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Knowledge Management   (by Kaushik Das)

“Knowledge is power”- lets face it

 Introduction: Much like the sand in a beach house that follows your footsteps everywhere, information is all- pervasive: unconfined and unfettered. Invoices, processes, employee skills,  technologies, comments, best practices-data is everywhere. But how do you manage it? For the millennium worker of today, the challenge is twofold: how to manage what we know and how do we manage what we don't know? Keeping track of important information that we have been exposed to by combining memory with a good filing system or an online archive, getting a quick answer in response to a question when we do not have the knowledge or the expertise-organizations all over the world are focusing on sharing information and pinpointing who has these answers, or for that matter locating and contacting the experts in a particular field for help. Organizations are linking structured data, such as reports created by business-intelligence tools, with unstructured information, such as telephonic conversations, and surfacing this linked information through a Web browser to enable anytime, anywhere information.Indeed, Knowledge Management or KM has become the latest business fad. A search on the Net would spit out more than 40,000 Web pages on the topic. Add to that the number of conferences and magazines and Knowledge Management's popularity worldwide is undeniable!  

Can we really manage Knowledge?: The answer is “Yes”, to accomplish knowledge management, the business strategy of the organization must acknowledge the requirements to capture the knowledge and actively foster and effort. Knowledge exists is people, not technology, and as such will require a massive human effort. Technology can help to capture information, but it can not create knowledge. Useful technologies include search engines, scanning technology, optical character and voice recognition software, intelligent agents, database management systems, document management systems, and repositories.

Once the information is identified, collected and managed, it must be transformed into knowledge. This requires classification, analysis and synthesis. This step, too, requires human intervention. Knowledge can not be created by technology only a human being can render information into a format that causes it to be easily transformed into knowledge by another human being upon retrieval. Useful technologies for this phase of the knowledge management process include statistical analysis software, data mining tools etc.

What goes into KM: Dedicated knowledge roles involve the day-to-day work of KM. So organizations need people who will extract knowledge from those who have it, put it in a structured form and maintain or refine it over time. KM jobs are proliferating rapidly. One of the challenges of these emerging fields is for these knowledge workers to identify one another and begin to develop an occupational community. To perform well Knowledge initiative managers should have facility in project management, change management and technology management. KM project manager should speak the knowledge workers’ language and understand their value system and the manager must work with humility. The manager of a knowledge project performs such typical project management functions as:

  • Developing project objectives

  • Assembling and managing teams

  • Determining and managing customer expectations

  • Monitoring project budgets and schedules

  • Identifying and resolving project problems

Many firms in the United States and a few in Europe have now appointed Chief knowledge officers (CKO) to lead the knowledge management charge. Others have created ‘chief learning officers’, a related role that involves both the management of knowledge and the facilitation of organizational learning. Both of these positions are senior management roles on the level of chief information officers, heads of the human resources organization and other functional and business unit leaders.

The role of a CKO is complex and multifaceted. The CKO of an organization must:

  • Advocate or ‘evangelize’ for knowledge and learning from it.

  • Design, implemented and oversee a firm ‘s knowledge infrastructure, including its libraries. Knowledge bases, human and computer knowledge networks, research centers and knowledge-oriented organizational structure.

  • Manage relationship with external providers of information and knowledge and negotiate contracts with them.

  • Provide critical input to the process of knowledge creation and use around firm, and facilitate efforts to improve such processes if necessary.

  • Design and implement a firm’ s knowledge codification approaches.

  • Measure and manage the value of knowledge either by conventional financial analysis or by ‘anecdote management’.

  • Manage the organization’s professional knowledge managers, giving them a sense of community, establishing professional standards and managing their careers.

  • Lead the development of knowledge strategy, focusing the firm’ s resources on the type of knowledge it needs to manage most and the knowledge processes with the largest gaps between need and current capability.

All of these CKO responsibilities, there are particularly critical- building a knowledge culture, creating a knowledge management infrastructure and making it all pay off economically.

The key point to note is that the software is not the solution, but how much you can use it to translate available information in knowledge without information overload. After all, Francis Bacon wasn't kidding when he said, "Knowledge is power."                                   

SAP and Knowledge Management: From an SAP perspective, Knowledge Management focuses on streamlining the process of connecting “those who know” with “those who need to know”. But only employees themselves can judge how well company comes to grips with knowledge management. The questions to consider are simple: Is it easy to get hold of relevant knowledge? Is it easy to share knowledge with others? SAP provides both the infrastructure and the content to ensure that the answer to both questions is “yes”. Knowledge management with SAP offers you need to create, manage and distribute knowledge content efficiently. Where required, SAP also delivers all the necessary documents (training materials, instructor guides and documentation) for SAP-related knowledge transfer, and updates these materials regularly.

Integrated knowledge: Managing knowledge successfully demands sophisticated, inter-linked solution.

That’ s why SAP’ s knowledge management solution comprises components that are united by the Workplace. Depending on the type of organization and role of the individual employee, different systems work in together, but area accessed from a single interface- the workplace. This smooth interaction between business and knowledge transfer process ensures effective knowledge management and real return on information. While the SAP knowledge warehouse takes care of knowledge transfer, handles alignment and integration with other components.

The SAP Knowledge warehouse- A Team Player:

At the highest level, one can distinguish between three types of data in the business world: transactional, analytical and unstructured. With SAP knowledge warehouse, we can access all three types from a single interface:

The SAP Knowledge Warehouse manages unstructured, non-transactional data such as Intranet content, documentation, training materials, e-learning contents and links to other components.

The Business Information Warehouse (BW), the Advanced Planer and Optimizer (APO), and Strategic Enterprise Management(SEM) supply analytical and strategic data.

E-Business solutions such as SAP Business-to-Business Procurement (B2B) and links to other components drive business process over the Internet.

As a stand-alone product, the SAP Knowledge Warehouse consists of a range of tools for modeling, creating, modifying, translating, distributing, and managing knowledge content. Customers also have the options of receiving shipment of the latest SAP content (documentation, training materials, QMmanual). This combination of tools and contents enables a significant increase in the speed at which knowledge is transferred. 

Stumbling blocks in Knowledge Management: Effective KM cannot take place without behavioral, cultural and organizational change. The installation of Notes, the web or CBR software will not in itself bring about that change.

IT is also relatively less helpful when it comes to knowledge creation. There are technologies that purport to enhance these activities, but at best operate on the margins of the problem. Group decision support systems involve a small group of people, usually in the same location, attempting to employ technology to some form of group knowledge out of their beliefs and experiences. Out-lining tools, frequently used by writers, might be viewed as a means of converting unstructured tacit knowledge into structured and explicit knowledge. Systems for analyzing clinical data could help create medical or pharmaceutical knowledge. Just as systems for analyzing market data attempt to turn it into market knowledge.

Another possible bump along the path to Knowledge Management implementation is lack of knowledge. Some organizations “fly by the seat of their pants” without knowing much about the competition, the market, their customers, etc. Organizations with this problem, though, will soon face greater problems than the inability to implement knowledge management.

A more frequently occurring problem is lack of time to capture knowledge that does exist. Competitive information may exist only in the head of the sales person, but he is on the road and closing business to make those quarterly numbers. So management may “mouth” their commitment to knowledge management, but act otherwise by encouraging immediate concerns over longer-term concerns  (such as knowledge management).

For many, the feeling is that "knowledge is power" and that to surrender what one knows or to reveal "too much" to others is to make oneself redundant and possibly disposable within the organisation. Most people are reluctant to "bare all" when it comes to telling others what they know. If these concerns are not addressed, the amount of knowledge or expertise that is shared in an organisation will likely be minimal. KM thrives only when the human communication network operates freely across the shortest path between knowledge providers and knowledge seekers.  

Future of Knowledge Management: KM is still an emerging field that is being explored primarily at companies where business and organizational environments are changing rapidly. Therefore, any company embarking upon KM should be prepared to adjust its structure and roles frequently. As one researcher put it with regard to organizational structures in fast- changing Silicon Valley firms:

“ The pivotal importance of informal networks in high-technology companies is due to the fact that the productivity of knowledge- based entities depends on employees’ capabilities, commitments, motivations, and relationships. They cannot be programmed around pre-determined roles and positions in a machine- like hierarchy. Moreover, continuous change typically renders institutionalized roles and positions somewhat obsolete”.

Conclusion: knowledge management is over-hyped and misunderstood. It is not a technology, but an amalgamation of strategy, technology and people. There are no panaceas where you just plug in some new technology and “bang” you have knowledge management. But the proliferation of “knowledge” throughout an organization is unquestionably a good thing. Start today to understand what it is and work together toward a plan that maps out a knowledge management strategy for your organization. Or plan to lose business to those companies that do! In all, knowledge has become a much greater factor of production than land, labour, and capital. Today's dot com entrepreneurs, fired with "bright ideas" and zealously backed by venture capitalists, are a testimony to it.

































































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