Knowledge as power in the public sector

“How quickly they forget” is an adage that could soon havefar-reaching and ongoing implications for public sectororganizations in Canada and everyone who depends on them. The issuestems from a looming wave of public sector retirements that istaking hold and is expected to swell in coming years.

Studies show that in the next five years, nearly one-third ofpublic sector workers in Canada will pack up their belongings, puton their coats and walk out the front door for the last time.

When they go, they will take with them a vast array of criticalinformation that may not be replicated anywhere else in theirorganizations. To ensure that taxpayers get the most value fortheir dollar and the public sector organizations operate asefficiently as possible, measures to mitigate those real andextensive losses must be implemented.

One of the ways forward-thinking public sector organizations arecoping is by implementing knowledge management capabilities, thesystemic capture, storage, analysis and dissemination of corporateinformation and organizational intelligence.

Knowledge management is about enabling people to quickly andaccurately access the relevant information they need so they canmake the best decisions and determine the optimum course of action.Relevant information is both correct and complete. When oneconsiders the enormous number of unstructured information sources,e-mail, corporate Intranets, the Internet, shared drives, etc., ina public sector organization, the need to centralize, index andprovide access to this information through technologies such asportals and collaboration tools becomes apparent.

By implementing robust search capabilities and preparing toreadily navigate abundant and expanding information resources, suchas training course content, procedures and processes developed byexperienced employees and best practices from previous projects,organizations ensure that tomorrow’s employees benefit from today’sexpertise.

For years, software firms and others have been developingtechnologies to enable organizations to break down informationalsilos and to marry unstructured and structured information. Now,successful deployments around the world are proving that theinitial vision is correct; knowledge management increases corporateefficiency and can play a central role in dramatically reducing thedamaging performance and cost implications staff turnover can haveon public sector organizations.

Interestingly, while some segments of the public sector areembracing knowledge management, our experience is that a series ofunfounded perceptions are contributing to the delay of its wideradoption. The concerns most frequently cited include fears of alengthy and complicated implementation, employee reluctance toplace information on the system and contribute to its growth, andthe difficulty of assessing return on investment (ROI). However,there are many examples of successful implementations where theseperceived problems were readily addressed.

In all cases, successful knowledge management roll-outs shouldinclude a communications strategy to ensure that all employees,even those not directly involved in working with the system,understand its purpose and the benefits that both the organizationand the employees will gain from using it and nurturing its growth.This can be accomplished in several ways.

One provincial public sector organization in Canada recentlyimplemented a knowledge management application tied to anenterprise portal. To get employees accustomed to the portal, theorganization encouraged them to share useful “social” informationsuch as recipes, restaurant recommendations, rental notices andlistings of social events.

This drew staff into the portal and allowed them to becomefamiliar with the system, turning the portal into a part of theirday.

A more systemic challenge lies in determining ROI, whichtraditionally involves cost avoidance or cost-benefit analysis. Butgovernments and public sector organizations serve many masters, andfinancial ROI measurements do not present a full picture of thevalue of government programs and services.

Clearly, what is required is an ROI approach that provides afuller picture, including the social and political value of ITinvestments such as knowledge management. SAP is working with theCentre for Technology in Government (CTG), located at theUniversity at Albany in New York, to spearhead an initiative todevelop “Public ROI”, a method for defining, measuring andcommunicating the economic, social and political returns ofgovernment IT programs. CTG is currently working with Canadian,U.S. and European government organizations to develop a public ROImodel; the results of this research are to be available late in2006. 064340

Michael Tremblay ([email protected])is Senior Vice-President, Public Services for SAP Canada Inc.,managing federal, provincial and municipal government mandatesincluding health care, higher education and research.

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