Thursday, April 2, 2009

Can We Manage Organizational Knowledge??

The question here is if we can manage organizational knowledge. If someone were to ask us if we could manage money for example, they are definitely not asking us if we could JUST safeguard the money or accrue more of it. They are, in simple terms asking us if WE are capable of controlling the influx and outflow voluntarily, according to our preferences and not involuntarily or in a way that is out of our control.

I feel the same applies to knowledge management as well. It is important for us to realize not just the methods to store the knowledge but also effectively handle it, both in situations of successful achievements- which could be a result of effective knowledge management in the organization and in times of failure- which could also be a derivative of poor knowledge management.

Many influential businesses around the globe consider knowledge to be one of the most important organizational assets and the answer to maintain a competitive advantage (Davenport & Prusak, 2000, p. xxiii). Although organizations recognize knowledge as a key component, they little know how to create and enforce it (Wenger, 1998). Many companies think knowledge management & information management to be the same (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). They further mention that such a perception that an IT infrastructure development would automatically result in better knowledge management is misleading.
Seeley also mentions in a study that many organizations tried to realize effective knowledge management with development of information technology applications (Seeley, 1999, p. 18). However, the efforts of many such organizations to manage knowledge could not be very successful. Wenger also mentions the same that, many conventional and modern knowledge management approaches attempt(ed) to capture existing knowledge within systems, such as a database (p. 2). However, he also says in contrast that, it is the “involvement of people that makes a difference in knowledge management”

So, what do the above examples tell us? The authors and their examples are trying to tell us that those methods that related to direct manipulation of knowledge through passive means as described above could not be very successful. They created a need for further practices in addition to existing ones making it more complex
For example, Let us consider a major IT infrastructure project to handle all knowledge building, sharing & usage through an interactive database. This is definitely a positive step in view of effective knowledge management within the organization. An initial build of knowledge that could be shared between individuals across the organization is good, however what would happen to updates in the organization that occur at different times and in-between different people and how do we account for different perspectives and the correct one among those?
This would require resources to validate the knowledge that needs to be updated and programs to keep the whole effort going. This could make the program complex and boring and unless people knew how to use that knowledge, it would be worthless.

Nonaka & Takeuchi (2002) focused their work on how knowledge was created in an organization and the importance of organizational culture that impacted organizational knowledge. They concentrated on two types of knowledge- Tacit and Explicit. They considered tacit knowledge to be more significant as this is gained by experience and is efficient in terms of gaining a competitive edge. Explicit knowledge however is more procedural and passive. Tacit knowledge being a product of human interaction, Nonaka & Takeuchi thus found “organizational culture to be the key to the effective knowledge management”

In the same context, Davenport and Prusak explained that a company is nothing more than a group of people organized to represent the company through its products or services or both. Their ability to represent the company and its products depends on their knowledge and operation procedures that govern the production or services
(Davenport & Prusak, 2000, p. xxii). If people did not know how to represent or handle the products and methods to produce or improve; the company could be a failure regardless of all passive knowledge forms.

Organizational culture, however, is believed to be very intricate and many-sided. It is very important as it governs the employment of certain individuals, following guidelines, policies, interaction of its people within and outside of organization, market influence and many more factors. An effective culture is a crucial component of knowledge management in an organization within which people function (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). While most business leaders recognize the importance of this culture, they find it extremely difficult to enhance and enforce a relationship between knowledge and culture for effective results (De Long & Fahey, 2000).

So, why is it so difficult to build a relationship between culture and knowledge that would help achieve and sustain great results?
In a study conducted by De Long & Fahey (2000), the authors concluded that most organizations fell short of a culture that encouraged mutual work because people thought individual ownership of knowledge as a scheme to guarantee job security (De Long & Fahey, 2000, p. 113). As a result, knowledge sharing became a constrained effort

Many authors agree that organizational culture holds the key to successful knowledge management (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). It is important for organizations to coin organizational culture in way that would ensure what kind of organizational knowledge is important, how it could be utilized and based on that; create methods to ensure knowledge is converted in to action, reused and processed. It would thus share an inherent bond with action in all forms.

IT-driven solutions, although important, mostly failed to achieve the true purpose because cultural factors were not considered critical to effective knowledge management and people enjoyed their personal ownership of knowledge which provided them with job security in turn. Just as knowledge management is crucial to an organization's success, organizational culture is crucial to an organization's implementation of its business strategy & procedures within and outside of an organization. Thus, knowledge management cannot be effectively attended to without considering organizational culture. However it is feasible.

In short Organizational Culture should be used to build an effective knowledge sharing environment rather than just an IT-driven solution which could be considered as a support alternative.

Botkin, J. and Seeley, C. (2000). The Knowledge Management Manifesto.

Davenport, T.H. and Prusak, Laurence. (2000). Working Knowledge: How
Organizations Manage What They Know. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business
School Press

Antonina Holowetzki, Dec. 2002 The relationship between knowledge management and organizational culture

De Long, D.W. and Fahey, L. (2000). Diagnosing Cultural Barriers to Knowledge
Management. Academy of Management Executive

Martin, B. (2000). Knowledge Management within the Context of Management: An
Evolving Relationship. Singapore Management Review

Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese
Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York, New York: Oxford
University Press

Rastogi, P.N. (2000). Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital - The New
Virtuous Reality of Competitiveness. Human Systems Management

Wenger, Ettienne. (1998). Communities of Practice Learning as a Social System

Gupta, A.K. and Govindarajan, V. (2000). Knowledge Management's Social Dimension

KMS and IT supporting Organizational KMS

Knowledge Management in an organization is defined as systematic and disciplinary ways that an organization takes to advantage from the knowledge available to it. Knowledge in this context refers to both experiences and understanding of the people who are involved in the organization and the information artifacts such as documents and reports, available within the organization and in the world outside [2]. Information Technology (IT) has made the process of knowledge management easy; many organizations are investing in IT to facilitate the sharing and integration of knowledge. KMS is a form of information systems for managing organizational knowledge. Now a days, IT is the important and critical element of every successful organizational knowledge management system as it is used in the process of knowledge creation, storage/retrieval, transfer and application.

A wide variety of successful IT solutions are coming into the market ranging from new varieties of documentation (to support the flow of tacit knowledge from one individual to other), new generation of artificial intelligence systems (to support the knowledge creation process when a uncertainty and ambiguity situation arises ) apart from the use of various collaborative technologies such as internet (which acts as a platform for so many technologies like wikis, blogs, second life etc in the process of sharing and transfer of knowledge). However, Information Technology (IT) by itself is not a Knowledge Management System but it acts as a facilitator to KMS to increase the efficiency and capability of KMS by encouraging the free flow of ideas (knowledge transfer).

But IT alone will not result in the successful KM; which implementation also depends focusing on the non-technical issues such as human factors, organizational culture, multidisciplinary skills of the staff etc. Whatever may be the knowledge (tacit or explicit), IT tools are used to leverage the KM process in the organizations. These tools range from Internet, Intranet, Extranet, Email, Database Management Systems, Decision Support Systems, Expert Systems, Groupware, Blogs, Wikis and other network based technologies. Therefore there should be a balance between the KM initiatives and IT tools in order to exploit the benefits of knowledge management to the fullest in the organizations [1]. IT supports both organizational KMS (tools like second life, internet, groupware etc) and Personal KMS (with the tools like blogs, wikis, second life etc).

Internet and Intranet:- These two protocols facilitates the users to access the information anytime, anyway facilitating the flow of knowledge in the organization and provides a platform and format for many other knowledge tools document management, decision support etc which will play a critical role in sharing and creation of organizational knowledge. Almost all of the technologies are dependent on these protocols which makes these key technologies in organizational KMS.

Groupware- Lotus notes: - Groupware products like Lotus Notes are used to create discussion databases which allow the members to access the organizational memory as well as current news feeds in different areas. When creating new knowledge existing knowledge can be assembled from the archive and guided by an expert system in the front end, while tacit knowledge is added through the discussion databases.

Document Management: - Documentation is the primary form of information sharing, creating and managing in any organization. Through documentation explicit knowledge is shared. With the annotation and reading facilities, they become knowledge repositories which help the team members in different projects.

Mapping Tools: - There is increased number of mapping tools which are used to help and develop ‘shared mental models’ which is a critical part of knowledge management in the organization. By using these shared mental models, the future problem scenarios can be anticipated and conflicts between different stakeholders can be solved etc.

IT in Organizational Knowledge Management System (KMS) with reference to Nonaka’s Model:

Tacit to Tacit: - Tacit knowledge is the knowledge stored in an individual in which IT plays a minimal for its transfer. But as the world progresses, the word mobility has gained immense importance which allows the individuals to communicate even they are farther away, i.e. through online meetings which allows the virtual face to face communication (tacit to tacit). Groupware is a tool used for the online meetings which allows the individuals to work together in groups or teams. An example of current groupware is, Lotus notes which facilitated the sharing of documents and discussion and allow various applications for it. Another approach to share individual’s knowledge is expertise systems which are intended for suggesting the names of individuals who have knowledge in a particular area.

Tacit to Explicit: -Collaboration systems and other Groupware tools facilitate this kind of conversion of knowledge which according to Nonaka can be done by forming shared models, then articulated through individuals communication. Online discussions forums, News groups can also be seen as ways to capture tacit knowledge. This way a repository is created to by explicating the individual’s knowledge.

Explicit to Explicit: - Once knowledge has been conceptualized, there must be some prototypes that should articulate the knowledge that is converted. That is, it can be captured in a persistent form as report, an email, a presentation or a web page through which it is available to the rest of the organization. Technology can be used in this context through the use of word processing which facilitates the sharing or electronic documents via web and document management systems. Also portals provide convenient location for the storage of metadata about documents in their domain. Improving knowledge capture is a goal of many organizational KMS.

Explicit to Tacit: - A knowledge management system should allow the understanding and usage of information. For example, the system might go though the document analysis and generate meta-data to support the rapid browsing of available information [2]. Another example is generation of tacit knowledge through learning online education and distance learning. Modules of Web based courseware; self-directed learning and training will be parts of the KMS [2].

Conclusion:- In today’s knowledge management systems, IT can be used as facilitator to enhance the organization knowledge management process. Also by understanding the organizational knowledge management using Nonaka’s model it is hoped that we can integrate technologies that can, to some extent, foster the use and sharing of knowledge

References: -
1) ‘Knowledge Management Solutions - The IT Contribution’ By Dr David J. Skyrme ,David Skyrme Associates Limited
2) ‘Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) in Organization: A Collaborative Model for Decision Makers’ By Ruzaif Adli Bin Md. Daud, Principal Consultant Sigma Rectrix Systems (M) Sdn Bhd

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Knowledge Cafe

Organizations employ different strategies to manage knowledge and these strategies depends on the type of the organization, type of the knowledge, complexity and uncertainty involved in the organizations decision making. More likely the KM in complex and uncertain situations can be solved by conducting a business meeting or organizational workshop called as ‘Knowledge cafe’, which has been popularized in the recent years by David Gurteen , a UK-based consultant specializing in knowledge management.

As the name suggests it is a place where people share their ideas and get a deeper idea of the topic under discussion. It is not only a group talk but also involves bringing different people together to raise a creative conversation on some topic to answer different issues. The main objective of the knowledge cafe is to share one’s own views, to develop an understanding of the complex issues and to make the members conscious about different topics. By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversations, ideas questions and themes begin to link and connect and at the end of the conversation common theme emerge to start. This benefits the organization knowledge in decision making process, managing different ideas or strategies to answer in the unbiased situations and also helps in inculcating new ideas about different issues in each individual.

Knowledge cafe is ideal and most effective between 10 to 15 members and needs some kind of media (video or audio) to monitor and control the flow of conversation if it exceeds more than that. In this business meeting, a simple technique is used in a variety of ways to bring people together called as ‘Speed Networking’. This is intended to get to know each other before getting to start the conversation.

Usually no attempts are made to capture the information as doing so tends to destroy the conversation. The importance of cafe lays in the conversation itself and the information that each individual takes away after the conversation. So, there is no meaning in interfering in the conversation just to capture it. In some circumstances it makes sense to capture the conversation from the café depending on its purpose but this should be done with a minimal interference to the dynamic ongoing conversation.

A simple way to set up a knowledge cafe is as follows:

Preparation: - Identify the good facilitator-someone who can encourage participation
Choose a topic (complex) and invite the interested participants
Create comfortable environment- some good interactive environment

During Knowledge Cafe: - The facilitator should introduce the concept, any code of conduct that applies to the topic and finally the question
Participants should arrange themselves into groups and share their knowledge and experience without interpretation.

After a Knowledge Cafe: -The real value of a knowledge cafe is what people take away with them in their heads, and the new connections they have made with people.
Specifically employed knowledge cafe can solve the major problems of knowledge management like:

1) Helps in getting insight into the complex issues
2) Flushing out the problems and issues in a department or project especially that arises due to the lack of communication that can then be acted on and resolved.
3) improve inter-personal relationship and thus ability to work together effectively
4) a tacit transfer mechanism between young and retiring workers
5) jointly develop a policy document e.g. a code of practice (done in conjunction with say a wiki)

Though the word Knowledge Cafe looks new, I can relate my childhood schooling experiences of knowledge sharing in the same way. When I was in my schooling, we used to have lot of group discussions on different ongoing topics around the world like politics, sports, and technical issues etc which are intended for developing communication skills and at the same time educating the students. Here the teacher or lecturer acts as a facilitator who raises a topic and guides through the discussion. The students are divided into small groups and each group gets a chance to speak about the ongoing issue and will share their own opinions about the topic under discussion. This way, I have learned about so many topics in my schooling apart from developing consciousness about so many issues in the national and international frontier. I, now see the knowledge cafe as a business context to what we used go through to communicate and share the knowledge in the school days but as a organizational knowledge management strategy

Conclusion: - Knowledge cafes are intended for maximizing knowledge sharing throughout an organization. In effect knowledge cafe is an easy, efficient and low cost solution for sharing and managing organizational knowledge. It also helps developing innovative ideas and acquiring new understanding of the complex issues by facilitating merging of different ideas and work cultures

1)Improvement and Development Agency for local government(I&DeA) (last accessed on 31st march)
2)How to run a knowledge cafe-by David Gurteen (last accessed on 31st march)
3) Essentials media-Gurteen Knowledge cafe Masterclass (last accessed on 1st April)