It is no coincidence that information technology (IT) for easily connecting people and information has blossomed at the same time that knowledge is becoming recognized as the most valuable of a firm’s assets. There is a powerful symbiotic relationship between knowledge management and information technology; that relationship drives increasing returns and increasing sophistication on both fronts. As information technology has become our personal desktop tool and our link to each other, we grow to covet even more access to information and people’s knowledge. In turn, we demand ever better IT tools, ones that become part of the way we work. APQC has spent the last three years working with dozens of companies to understand the practices and principles collectively called knowledge management. Our drive has been to understand what works—and what doesn’t—and how firms can leverage the knowledge they have to truly create value. Information technology has proved to be a necessary, though not solely sufficient, component of profitable knowledge management.
Tenets of Using Information Technology for Knowledge Management
Based on the experiences of our study sponsors and best-practice “partners,” we believe there are five basic tenets that should underlie the formation of a knowledge management strategy using information technology.
1. IT and knowledge strategists need to work together. The focus should be on getting the right information to the right people at the right time so they can add their insights and experience and transform the information into knowledge.
2. Begin with an architecture,a model,and a strategy. If you do not have a knowledge management strategy, a framework, and an information technology model to support the initiative (collectively termed here as the “architecture”) you end up in chaos. “If you don’t have that kind of model you will end up with archipelago of knowledge islands,” notes a representative from sponsor company The World Bank.
3. Whenever possible,embed knowledge practices, and the information technology to support them,in processes and work itself,not on top of it. Knowledge management works to the extent it is embedded in work itself and helps people achieve their work objectives in support of the organization’s mission. Building on top of the old way of working will not produce new results. Explicit rewards for onerous and tedious documentation tasks is not the best way to get people to share and use information and knowledge. Telling everybody that they should be contributing knowledge between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. - and that if they do they will get a mouse pad—won’t change the way people work. Think about e-mail. It has exploded onto the scene and caught like wildfire both at work and at home. Do organizations offer their workers big rewards for using e-mail? No. It is intuitive and it helps them do their work better.
4. There are hidden costs in knowledge management, and these costs are not the technology itself. Information technology costs may be the most obvious, but the bigger costs are associated with the people who add value to the information, make it accessible to others, and help others find what they need. The media emphasis on the chief knowledge officer is missing the main show: the various other knowledge workers, from human help desks (a la World Bank) to expert networks at Johnson & Johnson to communities of practice at Arthur Andersen. The hidden costs are in the people, but so are the returns.
5. Measurement may not be the key, at least at the beginning. Measurement of benefits and results of knowledge management alone do not seem to be prevalent in the firms studied. In fact, it is probably more productive in the early stages to observe, monitor, and nurture and to celebrate the successes than to work out elaborate knowledge management-unique measures. Even if knowledge management is made part of work, and performance improves, there are not enough regression analysis tools in existence to help you figure out the relative contribution of knowledge management versus other factors. Measuring process improvement and outcomes is more important.
Supporting these tenets are seven key findings that emerged during the course of the study. These findings span the scope areas of the study (see p. 8) and are explored in detail later in this report.
1. While there are many reasons for pursuing knowledge management, sponsor
and partner companies overwhelmingly cited three main objectives: capturing and
transferring internal knowledge and best practices; increasing employee capabilities; and capturing, transferring, and using customer and market information.
2. Knowledge management personnel are partnering with their Information
Technology colleagues to adapt the appropriate information technology solutions and strategies for their needs.
3. Common standards for information technology architecture are critical for
widespread access and use. Most of the basic IT infrastructure is already in place or rapidly coming online inside organizations.
4. The emerging knowledge management community, as typified by the sponsor and
partner companies, tends to use knowledge transfer and exchange applications more than data analysis and performance applications to support knowledge management.
5. Much of the value added by the technical changes associated with knowledge management will continue to result not from the technology itself but from the new arrangements and roles of the organization, management, and people who can make the best use of the technology.
6. Knowledge management must be embedded in the way people work.
7. The successful application of knowledge management principles and technology
can be measured on many different levels.
The Scope of the KMIT Study
Most of the sponsors and partners in this study have seen their knowledge management processes and systems grow exponentially through the use of information technology. The question for most companies as they move ahead in knowledge management is “How can we apply information technology to the stages of the knowledge management process?” With this in mind, we sought to learn more about information technology in knowledge management through our benchmarking research methodology. Specifically, we wanted to:
1. identify successful strategies, approaches, and tools for using information technology to support knowledge management;
2. learn from best examples of those using these strategies;
3. understand the context and value proposition for various approaches; and
4. create a framework for sponsors to build and implement their own approaches.
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- Executive Summary
A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the scope of the study.
- Background and Overview of Knowledge Management
A definition and a framework for knowledge management, based on APQC’s prior work in this area.
- Key Findings
An in-depth look at the seven key findings of this study in five topic areas. The findings are supported by graphs and tables of quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the participating companies.
Section One: Strategies and Objectives
Section Two: Knowledge Management and Information Technology Architecture
Section Three: Information Technology Applications Used to Support KM
Section Four: Organization Structure and Roles
Section Five: Measurement and Results
- Challenges and Lessons Learned
The knowledge management information technology challenges participants have
encountered and overcome, as well as the lessons they’ve learned.
- Action Plan: Designing and Implementing a Knowledge Management System
A four-phased methodology for designing and implementing a knowledge management
system in any organization.
- Company Case Studies
Extensive explorations of participating companies’ knowledge management practices and related information technology infrastructures and applications.
- Appendix: Study Methodology and References
Information on how the study was conducted, as well as the resources used to compile this report.