The (new) meaning of knowledge

The (new) meaning of knowledge

The keynote speaker at the Delphi conference is leading consultant Tom Koulopoulos, who has been at the forefront of developing new theories on how enterprises can re-engineer their information resources. In this interview he discusses the evolution of IT systems into a corporate knowledge resource.

Q How do you explain your concept of 'corporate instinct' in relation to knowledge management (KM)?

Corporate instinct is the ability to use the collective wisdom of an organisation in a way that enables the organisation to anticipate the market. I call it a collective sixth sense since it appears, to an outsider, to be an uncanny (and for competition, unnerving) skill.

Some people call this vision and attribute it to a single person. Yet even great visionaries must create companies that will outlive their ability to percieve the future shape of a market. With markets today changing at an incredible rate corporate instinct is a mandate for survival. A simple way to think of this is that of genetics. When an environment changes the genetics and the instincts of its inhabitants also change. Some species come and go, while others change and survive. The speed of genetic change is directly related to a species survival. Natural environments and genetics change over many millennia.

However, in business, and most certainly in an information-based economy, organisational genetics must be changed on a continuous basis. Effective KM is all about using what you know to react swiftly, thereby keeping your instincts fresh and your organisation alive.

Is KM a business concept or just a technology concept?

The reason KM is being so widely talked about is that it is the perfect intersection of both. Like weather fronts colliding, technology and business have finally met each other in a turbulent and very visibile form - KM.

Which are the key technologies of KM?

Today's KM technologies are hardly new. They are the basics of an intranet, search and retrieval, groupware, e-mail, and other such mundane tools for creating shared communities of practice and experience.

Tomorrow's technologies will build on this foundation with visual tools that allow greater ease of navigation, mechanisms for adding collective judgement to a large information base, and more sophisticated tools for mining data out of unstructured documents such as audio and images.

What do you think about the perception of this concept between CEOs and CIOs?

The perception today is one of mixed optimism and scepticism. As it should be. KM is not a panacea. It is not a single technology fix. It is a statement on the basic problems that every organisation shares.

People are moving from job to job, free markets are becoming ever more efficient, and human capital is fleeting. In this economy, knowledge is the only true asset of any enduring value. CIOs, CEOs, CKOs and every other executive acknowledges this. Yet, the tools for KM are still forming. Luckily we have a severe problem looking for a solution and not the other way around.

Is KM just a fashion concept or it will stay with us for a long time?

The concept of KM will be here for some time to come. Whether the label of KM stays around is irrelevant. Call it what you will, the reality is that knowledge forms the basis for value in almost all business transactions. That will not change in our lifetime, and will only become more important in the lives of our children.

In Australia, and I think in many countries, it's a time of merger and aquisition between many corporations. What's the play of KM in this context?

The fundamental question is "What are you buying?" When one company aquires another it is either buying increased access to a market or blocking access to that market by competitors. In both cases there are few instances where the value of the business being bought is not one that consists primarily of know-how about a value chain. Although one could claim that patents, and proprietary know-how has some longevity, innovation will always cause even the most proprietary businesses to errode. My claim is that what you buy when you acquire a business is the ability to access greater innovation. Without a KM system in place you are buying an empty box.

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