Thursday 27 March 2008
In many companies, knowledge management is a big headache. Especially in knowledge intensive companies, like IT companies, financial companies or consulting companies, knowledge is mostly stored in the heads of the people.
Every few years companies tend to start a knowledge management project. These projects aim at getting the knowledge of their staff into some information system. Usually these projects fail. I think this is because of the following reasons:
- It is very hard for knowledge workers to express the knowledge they have in some format in an information system.
- Staff feel no benefit from the sharing of their knowledge.
- It is very hard to keep the knowledge up-to-date.
- It is hard to find information back
- People tend to keep information to themselves , because it gives them power (I am the expert).
The information systems that can be used to store knowledge are among others: Microsoft Sharepoint, Documents on a fileserver describing some subject, etc. The information in these systems are typically not very easy to retrieve or to maintain. The knowledge worker who took the time and effort to write down some information, will have little satisfaction when the information cannot easily be found back using the search function (if search is implemented at all).
I have a little experiment for you: In an audience of knowledge workers, please ask how many people solved a (technical) problem using Google or Wikipedia on the Internet in the last 3 months (please raise hands). Then ask how many of them solved a problem by contacting a colleague. Finally, ask them how many problems were solved by using the information on the company's Intranet.
I will predict the outcome: 100%, 70%, 20% respectively.
My experience is that almost all problems can be solved and most questions can be answered by using internet search (Google, Microsoft Live Search, Yahoo), Wikipedia, and by contacting an experienced colleague.
If the above is true, why invest in knowledge systems in the enterprise? I think it is much better to invest in making all information that is already in the enterprise globally searchable (emails, project plans, file folders, etc), and present the outcome just the way Google does. This is what people are used to these days. Google sells a nice appliance that searches all internal documents and delivers the Google look and feel for the results.
The other component to extract information from knowledge workers is to create a wiki. Why is it that many people are writing Wikipedia articles in their own spare time for no money at all? Because it gives them their 15 minutes of fame. Their name is displayed with the article, and they can reference to their published articles to their friends and colleagues. Why not use this psychological effect in the enterprise as well? Install a wiki with the same look and feel as Wikipedia (the Wikipedia software can be downloaded and used for free for this purpose), and make sure the author of the article is clearly visible. Install a rating system, where people can get kudos for good information.
The third component is to make consulting colleagues as easy as possible. The technology for this is Instant Messaging, for instance with Windows Office Communications Server. Especially young people are using this technology already to communicate between peers, using Windows Live Messenger (or MSN, like it was called previously). A question can be asked easily to a group of experts in the company, and by using presence icons, people are not disturbed if they are busy or out of the office. This solves the disturbing effect that telephone calls usually have.
I feel that using the three components presented here will avoid the need for the official knowledge management systems. In the enterprise, please use what works and what people are comfortable with already.