Knowledge Musings

Musings about knowledge management as I go about my daily life

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Where's the Oil?

I've just been reading an interesting article in Time Magazine by former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (and before that Energy Minister), Nigel Lawson, entitled Darkness Looms. In it, he argues that all our concerns about getting environmentally-friendly energy sources come up against the practicalities of an energy short-fall in the coming decades. Most of Europe has not replaced its ageing (and dirty) coal-fired power stations, nor its (clean but problematic) nuclear power stations. And where is the oil? In parts of the world where security of supply depends heavily on political forces and the prevailing diplomatic moods, like the Middle East and Russia.

But in the KM context, the phrase "where's the oil?" reminds me of BP's approach to knowledge management. When he led the KM team, Kent Greenes, would always ask this quesiton of any planned initiative. If KM could not translate into helping BP find oil better, cheaper, faster, or the efficiency of its overall supply chain, then what is the point of KM. At the moment I am helping an organisation put into place a KM strategy and action plan. One of my starting points is the approved 5-year corporate plan. By examing each objective in turn, I am asking:

  • what are the knowledge inputs (i.e. to achieve this objective what do need to know, and what information must be readily accessible?
  • what are the tasks, business processes and core decisions that contribute to this objective, and as a consequence...
  • what are the KM activities that support these processes, finally..
  • what are the knowledge outputs, e.g. reports, guidance, database entries
Already it is clear that there are some recurring themes, such as a virtuous cycle of knowledge development, where new knowledge is created, evaluated, shared, refined and developed, applied and lessons learned, which in turn are fed into an evolving knowledge base. Many of these processes are generic, fine-tuned only for stakeholder / user needs and the categories of knowledge (by topic, format, usage etc.)

So, wherever you are in your KM action plan, think of your organisation's product or service, and keep asking this probling question:

"Where's the oil?" (or whatever product or service is your most valuable).

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