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Article by Mohan Babu


Knowledge Management, still a buzzword?

Knowledge Management is an art by which a skilled KM practitioner makes an intelligent use of the IT systems and pool of ‘knowledge’ in an organization to help further its core competency, says Mohan Babu 

Which is the hottest buzzword floating around executive chambers and offices of technocrats the world over? If I were to say Knowledge Management (KM), you will probably not bat an eyelid. After CRM and supply chain management, KM is emerging as the next hot thing in the area of IT management. As with most new buzzwords, executives are scrambling to find a copy of the “Idiot’s guide to KM” (of course, it doesn’t exist - yet).

So, what exactly is KM? KM involves an optimum use of Information Technology systems to consolidate and build upon the accumulated pool of information generated by people and systems in an organization. KM is not a pre-defined sequence of steps it is not like programming algorithms or databases or for that matter ERP or CRM. It is more of an art by which a skilled KM practitioner makes an intelligent use of IT systems and the pool of ‘knowledge’ in an organization to help further its core competency. Information gathered from various sources becomes a powerful “knowledge tool” in the hands of a KM practitioner. 

There are a few methodologies and tools for KM available but most of them are at a nascent stage of development and deployment.

A typical use of a KM system would be in organizations where a handful of key employees do most of the work while the rest of them do not have much work to go around. If this sounds like any organization you have worked in, then one can imagine the dire need for some sort of a KM system in most organizations.

One of its main benefits is that KM can help in de-linking projects/systems from people, making it easy for organizations to continue in perpetuity. This is especially true in times of change. For instance, if a key person in the organization were to throw in the towel and walk out of the door, his departure will not jeopardize the projects he was working on. This is especially true of organizations that employ the skills of consultants and ‘temp’ workers whose knowledge-base goes out of the door the moment they are out of the project. Many organizations unwittingly throw the baby with the bathtub when it comes to managing consultants. Designing and maintaining of a good KM system will alleviate the problem of information/knowledge management associated with a high turnover of contractors and temporary workers. 

I have been fortunate to have worked on a system that uses a form of KM. Although it was not exactly designed to be a KM project, it turned out to be an excellent example of what a KM system can do. 

Case: KM at work
I work as a technical head in a large network-engineering group of a Fortune 500 US based Telco. The developers in our group work on various aspects of the system including building new enhancements, testing/troubleshooting and maintaining the existing systems. In our group, we had a person who was dedicated to handling tech support calls and trouble tickets for a number of years. For our case, let’s call him Mr. X. The first line of technical support in our organization is handled by our call-center representatives, who direct only the most complex calls to Mr. X. He was the “go to” guy in our group, whom even our seasoned analysts and developers went to. He had ringside view of our system, bits and pieces of which he would look at on a day-to-day basis. 

One fine Monday morning, due to an unfortunate disciplinary reason, Mr. X had to be dismissed from the organization. Out went the organizational knowledge with Mr. X. My manager and I had to go scrambling to find his replacement. Within a couple of days, the replacement for Mr. X was able to firmly hit the ground running, with very little lead time and a steep learning curve. How was this possible? With the use of a “database tool” that also happens to be a Knowledge Management system. 

When we built the “database tool” a few years ago, none of us knew anything about KM, for that matter, I don’t think it was even a buzzword then. The tool was quite straightforward, built using Lotus Notes, it had forms for updating all the trouble tickets that we encountered along with a brief description of the resolution of the problem. The tool also had a MIS element, to aid in reporting the most frequent problems, statistics etc. Lotus Notes also has a built-in sophisticated search mechanism that we were able to use in order to search for ‘similar problems’ using English or technical keywords. Of course, after the system had been built and deployed, our manager had the foresight to decree that anyone working on trouble tickets had to update the database too. When Mr. X suddenly left the organization, he left behind a small, albeit, significant part of his knowledge in the form of this knowledge-base. 

I didn’t know it then, but I was managing a Knowledge Management system that had paid for itself manifold. It was only a year ago when I attended a course on KM at the University of Colorado that all we had been doing just jumped out of the textbook.
One of the main drawbacks of KM is that it involves a lot of documentation. We cannot underestimate how much techies abhor documentation - be it system documentation or documentation of project status, test-plans etc. There is an element of drudgery involved in maintaining even the best KM systems which calls for an extra amount of effort on the part of senior management in order to motivate employees to start using and adding to a KM system after it has been deployed.

Senior management needs to understand the significance of KM systems and its impact on the organizations’ productivity. They need to act as proponents of KM by ensuring a buy-in by everyone in the organization. This is especially true in today’s business environment when organizations are looking to downsize and save on every penny. Justifying the “need” for a KM system can be quite difficult, because it is hard to quantify the exact ROI (returns on investment) of KM systems.

Is KM going to become another buzzword, relinquished to the history books of software industry or is it a new paradigm, a way of making business processes more knowledgeable? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that KM in one form or the other is going to become entrenched in our lexicon, not merely as a buzzword but as a way to help business optimize their core competencies through the use of IT.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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