Knowledge Management

Knowledge management has become a buzzword for managing documents, but it can be so much more. MEC works with other alliance partners to develop knowledge management systems which connect people working on a project, team, goal, task, and enable them to collaborate in real time. In the past, information has been kept on local hard drives, because people didn't want certain documents or data to be accessible to everyone. Products, such as OpenText's Livelink, enable every document, file, project, person, group,. or any object to have unique permission sets, facilitating security and the ability to put information out where the people who need to know, can access data, so it becomes knowledge to the right people at the right time.

In the last few years, MEC has worked with others to develop such systems for the US Navy and corporations, such as UUNET and Capital One, encapsulating the business logic of these organizations, and creating new workflows between people in the supply chain using the common denominator of the internet.

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What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management, as it is practiced today, is a system of technologies focused upon the delivery of strategically useful knowledge and expertise, the availability of which facilitates effective collaboration and timely decision-making. The strategically literate employee, armed with the best and most up-to-date knowledge, delivered in a timely manner, will produce work that results in more satisfied customers, increased success and corporate value.

Knowledge management, before the term was coined, used to be simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, the result of which enabled the recipient to benefit from the collected wisdom of the more experienced members of an organization or group. For instance, knowledge transfer happens when the founder of the family business trains his sons and daughters to run the business. It also takes place when a young person goes to college to learn from a renowned professor and when an apprentice welder trains under a master welder. Yet, today, companies have learned that there is much more to knowledge transfer than in the past. They have seen their competitors leap ahead by using technology and sound knowledge transfer principles (newly re-discovered) to create dynamic collaborative environments that deliver knowledge strategically--when and where it is needed and to the people who need it--at the front line where the client solution is being invented. This is knowledge management today.

We must not confuse knowledge with information. The two are distinct concepts that function in completely different ways. Information is tangible, hard numbers, facts. Knowledge is intangible, mental awareness, a part of the process of learning, a "habit" burned into the mind. Information represents the working and monitoring of physical objects. Knowledge represents mental objects, intellectual units that have a practical component. Information is independent of context. With knowledge the context affects the meaning and value of the knowledge. Information is easily transferable by means of recording and recitation. Knowledge requires learning and habituation for effective transfer. Information is easily reproducible by means of copying. Knowledge is seldom reproduced in a consistent fashion because it is filtered according to the perspective of each individual, his context and understanding.

Information is not knowledge. That was realized clearly during the Information Age when organizations found themselves drowning in huge in-house stores of unusable data. The fundamental difference between knowledge management as it was practiced in the past and how it has evolved today is that corporations are now using network technologies to enable employees to find and use knowledge and, in the process, contribute a more direct impact on customer satisfaction and corporate value.

Companies that effectively use knowledge break it down into its basic components. Knowing why represents having a basic understanding of the reasons for facts, conditions, job responsibilities, client requirements, etc. Knowing what means knowing the cause of a problem or condition. Knowing where provides a spatial reference to understanding. Knowing how is the critical element for problem solving, the knowledge of how to get something done. Knowing when provides a temporal reference and is closely tied to timing and opportunity development.

The major shift brought about by current perspectives on knowledge management is the shift in the value proposition between employer and employee. Employees have become more valuable assets because the knowledge they possess and use on behalf of customers is now recognized as vital to the success of the organization. Yet, if knowledge is an asset, it has to be managed in the same way as financial and physical assets. Estimates indicate that 70 -- 80 percent of what employees know is hidden. Many organizations today don't know what they know and who knows it.

Short History of Knowledge Management

In past eras, most employees had to fit into their organizational structures by means of performance standards based upon strictly defined job descriptions. Employment was secure as long as they performed assigned tasks and minded their own business. Out-of-the-box thinking was not likely and knowledge hoarding was the order of the day.

When business process reengineering was first applied to businesses, cost accountants saw the most knowledgeable workers as an unnecessary expense, a liability to be eliminated through down sizing or early retirement. Many organizations made the strategic mistake of pushing their intellectual assets out the door. Knowledge hoarding was then replaced by a culture of knowledge hiding.

In the past, consultancies practiced knowledge management on the fly. International networks of consultants communicated through computer networks by sharing their own problem-solving expertise with other consultants whose clients had the same problems. But consultants are in the business of selling their own knowledge and had little inclination to share it, especially with their colleagues and peers.

During the 1990s chief executives in the consulting trades realized that the foundation of our economy had been shifting from natural resources toward intellectual assets. They began evaluating how knowledge was being used in their organizations. The biggest shock came with the discovery that 80 percent of corporate knowledge assets were not owned by the companies. They went home every night with the employees. As a result, questions such as how knowledge is acquired, used and delivered became paramount.

These early pioneers knew that their organizations had to adapt quickly. They spent their time rethinking what they were doing, how they were doing it and why. They tore down barriers and ancient processes and replaced them with a systematic approach to knowledge sharing based on the fluid dynamics of a networked economy.

As CEOs evaluated their knowledge management dynamics, it became apparent that the people who drove their enterprises were those who were creating and accumulating knowledge. And as time went on, the value of these people and what they knew was exerting an increasing influence on the success of their organizations. The challenge then became how to create the information, organizational intelligence, business models, communication tools and learning systems around these extremely important people. This goal had to become a central mission, a basic purpose for the existence of these consulting organizations – if they were to be successful.

The lessons learned by these early adopters of knowledge management indicated that though they knew what knowledge was, finding out who has it, reorganizing operations to nourish and manage it, changing the work culture to support it and building knowledge networks around it were the real challenges of the future.

With the advent of networked resources, new ways to codify, share, store and deliver knowledge enabled organizations to strategically use critical knowledge more easily and cheaply. The challenge, however, became how to develop a successful knowledge management model—there were too few examples from which to work. The result was a new knowledge management industry that was born out of the few models that were developed in those early days. Today, a group of leading edge companies like Lotus, Open Text, Documentum and others have developed knowledge management tools that enable corporations to manage and deliver strategic knowledge. It is no longer necessary to reinvent the wheel, and since many of the tools available were created for management consulting firms, it is possible to select and integrate a full-featured Knowledge Management System that includes and integrates key components like document management and collaborative software.

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