Knowedge Management: Design issues

With the KM framework defined, the next step for the CKO is to help design the competency and audit procedures. A KM culture must also be developed.

In the previous article, we talked about the concept of the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) and his role in defining Knowledge Management (KM) in the company.With the KM framework defined, the next step for the CKO is to help design (either in-house, or with management consultants) the competency and audit procedures. This step is to allow the CKO to measure deliverables, and to account to management and stakeholders. The competency and audit procedure system should not simply be a Web-based one, but should integrate with face-to-face interviews, line checks, and other tools.

Once the KM framework is properly defined with the CEO, CIO and training director, the mission, goals, objectives and expected deliverables, should be disseminated to all employees. Employees should also be aware of the competency and audit procedures, much as modern training and development are made measurable and accountable for all employees. This step is extremely important for the CKO since it will ensure buy-in from all employees, who will play critical parts in the entire KM process.

The KM system obviously has a strong IT component, and the CIO or the MIS manager should be engaged to discuss what kind of technologies are to be implemented. An organization should not be vendor-centric, and should not simply rely on sales pitches of large organizations touting their wares.

The CIO and the CKO should be prudent and cautious in engaging any one vendor, and preferably do extensive research and invite a panel of vendors in a “shootout” to compare strengths and weaknesses in an open forum. At the same time, be aware of the open source movement, since there are a vast amount of usable code, components, and even finished solutions that need only a little tweaking, all without spending any real dollars.

Another thing to note when working on the IT part of the KM system is the choice of outsourcing. All too often, outsourced projects become runaway projects where the last 10% of the project just doesn’t seem to be able to be completed due to inherent bugs in the design, undetected flaws that show up at the alpha or beta stages.

There are also instances where tens of thousands of dollars were spent on commercial or custom-built KM systems only to be scrapped a few months later, because the parameters, design and feature sets were later found to be inadequate, flawed, or dead wrong. There were also instances where the CKOs were summarily dismissed due to these cases. Therefore, when outsourcing projects, it would be wise to break the KM system down into smaller projects, and invite multiple bids for these components, and test the mettle of the consultants before doling out the larger chunks of the KM system.

A good KM system must have sufficient learning resources from all functions within the organization. Therefore, the CKO should work closely with the training director to bring any learning content that can be completely or partially brought online. A good starting ground is technical (or “hard skills”) content, such as procedural training for production operators, inspection techniques for tooling and rework departments, and repair procedures for technicians.

“Soft skills” such as customer service, motivation, teambuilding and salesmanship, cannot be effectively used by learners using a 100% Web-based system. Such programs should continue to be delivered by trainers in classroom-type training. However, these programs can benefit from refresher modules where the facts and figures can be designed into e-learning programs for the learners to recap and revisit time to time.

The human facet
KM should not be construed as a “hard” management system only. Because KM relies on human knowledge and the willingness of employees to participate and contribute to a centralized knowledge pool, there must be a compelling incentive for employees to continue to contribute and grow with the system. No amount of disciplinary or monetized incentives can persuade employees for a long time. These employees must recognize the importance of the KM system in relation to the survival of the organization.

The CKO must therefore not only continue to nurture and persuade the employees in the entire organization to the virtues of the KM system, but must also continue to nurture knowledge sharing among all employees. This is a necessary tough job, and many KM systems show signs of weakness after some time because this critical step was neglected.

The CKO is a change agent, much as the training director is often seen as a change agent. Therefore, the KM “culture” must be cultivated so that all employees recognize that change, consolidation and collaboration (3Cs) are a necessary part of working within the organization.

Checking if things work
No KM system will succeed if no audit is conducted consistently throughout the lifespan of the organization. Therefore, the CKO must carry out periodic audits on competencies and the input within the KM system, preferably on a quarterly (or at least, half yearly) basis.

Better yet, create random surprise audits to ensure that the KM system is not lying idle and useless like many ISO 9000 and 14000 systems in organizations. Many organizations seek ISO compliance, and then quickly allow the compliance to lapse into total disarray, not knowing that ISO compliance is a continuous process and the compliance can be revoked if the organization does not conform on a yearly basis. Make your KM system work the same way.

Knowledge management is a massive and colossal task, fit for individuals looking for an exciting challenge. Remember that all great challenges come with an even greater responsibility, and the task is all the greater a mountain to climb.

Dr Seamus Phan is the founder of KnowledgeLabs News Center (knowledgelabs.net) and he serves as advisor to the Knowledge Management section of CNETAsia.