Knowing Knowledge

Bombay, India. March 1989. A major brainstorming session in the office of the
VP, IS, of one of India’s major pharmaceutical companies. We were reviewing
the extent of usage of the ambitious Executive Information System (EIS) that had
been implemented for the top management team. In spite of customized query and
reporting features, extensive training of all the stakeholders, and handholding
reminiscent of the treatment provided in the ICU of any major hospital, one
problem continued to be insurmountable: how does one make sure that the EIS gets
connected to the bedrock systems of the organisation and provides updates and
relevant data automatically to the management team.

Manchester, UK. September 2004. At the fag end of an ambitious KM
implementation in one of Europe’s major utility companies, one that has seen
an entire leadership team throwing away their box files and meeting folders and
using management cockpits to manage meetings, evaluate key vendors and access
and allocate people for projects throughout the system. While there is delight
at what has been achieved in a short period of time-the project is less than a
year old since initiation-and all praise for the bright consulting team who
have made this happen, there is concern that without becoming part of the larger
IS architecture of the organisation, the fledgling KM activity might lose
momentum and even come to a halt if the umbilical cord with the consulting team
were to be cut.


Unless large doses of training are provided throughout the process, every investment in process streamlining, technology or even leadership commitment and communications would go waste

Unless there is a well planned and executed effort to integrate KM
initiatives with the mainstream work and information flows of the organization,
knowledge management will remain a trophy item for a few CEOs and CKOs and will
not realise its true potential to transform decision making in business
organizations. Four years of doctoral research work in the area of knowledge
management maturity have given me some insight. KM maturity can be achieved only
by progression through a number of unavoidable stages: from the pre knowledge
stage to knowledge initiation through knowledge action to knowledge management
maturity. Second, there are many factors that could impede or facilitate the
organization’s progress through these. Business process readiness is needed to
even start a sustainable KM effort, technology infrastructure needs to follow to
prepare the organisation for knowledge action and proactive leadership would
then be required to approach maturity. And through all these stages, a
continuous focus on building and moulding human behavior that is supportive of
the KM effort is a must-do for success. Third, and probably the most important
is that it is essential to recognize the interplay between the stages and the
factors and between the factors themselves.

In both the cases mentioned here, any attempt to bring in a leadership fiat
to implement KM would fall flat unless the plan for integrating the KM system
both with the business process workflow and the other technology systems
available has been clearly laid out and communicated. And unless large doses of
training are provided throughout the process, every investment in process
streamlining, technology or even leadership commitment and communications would
go waste.

Ensuring that the process in the chosen area is elegant and devoid of non
value adding activities and looping, building applications through a
participative prototyping approach and ensuring adequate training and management
support is sometimes all it takes to get knowledge management off the ground,
sometimes in less than five to six weeks. Then comes the stage that both
organizations described here have reached-a period of doubt and "what
next"? This is where both the organisation and the consultants, if there
are any involved, will have to take steps to institutionalize what has already
been achieved and make the scope of the KM applications wider and deeper and an
integral part of the overall information architecture of the organisation.

The author is deputy chairman and managing director of Zensar Technologies
and chairman of Nasscom’s SME Forum for Western India
Ganesh Natarajan

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