Knowing it all

As your body grows bigger

Your mind grows flowered

It’s great to learn

‘Cause knowledge is power!

– opening verse from ABC’s cartoon Schoolhouse Rock

Knowledge is power – or at least it can be – and companies are looking to take a little of that power back from employees who are holding a lot of information close to their chests.

Mike Proudlock, manager of corporate project development for the Region of Peel in Brampton, Ont., wasn’t sure what information there was in the organization. People had documents on their hard drives and no one else knew they had them.

“You could say in the past business units owned information,” Proudlock said. “(But) documents are corporate resources and should be managed corporately.” This led Peel to look to a knowledge management (KM) solution from Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text that would see all information stored in a centralized spot and accessible, to a degree, by everyone.

There is fear in the hearts of employees that implementing a knowledge management solution will lessen the impact that they have on a company and therefore endanger their jobs, according to Bill Brooks, document management manager for Oakville, Ont.-based ZENON Environmental Inc., which provides advanced membrane products and services for water purification, wastewater treatment and water reuse to municipalities and industries worldwide.

Brooks said there was a mindset at his company that “knowledge is power and if I give my information up, you won’t need me.”

For ZENON, the solution to this way of thinking was just to wait it out while employees saw the benefit of a knowledge management system. Once employees realized that they gained access to even more information, and that the information they were getting was more up-to-date than ever, they started to come around. Brooks said it’s all about user buy-in, because if they don’t want to put information into the system, it will fail.

“From a corporate standpoint, anything in the system becomes corporate knowledge forever,” Brooks said. “If I leave a company, the company still has access to the information I put in.”

ZENON implemented its Open Text knowledge management solution in stages. Brooks said this eventually led employees to say to others, “It would help me if you could put some of the information you have into the system.”

Paul O’Hagan, product manager at Open Text, said companies hope that people will just want to share. “I started life as tech support for Corel. At the beginning, I had this impression that my job was related to what I knew, so why would I want to tell anyone else what I know? How do people get beyond that?” O’Hagan asked.

He suggests customers use rewards and recognition programs based on their ability to share information. Open Text also provides the ability to rate information in the system. “If I think a document is great, I can rate it and comment on it. Some companies are looking at using that as a performance measure on individuals.”

Barry Oxby, a partner at Vancouver-based Sierra Systems Group Inc., calls this problem the “knowledge-is-power cultural thing.” He said a cultural shift has to take place and he also mentioned rewarding people for sharing as a way to cultivate that shift.

He added that proactiveness through information needs to become more valued.

Worlds collide

The cultural shift that companies implementing knowledge management solutions have to go through could be made smoother, Oxby said, with the convergence of collaboration and KM tools. Pure KM tools – be they document or resource management – as well as decision assistive tools and collaboration tools are each trying to find their own space, but working together may be the best way for their future to go.

“I don’t see these tools converging yet,” Oxby said. Only by bringing together information with the ability to access and share it across applications and platforms, and then analyze it, can an organization really be managing its knowledge, he added.

However, Warren Shiau, a software analyst for Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., said one of the biggest product trends that the KM industry is seeing is the inclusion of knowledge management software as a functionality of ERP solutions. Enterprise vendors are adding analytics or business intelligence (BI) throughout their suites, and Shiau includes those solutions as part of knowledge management.

“You’re pulling out data from various sources or applications in an organization and then framing that data where someone can understand it,” Shiau said.

Others are putting a massive wall between knowledge management and business intelligence, according to Michael Corcoran, chief communication officer for New York-based Information Builders Inc., a business intelligence software provider. He would like to see that wall come down. The two could integrate very well, he said, and noted the technology will soon be advanced enough to allow a user to ask a question and instantly see all the information pertaining to it.

There is a concentration of vendors in the areas of BI and document management, Corcoran said. For the end user trying to bring these two technologies together, a portal is as close as they can get. “It’s still up to the individual organizations to build the user interface,” he explained. Each interface for a given KM/BI system would have to be different, because the way organizations use information is very customized to the organization.

Shiau predicts that data and content management will come together, especially as companies focus more on the business processes than on the tools, and realize they want all that information pulled together. “The greater point of KM to my mind is to pull together (information) – if you’ve implemented right and rid yourself of data islands, and taken into account business processes and flow – to help you get a more holistic view of your organization.

Do what you do

Whether they look to knowledge management to be a part of their ERP systems or BI solutions, companies still want clarity in terms of what they have.

It’s all about having better knowledge about what organizations have, and to recognize and fix inefficiencies wherever possible, said the Region of Peel’s Proudlock. But a lot of upfront work is required before users can gain that kind of insight, Proudlock said, including documenting all current processes – something that must be done before they can be automated, and information centralized.

He noted that it used to be common for Peel’s employees to have outdated documents hanging around, so it’s using the new system to make new versions available on an intranet. “But communication is still a sticking point,” Proudlock said.

In order to get all the information into the right places, company executives have to buy in to the solution, Open Text’s O’Hagan said. “If not, then you are just implementing a new silo.”

He said knowledge management should be about unified access to information while maintaining contextual information – to give users knowledge of the hows and whys of decision – within that as well. “A document with a business decision isn’t enough to know the process leading to the decision.” Knowing that process is where a company can gain the most advantage, because the process is where they can improve and affect the bottom line.

ZENON identifies a certain cost associated with producing one gallon of water, Brooks said. Anything that can speed that process will bring the cost down. Brooks also noted that one of the things that prompted them to implement KM was a study he read that found all engineers use 30 per cent of their time looking for information. “So we said, ‘We need an area where we can put all that information and everyone can access it as needed.'” KM for ZENON is all about enhancing corporate knowledge through information sharing, he said. “We are trying to speed up the way things are done.”

Oxby said cost is still holding KM back, as people ask what they are willing to pay to gain and manage knowledge proactively. The future, he said, is when people realize that as they are focusing on IT to squeeze everything they can get out of investments made, they are already sitting on information that can give them insight into how to help that strategy along.

“There is not really a stampede toward KM. It’s more implemented as companies say, ‘It’s cheaper to tap into what we have than to start from scratch,'” Oxby said. “When we cross that as an industry is when we will move forward.”

Organizations will also have to make decisions about what information is worth capturing, Oxby said, adding that people may say they want to capture everything, but the result may not be worth the effort.

Corcoran agreed, noting that those bringing the information into a centralized spot and building the KM tools on top of that warehouse, need to understand what the user will be trying to gain and how they will be using the system.

“People have perceptions about what users do with information, they need to make sure this is actually what will happen,” he said. “When they build specs for these projects, they don’t have enough of the right people in the room.”

Sidebar:

What is KM?

Enterprises need to know what they know and make use out of that information. Knowledge should be made use of, it should be used to help avoid duplication – not just in the information itself, but in the work being done – and knowledge should be kept track of, according to The Knowledge Management Think Tank Web site.

Knowledge assets are often left unmanaged, while organizations focus on tangible assets. The knowledge can come from many sources such as: databases, knowledge bases, filing cabinets and people’s heads.

Knowledge management involves the identification and analysis of available and required knowledge assets, and knowledge assets-related processes. It also involves the subsequent planning and control of actions to develop both the assets and the processes in order to fulfil organizational objectives, the site states.

The site lists a knowledge management framework as covering: identifying what knowledge assets a company possesses; analyzing how the knowledge can add value; specifying what actions are necessary to achieve better usability and added value; and reviewing the use of the knowledge to ensure added value.

For more information visit www.brint.com/wwwboard/wwwboard.html



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