What do you picture when you hear the term knowledge management? For me, I automatically think of some easy-to-search software system that lets me quickly retrieve specific and relevant information on my topic of interest. I think of real-world best practices that have been neatly documented, cataloged and stored for my later retrieval.
I seem to hang on to that notion even though it only seems to work as designed in my mind. The issue with my automatic picture of a knowledge management system is that it doesn’t translate cleanly to the real world. From my experience, there are three contributing factors that lead to a deep and wide chasm between the knowledge management picture in my head and a working system in the physical world. Theory and practice can be very different, as is the case here. The challenges with implementing the knowledge management system from my mind’s eye, into the real world, include the following:
Knowledge Management System Implementation Challenges
- Rate of Change
The speed at which new information is generated can be overwhelming, not to mention the rate at which new information makes existing information irrelevant or incorrect. For an organization of any size, the speed at which information flows, makes it hard to create a system that is comprehensive and relevant and stays updated over time. Systems tend to either have infrequent updates and much of the information becomes outdated, or they are frequently updated but outdated information remains intact as new information accrues. Neither scenario leads to quick and easy retrieval of relevant information.
- Cost of Cataloging
A challenge that is magnified by the volume and rate of change of information is how to catalog and maintain a knowledge base of relevant information. Whether or not you primarily rely on the knowledge contributors to enter, tag, and maintain their contributed knowledge, there has to be some competent oversight to monitor and support what knowledge should be included, and how it should be included, so it can easily be retrieved. The cost for competent oversight to maintain a relevant and useful knowledge base can often be underestimated and thus not properly taken into account.
- Value of Knowledge
Measuring the value of knowledge can be a challenge. Even if you have a system with relevant, up-to-date information, can you calculate and validate a realistic return-on-investment (ROI) for the system? It’s one thing to put forth the effort to get a system up and running effectively, but the real question is what is the value of having such a system. That value can be hard to quantify and thus hard to justify the resources needed to keep it relevant and up-to-date.
So now that we talked about some of the challenges, let’s look at some recommendations to help an organization get value from its under-utilized knowledge resources. Rather than trying to dissect each challenge above, and come up with specific strategies and techniques to overcome each one, I am going to suggest something different that, in a way, addresses all of those challenges at once. So what do you do if it is not feasible to get the knowledge out of people’s brains and into a well-organized system? My answer is to make it easy to find the people who have the knowledge.
The Knowledge Yellow Pages
The speed at which new knowledge is obtained is much, much, much faster than can be realistically documented and stored for easy retrieval. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, we will be able to instantly backup someone’s brain to an electronic storage device and parse out all the important stuff as needed. Until then, it may make more sense to provide the people looking for specific information with a simple way to find the people who are the authorities on the subject. This could be as simple as extending your company directory to add areas of expertise and encouraging people to effectively utilize that extension. Alternatively, it could be much more comprehensive to include collaboration and indexing tools to further automate the process. Regardless of the specific form a Knowledge Yellow Pages may take in a particular organization, it represents a more viable option to access important knowledge within an organization. At a minimum, it can be a solid starting point to unlock valuable information and reap the benefits now, while more automated methods are considered.
In case you missed them, you will also want to check out my previous posts on the subject of knowledge management: