Choosing the right tools for unlocking knowledge

It’s a bit like the classic chicken or the egg question, which came first, knowledge management or the technology to enable it? 

In 1999, Bill Gates famously defined knowledge management as “not even start[ing] with technology. It starts with business objectives and processes and with recognition of the need to share information.”

It may not start with technology, but in 2014 the pursuit of knowledge management across the corporate and government sector is driving healthy sales of software and solutions for collaboration and content management across all areas of enterprise and government.

According to KM consultant Gina Jennings “Knowledge management is like running a kitchen. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on technology, if you can’t cook and don’t get the recipe right, the meal will be a mess.”

City of Onkaparinga

The drive to improve Knowledge Management (KM) capabilities is one of the central motivations of a five year roadmap to entirely transform the ICT platforms at City of Onkaparinga, the largest local government authority in South Australia.

Tony Bezuidenhout, Manager Knowledge Management at the City of Onkaparinga, said this was alongside a drive to innovate, improve process, increase productivity and efficiency gains.

“Knowledge management is not just the information that more often than not lives in drawers, filing cabinets, desks, email, document management systems and other repositories, its also the knowhow and information staff hold in their “head”.

“Additionally there are all the external information sources, such as Australian standards and legislation to mention a few. These also need to reside in the single source of truth repository, so that when a question is asked a single corporate answer is returned and not 200 versions as if you ran an Internet search. All of these components make up KM. In general organisations globally don’t do KM very well so we need to capture, develop, share, and effectively use organisational knowledge.”

Tony gives the example of a number 07042014 being simple data, however formatting that data as 07/04/2014 means it becomes information.

“When you attach that information to an event it becomes knowledge, while wisdom is the injection of experience and judgment informs decision making,” Tony says.

“You need to also develop the ability to have a form of artificial intelligence that is able to minimise the loss of corporate knowledge when staff are promoted or move on to new adventures because you’ve implemented the right workflows and processes. Once you have these elements in place you’ve built solid knowledge management foundations for the journey ahead in my view.”

The local government authority serves 165,000 residents and supports 640 IT users among a staff of 730 working at 23 offices connected by a private cloud. However as field data collection and mobility grows the IT user base will increase to include current non IT users. 

Since arriving at the council 18 months ago Bezuidenhout conducted an IT audit which revealed there were 248 software applications in use across the organisation and there were many opportunities to improve information management including ICT Infrastructure design.

The nirvana for the City of Onkaparinga is to take an environment comprised of those 248 applications an end up with a single ICT software and hardware platform in the cloud, that is highly available, fully integrated, scalable and user friendly.

This would be ideally provided by a single hardware and single software vendor.  

The council has implemented SharePoint for its intranet needs and has begun deploying Teamsites for different business units. Directors are now blogging in SharePoint with staff able to access the intranet remotely from mobile devices in the field.

Federal Government Agency

Enterprise social networking tools have a large role to play in enabling KM, according to a Knowledge Manager at one large Australian federal government agency

“Finding the right person with the right knowledge is still the easiest way to obtain knowledge,” she said.

“There will always be a lag in what is written and what is known and stored in people’s heads. A really rich enterprise social networking tool can aid in finding people according to their expertise, the work role, their interests and their responsibilities. Sadly I’ve yet to see one actually in practice. 

“Wikis and blogs are great for getting people to document and share their knowledge. Interestingly some of the more successful appear to be those that have gown organically and without formal sanction. As soon as something becomes the ‘official’ wiki or blog people seem to develop a resistance to contributing. This of course becomes an issue for an organisation which may have an official intranet as well as ad hoc pockets of knowledge which may not be accessible to the entire organisation. 

“Enterprise search helps you find information, which may or may not constitute useful knowledge. Unless it is configured well and people know how to use it, search results may return too many responses to actually be useful. 

“Taxonomy remains important in managing knowledge. A combination of a high-level taxonomy plus a semi-controlled vocabulary is one of the ways of making sense of large amounts of data. While social tagging has a place it works best in an environment with some structure. Overly detailed taxonomies however are frustrating for users and have their own problems,” she said. 

Waitemata District Health Board

Tendayi Nyangoni is Manager Knowledge & Health Records at the Waitemata District Health Board, a provider of hospital and healthcare services to more than half a million people in Auckland, employing around 6,800 people in more than 30 different locations.

“Document Management is key to knowledge management.  Some key organisational knowledge assets are in the form of explicit knowledge and are document based. As a result the role of document management in facilitating the creation, capturing, storage, transfer, use and reuse of knowledge is critical,” said Nyangoni. 

The Board is in the process of introducing SharePoint 2013 to provide the capability to do Wikis, blogs, enterprise social.  It will also be implementing enterprise search to integrate SharePoint with a number of systems and repositories. 

“We plan to introduce an expertise location system with dynamic people profiles,” said Nyangoni. 

“We are currently using an intranet which is developed using DotNetNuke but we are considering moving to SharePoint 2013. 

Currently there is limited use of the collaboration tools in SharePoint 2007 for document based collaboration.  Moodle has also been introduced for on-line learning. “Data overload is sometimes regarded as a constraint, an environmental issue and “noise”. For knowledge management this “noise” requires more listening attention from organisational users.  

“It definitely makes knowledge management more important as it requires knowledge management to come up with tools to cope with such noise and help focus practitioners or organisational users to the right information and knowledge assets.  “Whilst everyday data overload may be seen as a drag by ordinary social users and others, from an organisational perspective it has opened up a lot of opportunities for deriving significant meaning and value from this information.  The advancement of knowledge and information management tools are making it possible to derive value out of data or unstructured information which in the past has been of limited value.  

“Knowledge Management systems are helping shape or capture premium content. For most astute and forward thinking organisations this data overload provides an unlimited source of value. The more discerning and technologically enabled organisations are able to, with the right tools, sift through this information and come up with valuable insights that aid decision making, enable innovative ways of working and better support organisational goals and strategies.   

“Data overload does not necessary emanate from external disparate sources but also from internal sources. Knowledge Management is more important for utilising the ever increasing data and making sense of it (through data associations or data matching from disparate sources and deriving more meaning to aid decision making, policy formulation, process enhancements and innovation (knowledge asset optimisation).  Such opportunities have increased organisational capabilities in dealing with complexity by providing the means for understanding the complicated and complex organisational issues,” said Nyangoni.

More next week ...

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