Insight No. 25

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sharing organizational knowledge
No. 25







Knowledge sharing across the organization is increasingly used as a strategic tool, to boost customer service, decrease product development times, and to share best practice. Computer systems that are networked across organizational boundaries can improve the flow of information and knowledge to meet business goals. Intranets (an internal Internet) are seen as user-friendly and cost effective ways of achieving this. However, technology is merely the enabler. It is people who turn its potential into bottom-line benefits. This briefing outlines the role of Intranets in knowledge sharing and suggests guidelines for achieving their potential.

Rapid Spread of Intranets

The Internet, a global network of over 10 million computer, has seen rapid use in its commercial application over the last few years. Its ease of access, the World Wide Web and universal standards have all helped fuel its growth. The same technology can be applied within an organization. Its low cost and ability to work on many machine types has allowed organizations, many for the first time, to connect their disparate 'islands of information'. Many companies are now using, or planning to use the Intranet as their preferred computer platform for a wide range of applications.

Intranets and Knowledge

Intranets offer several facilities that aid knowledge sharing:

  • Easy-to-access and use. The use of World Wide Web (WWW) browsers give a low cost and easy-to-use interface to information and applications
  • Universal access to information. Information can be kept on any 'server' on the network, and can be accessed from anywhere within the Intranet.
  • Person-to-person interaction. Intranets simplify interaction between people in different locations, through electronic mail, and computer conferencing
  • Informal networks. Publishing information and making contact is quick and informal on an Intranet.
  • Scalable networks. As organizations restructure, it is easy to add or remove servers to the overall network.
  • Access to external information and knowledge. Intranets usually have gateways to the external Internet, which give access to a rapidly growing global information resource

An important point to note is that an Intranet is not just a formalized electronic library at one extreme, nor totally informal publishing on the other. It can convey information in many forms, not just Web pages but documents, tables, spreadsheets and images. It can host applications and databases. Above all, it provide connectivity that allows knowledge workers to collaborate, wherever they are located.

Creating Shared Knowledge

Intranets by themselves do not create shared knowledge. They need the application of specific knowledge management techniques and processes. These include:

  • Systematic scanning/gathering of valuable sources (external and internal)
  • Use of intelligent agents and filters to ensure relevance
  • Active management of classification thesaurus
  • Specific actions and incentives to encourage expert contributions
  • Knowledge mapping and user navigation aids, not just search engines
  • A balance of 'push' and 'pull' processes for information dissemination
  • Human knowledge editors, analysts, brokers and navigators

A key component is often a knowledge web; experts who collectively help refresh and refine the organizations evolving reservoir of knowledge.

Examples of Success

Many companies have applied Intranet and similar knowledge networks to enhance the flow of organizational knowledge, and to more widely exploit it to create business value. Some examples are:

  • Buckman Laboratories gives every employee a portable computer that lets them to tap into the expertise in their company network wherever they are. This helps them create innovative customer solutions and has boosted revenues.

  • Thomas Miller, a mutual manager of insurance companies, hold extensive client knowledge and risk expertise in organized databases. New and complex proposals can be generated within hours through rapid access to relevant pool of growing knowledge.

  • SmithKline Beecham run virtual libraries. Each of their employees can access to the best available information, wherever it resides in the company. Similarly Glaxo-Wellcome research scientists access complex chemical information including structural images on their internal Intranet.

  • Price Waterhouse's KnowledgeViewSM gives their business consultants access to best practice. Its unique thesaurus allows comparison of business processes across a range of industries. This help them deliver better customer solutions much quicker than when the knowledge was dispersed and fragmented.

Best Practice

Our research and client work has identified some key factors that need addressing in a successful Intranet implementation. These include, but are not limited to:

  • A knowledge leader or champion - someone who actively drives the knowledge agenda forward, creates enthusiasm and commitment; an effective user of technology
  • An initial focus on some widely used and valuable information.
  • A clarity of vision and architecture - including approaches to four levels of a knowledge networking infrastructure - connectivity, communications, conversations and collaboration.
  • Simple knowledge maps that minimize the effort to find key information.
  • Nurturing of communities of knowledge practice; individuals who are drawn together informally to share specialist knowledge and who support and nourish each other's knowledge development. These need appropriate facilitation and moderating skills.
  • Systematic knowledge processes, supported by specialists in information management (librarians) but with close partnership between users and providers of information.

Usually, intranets evolve, not in a controlled and planned way, as with a major IT project investment, but along a dynamic and evolutionary path, determined by the users themselves, with some appropriate 'nudging and steering' from an experienced knowledge networker.

Challenges and Issues

The biggest challenge reported by practitioners is that of changing a prevailing culture from "knowledge is power" to "knowledge sharing is power". Such a culture can be changed, over time, in a variety of ways. These may include:

  • Workplace settings
  • Management style and objective setting approaches
  • Education, personal and team development
  • Measurement and reward systems.
  • Leadership - developing trust and mutual respect.

It is good human networking that makes intranets effective, not technology. Addressing the organizational and human factors are a key aspect of every successful Intranet project.

© Copyright. David J. Skyrme. 1997. This material may be copied or distributed subject to the terms of our copyright conditions (no commercial gain; complete page copying etc.)

See also the related Insight on Internet Commerce. Go to Insights - List of Titles for full listing of other Insights on this Web site. See also Internet Resources.

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Management Insights are publications of David Skyrme Associates, who offers strategic consulting, presentations and workshops on many of these topics.

Additional coverage of these topics can be found in our free monthly briefing I3 UPDATE/ENTOVATION International News, various articles, publications and presentations.

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