still a buzzword?
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
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).
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.
are a few methodologies and tools for KM available but most
of them are at a nascent stage of development and deployment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.