To CKO or not to CKO? Who knows?

To CKO or not to CKO? Who knows?

A simple question in KM is whether to have a chief knowledge officer, but the answer is more complex. Paul Montgomery asks the experts.

The responsibility for championing the cause of a KM project is increasingly becoming the burden on the shoulders of the chief knowledge officer (CKO), or knowledge manager. The CKO is essentially a planning and policy manager, who is charged with the responsibility of implementing KM using whatever technologies that may be required. Chief information officers have become increasingly popular as heads of IT departments, but there are only a handful of CKOs in Australia.

Tony Walls, director of Computechnics, said that changing the culture of companies and their employees is one of the biggest obstacles, as "by stealth or force", some way has to be found to change employees into "knowledge sharers". Mr Walls said a CKO would need to report directly to a company's CEO, just like CIOs do now, in order to be effective.

"For some organisations it may be [better to promote] the IT manager, and some the librarian."

"Having a chief knowledge officer is appropriate [to change the culture], but only provided that they are given a strong mandate from the CEO. If they haven't got that, then they are just wasting their time," Mr Walls said.

Renaissance's Nigel Penny said CKOs are "still unusual, but are starting to appear" in the Asia-Pacific region, but stated his opposition to a CEO appointing a CKO with an "open mandate".

The CKO concept is in the primordial stages of evolution, and many other questions are yet to be answered. What should the relationship with the CIO be like? Which departments should report to the CKO, if any? Is a "knowledge department" necessary? How should other divisions interact with the knowledge department and/or the CKO? What sort of background makes the best CKO?

On that last point, it would seem logical that because CIOs have IT workers as their subordinates, CKOs would be the figurehead of the records and archives section, the traditional "keepers of knowledge". If this was the case, then records managers might rejoice at getting one of their own in the boardroom, to champion their cause at budget time against the voracious demands of IT. However, Educom's Dr Colin Metz contests the idea of promoting from the records department.

"If a records manager becomes the CKO, I think that's the wrong mindset. The thing to keep in mind is, what business problem are you trying to solve? For some organisations it may be [better to promote] the IT manager, and some the librarian," Dr Metz said.

Robyn Bradbury of FileNET argues the other side: "It is part of the classic records manager's function that information is power, and they don't want to share. It should not be viewed this way, because it is a natural progression for them to become knowledge officers."

Business Solution: