Knowledge management is often categorized as an IT solution in the form of intranets, wikis, forums, community spaces and other web 2.0 collaboration tools.
And while addressing knowledge management (KM) as an IT function may be common, it can limit the potential outcomes that can significantly impact your business strategy.
So how can KM help you strengthen your business strategy? Where should you start and how should you focus the strategy so that results are visualized in the short term?
What issues should you consider when implementing KM — and how can you assess the impact of cognitive technology as a leverage for tacit knowledge transfer and retention?
Knowledge Management Strategies
KM is defined as the process of identifying and developing critical knowledge. From this, we can declare that knowledge resides in multiple forms and is found in diverse areas of the organization.
Focusing on critical knowledge is a great starting point to derive efforts to the knowledge areas that require attention and not just any type of knowledge.
Critical knowledge, as suggested by José Carlos Tenorio, is knowledge derived from analyzing a series of elements related to the organization´s strategy such as its value preposition, market segments, new product development, balanced scorecard and any other relevant information which the organization applies in order to steer forward it´s strategy.
KM has to tackle five major problems:
- Loss and inefficient management of critical and tacit knowledge
- Maximizing productivity and cost efficiency by avoiding reinventing the wheel moments
- Developing a culture of knowledge management
- Using proper metrics to measure business value
- Shifting IT platforms to drive better knowledge work
These problems are correlated to many business challenges. To face them, new allies are taking form in KM models in order to revitalize the strategy.
This is important to mention because this complexity breeds confusion and challenges companies daily.
The Role of Cognitive Technologies
To transform organizations, companies need to evolve their strategies and adapt to new paradigms.
In this sense cognitive technology is starting to play a vital role in KM. For example, IBM has developed Watson: a cognitive system that can replicate knowledge processing in order to derive data and results.
Moreover, it can learn from multiple sources of knowledge and provide personalized assistance to those that need it. It has even acquired the knowledge of a medicine student and is currently capable of diagnosing patients and provide support for doctors.
KM can now use existing cognitive technology to tackle tacit learning and generate systems that are capable of acquiring valuable lessons learned in order to assist managers.
Saving Enterprise Information
For many years the field has explored multiple solutions for tackling tacit knowledge since registering it all in wikis and documentation systems proved to be a difficult task.
Given this context, companies have assumed the risk of losing valuable knowledge that is inherent to people so that when talent walks out the door the prime concern is losing the tacit knowledge which people possess. Exit interviews are reactive and instead managers should adopt other preventive practices.
Most of the time when new tasks are issued or new projects are handled we find that people don’t take into consideration past learnings and best practices in order to make better decisions.
This is not primarily a “habit” issue but rather, having proper models and processes in place in order to reutilize experiences and institutionalize knowledge.
If cognitive technology can help discover and gather knowledge then it will be welcomed in all existing KM models.
We have already seen the power behind solutions like Watson and can only imagine replicating the results in current business problems.
Undoubtedly this will add value to many current knowledge management tools. Some may question the costs of adapting such technology but surprisingly enough there are many APIs freely available and the use of cognitive technology is spreading faster as startups and small companies begin to use it as well.
Focus Your KM Initiatives
To drive forward KM, you don´t need an army of knowledge managers in place.
Once you´ve aligned the strategy with critical knowledge then it’s important to designate facilitators in business units who will share the role of developing the KM plans and nurture a knowledge driven culture.
It´s important for responsibility to be shared among teams so that the knowledge manager can oversee and align efforts. Constant auditing will be required from his part, especially in the early stages, so that the company can adopt quickly to the new routines and processes.
From a culture point of view, there are many things to do.
Driving a knowledge culture can rapidly engineer better results and a better form of management as teams take an active role in sharing best practices and look for answers beyond their office walls.
Usually when no KM efforts are in place, networking is practically null and teams often rely on the nearest partners to find answers or assistance.
It helps when collaboration tools are in place, especially those that complement with wikis and authoring tools so that knowledge is rapidly registered and disseminated among business units. Once again the key challenge is not to set up wikis and other form of web 2.0 tools but rather define the strategy so that efforts are aligned with strategic knowledge.
From the early 1990s when KM began to flourish as a vital business component, we have witnessed new practices and models that have moved away from the IT fabric in order to focus on primary success factors such as critical knowledge and culture.
New technologies are coming in place with a more “intelligent” focus and this doesn’t mean that KM will depend on IT, but rather find a suitable leverage in order to make productivity flourish and make business generate better results. The icing on the cake will be to leverage a learning culture as this helps to make the strategy sustainable and less dependent on people.
Title image by Edu Grande