Technology (along with processes and people) is one of the enablers of knowledge management. Organisations need to use and exploit technology in order to enable explicit knowledge to recorded and shared; to facilitate work and collaboration activities across geographies and time zones; to search and mine data and information bases; and to automate basic work activities and processes. As an enabler, technology is easier to ‘fix’ when it goes wrong or breaks down, than say an embedded and inefficient process or a dysfunctional team of people.
However, in some organisations, technology sometimes gets in the way of knowledge management activities and ‘the latest system’ can run the danger of becoming more of a disabler, than an enabler. A number of tweets on Twitter and posts to discussion forums/groups on Linkedin recently have commented on the implementation and use of SharePoint in this respect.
Finding the right balance or blend of the enablers of knowledge management for an organisation or subset of it can be difficult, particularly when for some, it is new technology that is driving change and making new working practices possible, more so than new business objectives and revisions to strategy .
In my knowledge management work with organisations I have often found it helpful to go back to some basic principles than underpin knowledge management and its enablers. One such example is an exercise in which the client is asked to consider the pros and cons of knowledge found in people, and knowledge stored in technology. Typical responses to the exercise include:
Pros of knowledge found in people
- It can be interrogated; it can provide context; it can explain things than can never be written down
Cons of knowledge found in people
- It goes home at night; it might not be correct; it might not be available when needed
Pros of knowledge stored in technology
- It is available 24/7; it can be searched; it can be the one version of the truth
Cons of knowledge stored in technology
- It can only be found if correctly tagged/labelled; it is prone to duplication; it doesn’t answer back
This simple exercise acts as a great reminder that tacit, implicit and explicit knowledge need to be connected and managed in different ways and that different technologies can enable/support these different requirements. Stage two of the exercise concerns mapping the technologies that exist in the organisation or subset of it and considering how, and in what ways, they enable knowledge management.
It won’t come as a surprise to many readers of this blog that the exercise can reveal that there are often too many technologies available in a given organisation or subset of it to enable knowledge management activities, and that employees can become confused which to use, and for what purpose.
Deciding when to connect (people to people) and when to collect and store knowledge is one of the day-to-day challenges faced by knowledge managers. Taking colleagues back to basic principles, now and again, can help clarify thinking and inform decisions and actions about the blend of enablers that best support their organisations business objectives.
Photograph from lgb06′s photostream on Flickr