How to Prepare Your Company for a Knowledge Management Initiative

Before tackling a KM initiative, Youman says, CIOs should take a close look at the project’s business objectives. Some common objectives include:

  • Improve returns on customer information. Consolidate and leverage information about customers and potential customers to tailor offerings, improve customer service and increase revenue.
  • Improve efficiency and effectiveness. Connect similar functions across geography to reduce redundancy and share practices.
  • Enable a mobile workforce. Connect mobile workers with information and with each other to create a virtual workplace that, like the physical one, derives its value primarily from the capabilities of its staff working together?not from access to the right data.
  • Integrate with business partners. Share knowledge and collaborate outside the firewall to enable efficient business networks or intergovernmental coordination.

One of the most common pitfalls of KM is when project leaders lose sight of objectives like those. These kinds of mistakes can take many forms. When CIOs approach KM as an academic initiative instead of a business initiative, they often try to teach executives and business leaders about the theories and language of KM. According to Youman, this can result in fuzzy explanations that fly over everyone’s head, such as: "We want to forge communities of practice that use asynchronous collaboration to turn tacit knowledge into an explicit corporate asset." Project leaders should translate the concepts of KM into the language and practices of their organization.

Youman advises CIOs to think about the following questions:

  • Are there pressing needs for better knowledge sharing and use in areas that are important to your organization?
  • Can you find a group of people willing to explore new ways of working to address pressing knowledge needs?
  • Can this group or another source provide limited seed funding to pilot new tools that enable new ways of working?
  • Can you map out a pilot model that will scale to the entire organization?

IT and organizational leaders often make the mistake of trying to achieve cross-organizational consensus before starting the project, a surefire way to guarantee everything gets pushed out a few months. Sometimes they try to change the corporate culture in advance of the project, rather than setting the business objectives and then judging how and if the culture should change. Then there’s the inevitable KM-for-KM’s-sake approach, which, Youman says, has nothing to do with business objectives. During KM initiatives, project leaders frequently forget to set benchmarks along the way because they forget that KM is a process, not a project with a finite end.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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