frameworks which are used across the verticals/project teams as accelerators. These are developed by the technology teams and published along with detailed documentation on their knowledge portal. It is available and accessible to the entire organization. These reusable frameworks are used as IPs by the organization, helps them in getting better branding, reduces implementation time resulting in increased productivity, reduced cost and competitive edge. These accelerators are regularly used not only by the delivery teams but also by the Sales teams which present them to the prospective customers to showcase our capabilities.
The marketing department of the organization collects market intelligence about their competitors, trends about various sectors, products and vendors and provides the same to the sales division of all the geographies. They also create corporate presentations and other promotional materials for use by the sales teams across the globe. This enables the sales teams to take a consistent approach in decision making and also be consistent in their presentations to the various customers. This collaborative approach between the centralized marketing team and the distributed regional sales teams helps the organization decide its sales strategy and planning.
The Presales teams from various verticals prepare case studies and collaterals about successful projects executed by them and publish the same on their portal. These can be referenced and reused by any other presales/sales team from different geography bidding for a new account. Sometimes the Presales teams even create reusable demos of a solution that can be presented to a prospect in the initial stage of business development. These help in making the bid more competitive, with reduced cycle time for proposal creation and better productivity.
All the above examples indicate how the organization relies heavily on knowledge management for achieving business excellence. The above integrated knowledge management system has been implemented using an Enterprise Content Management and Portal platform (ECMP). It presents an integrated repository of knowledge artefacts to the entire organization, across geographies and divisions. It also facilitates for pro-active communication to all stakeholders if there is any content upgrade (e.g. updated corporate presentation with latest revenue figures). Implementation of all these features, covering 100,000 employees across more than 30 countries would not have been possible without using advanced ECMP software.
Another great initiative was rolled out by the Learning team of my previous organization. It was mandatory for all employees to attend at least 10 days of training session in a year. Depending on the role of the employee, various learning programs would be assigned to him/her by the Learning team. These consisted of technical trainings, functional training as well as behavioural trainings. The entire model was online. The employees can look up the catalogue and enrol for an appropriate training program. They can also attend the training online sitting at their desk. No prior planning was required. As far as the employees were concerned, it was a very flexible model. They can take the training whenever it suited them. For the Learning department, the eLearning sessions were extremely cost-effective. They need not be dependent on the availability of a trainer or training facility. It helped the organization meet its skill development program in an efficient manner, at an optimum cost. It was also a great motivator for the professionals to upgrade themselves in the latest technologies and other skills.
It is critical for an organization to learn and then share the learning with others in the organization. Learning can also be in terms of mistakes or issues. Many customer facing divisions spend great amount of time and effort in collecting and analysing the issues reported by the customers. They try to see a pattern or trend in the defects or problems reported. Then accordingly corrective measures are taken so as not to repeat the mistakes in future. In this particular organization, the production support team carries out such analysis of the issues reported by the customers in an elaborate fashion. For the most commonly occurring issues, the team compiles a Known Error Database. Every time a new issue is reported, the support members first search this database. If it is a known issue, then the documented solution is applied. It reduces the cycle time of issue resolution resulting in higher productivity and higher customer satisfaction.
There are however some drawbacks as well of having a Knowledge Management System completely built on Information Technology. A few such challenges and limitations are discussed here.
The first one is significant amount of investment requirement in terms of software, infrastructure (like servers/network/ internet) and most importantly skilled resources and so on. To have an Integrated and distributed ICT system and keep it up-and-running 24×7 could be very expensive for a small or medium-sized company.
The next challenge is to get skilled personnel who can architect an effective KM system that is useful to the organization. The KM system should be designed in such a way that there is efficient creation, location, capture and sharing of the knowledge. This is particularly challenging for a big organization where knowledge is scattered, often not known or used by anyone. Sometimes it is obsolete and redundant. Implementing the right architecture is essential here. The appropriate structure of knowledge repository should be designed and created; the information should be stored properly with appropriate indexing, by attaching metadata or keywords etc. so that meaningful retrieval is possible; mechanism should be laid out to distribute relevant knowledge to the right audience and so on. Also elaborate design is required for effective and meaningful presentation of the knowledge (e.g. one should be able to view the information in different ways, interpret and analyse the same). Aspects like Back-up, retrieval, disaster recovery etc. should also be considered in the architecture. Normally there are multiple knowledge databases within an organization. Integrating them as a single repository and presenting a unified view to the employees is also important. Many times the KM system needs to be integrated with other ICT systems of the organization for to-and-fro information exchange. All these need to be considered and carefully implemented. A badly designed KM system is of no use to the organization.
The other big challenge is the security aspect of the knowledge management system. If proper information security policy is not implemented, there is risk of confidential information getting accessed by unauthorised audience. Authentication and Authorization are two very significant aspects of KM architecture. While one of the main features of a technology based KM system is to proactively push useful information to the right and intended employee population (personalization), it is equally important to have restricted access to sensitive information. To give an example from my previous organization, while technical capability repository or QMG database is accessible by everybody in the organization, the Sales database is highly restricted and is accessible by only the authorised Sales/Pre-sales team. This is due to the fact that it has got sensitive commercial information about various deals that the team is working on. There is a risk of such information being misused if accessed by unauthorised employees.
Often we sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) with customers not to disclose any sensitive product information of theirs (the products that we are helping them to build) while showcasing our technical capabilities. While populating the KM database, the KM Manager needs to take care either not to share such information or to screen/filter/mask relevant portion of the information before sharing.
The same is true for the Payroll database as well due to the sensitive compensation information. An ill-designed KM system with loopholes can be disastrous to the interest of the organization. KM architects have to be additionally careful about designing extranet systems where stakeholders from outside the organization access the KM system.
As per Drucker (1998), in an information-based organization everyone needs to take information responsibility.In a knowledge-based organization greater self-discipline and individual responsibility are essential for relationships and communications.
The other challenge is to be accurate, consistent and up-to-date. The capture and authentication mechanism of the information must be robust. Many times it has been seen that the information published on a website is not accurate. Before publishing any data/article/statistics, it is essential to review the correctness of the information. A common example is Wikipedia which though partially regulated; it is common to find unverified and inaccurate information on the site. Many institutes prohibit students to cite references from Wikipedia. The role of the Knowledge Officer in the organization is to ensure that only verified and approved information gets published in the KM system.
If the information shared by different departments of the same organization are not in sync, it might create confusion or issues. There has to be a robust mechanism to keep the KM system up-to-date. Out-of-date and obsolete information accessed and used by employees will be against the interest of the company. It is not enough to have an up-to-date KM system; it is equally important to design a mechanism to communicate about the updates on time to the employees of the organization. So information dissemination and distribution through appropriate and effective communication channel is equally important. Giving an example from the same organization, whenever there is a change in employee policy or a change in one of the QMG form/template, an all-employee mailer is sent out informing the same so that individuals can go to the appropriate site to either read up the new policy or download the latest template to use in their respective projects.
It will not be inaccurate to say that in modern times, knowledge management is not optional any more for an organization. The basic functions of a KM is knowledge capture, storage, knowledge internalization, knowledge re-use and exchange. At the end learn from the captured knowledge and take informed decisions based on the same. More and more companies are becoming global in todays world. With the huge amount of information generated by a company, huge number of employees, and multiple geographies it is impossible to perform all the above functions without the help of ICT. The capturing of data or information itself will be a humongous task if done manually.
The few loopholes identified above can be eliminated or reduced by regular knowledge audits, laying down stringent policies, having a well-defined architecture framework, regular training to knowledge workers etc. Though the limitations cannot be eliminated 100 per cent, the probability of making mistakes can be reduced greatly.
In the modern world, with emerging of social media platform, every professional is a knowledge worker and everyone has benefited from the global knowledge collaboration platform on the internet. The benefits of having an ICT based KM system is far reaching to be ignored.