There are many solid reasons why organizations should invest in knowledge management. The KM Basics page Why KM? highlighted three types of benefit:
- Efficiencies in information and knowledge processes, for example by reducing duplication
- Internal organisational benefits, such as sharing best practice
- External (e.g. customer) benefits, such as faster problem solving.
Many KM programmes (wrongly in my view) start solely with a focus on the first group of benefits. Although important - and it is where an information or knowledge audit can help enormously, more important is that a KM initiative should be well grounded in the core strategies and plans of the organization. Therefore, on this page we consider some typical strategic priorities which act as drivers for KM and also some factors that trigger the initiation of a KM initiative.
An essential starting point in developing a KM programme is to consider the needs of the business. In our consulting work this typically involves reviewing the corporate strategy, departmental plans and current business challenges and applying to them a KM perspective. Some people call this process "developing the KM narrative". Below we give a sample of some aspriations commonly seen in corporate strategies followed by a comment on how KM can contribute.
- improving the levels of customer service: through knowledge aggregation, KM can provide better knowledge of customers problems and how they are solved
- improving product quality: by linking disparate sources of information (such as that from customers as noted above) and using KM techniques, such as sharing best practice in design and manufacture, knowledge from performance in practice can be fed back into improved product designs and manufacturing processes
- moving away from commodity products into value-added services: much of the value-added comes from knowledge - of product applications, of know-how delivered as training or as consultancy; KM can provide knowledge structures and repositories, either that customers can access directly or via consultants
- achieving faster times from product development to market delivery: KM's networking and communities of practice bring together knowledge from people working at all phases of the design-to-delivery cycle across all parts of business, thus anticipating potential problems, bringing historic knowledge to bear and condensing time frames; in addition, well structure work-in-progress repositories, such as project wikis, can ensure that documentation is up to date, continually reviewed and accurate
- retaining and motivating our best people: evidence from several sources suggests that professionals are more likely to be loyal to companies that give them the best tools of the trade; in knowledge intensive organizations this includes intranet portals, collaborative technologies and networked specialist communities; in addition a good KM programme will put in place mechanisms to capture key knowledge so that when experienced staff retire or leave, all theit knowledge does not leave with them
- reducing waste: in a knowledge intensive organization, wasted time comes from duplicating work done elsewhere and taking time to find information; good KM systems can ensure that knowledge repositories are well structured and that information can be searched and accessed efficiently
- increasing flexibility and adaptability in an uncertain environment: KM can provide mechansisms for better external environment sensing and organizing market intelligence
- ensuring compliance with external regulations: better records and information management are they key to providing authorities with reliable information and confidence
- minimizing risk in our business: KM can been used to capture expert knowledge of risk assessor, and also draw on 'lessons learned' from similar situations that have been encoutnered previously
- working more efficiently across departmental 'silos': through collaborative networks and bridging mechanisms, such as subject based communities of practice, KM can help spread knowledge from one department to another.
Every situation is different, but a skilled KM analyst should be able to dissect strategic statements and identify potentially useful KM techniques and how much they could contribute to making an improvement.
Triggers for Action
Our research shows that it usually takes one or more of the following events to spur an organization into initiating a KM programme:
- poor business performance - investigation often reveals inadequate information flow or lack of knowledge of market forces
- the dawn of realization by senior management that knowledge is indeed a source of competitive advantage
- a change of senior management - where incoming managers have come from a more KM-mature business or can see that poor information or knowledge flows are hampering the organization
- the need to be more responsive to external trends and events, thus requiring better knowledge sensing and analysis capabilities
- recognition of the need for a coherent KM effort to overcome the plethora of various projects (not all having a KM label)
- the need for significant investment in new IT systems, where it is important to balance investment in technology with that of content
- a recommendation from a consultant's study that started with another focus, such as customer relationship management
- new external regulatory or compliance requirements - Freedom of Information in the public sector is one example.
Last updated: 19th March 2011