Friday, March 17, 2006

Knowledge/technology trap rears it's ugly head

What have we learned from a decade of knowledge management experiences,

Knowledge management projects focused mainly on technology will fail or words to that effect. No surprise there. From the early days of KM, the talk was about the human and organizational elements of knowledge work and the need to balance technology, process, and culture. Everyone heard stories of failed technology-driven projects 'knowledge bases' ignored by intended users, unreliable and abandoned expertise locators.

This is the statement of Lawrence Prusak, the 'KM-guru' of the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management - now that's some street cred.

Here the proven fact - the key organizational change towards becoming an increasingly knowledge-generating and sharing environment is not technology.

Technology is introduced only after organizational change of knowledge culture has taken place, not as a means of achieving it. Several organizations illustrate the special condition concerning intranet, tools or corporate blogs and demonstrate that somehow they are 'transparent' technologies and somehow they can in fact be a help in turning the ship. A help in changing organizational culture.

Why? What I have seen is that the organization strategy precedes the IT strategy. Definitely not the other way around. Don't believe me? Google it.

Globalization and it's impact on the organization is the most obvious and clearest culprit. The complexity and volume of information today is unprecedented; the number of content creators and distribution channels is much greater than ever before.

The speeding up of all elements of global organizations and the decline of centralized 'ivory tower' have created an almost frenetic atmosphere, which feel compelled to introduce new information and tools (collaboration tools, e-spaces, intranets, extranets, chat, blogs) to wider group of employees ever more quickly.

This combination of global reach and speed compels organizations to ask themselves, 'What do we know, who knows it, what do we not know that we should know?'

Increasingly, organizational strategy pundits and senior management agree that an organization can best be seen as a coordinated collection of capabilities, somewhat bound by its own history, and limited in its effectiveness by its current cognitive and social skills. The main building block of these capabilities is knowledge, especially the knowledge that is mostly tacit and specific to the organization.

McKinsey & Company was trying to go beyond the paperless office trap of electronic document management systems to develop a more human network-response system.

Didn't work. McKinsey a lot alot of consultants knew where the money was. They knew where the weak points in the organization were.


Where has all the spent money got them? Where are all the so called 'knowledge organizations'? A better strategy is to focus significantly on internal customers, overt processes and shared, transparent goals.

The human capital approach has a strong and well-known theoretical base and this current trend of technology-based knowledge management smells!

And it smells like re-engineering.

While the re-engineering movement began with viable and valuable intentions, it was quickly hijacked by a host of opportunists. It became a byword for a crude introduction of new technology that has created no permanent value to organizations and in fact did a lot of harm.

As a result, the practical legacy of re-engineering is almost nil. In fact, some of the good ideas that re-engineering advanced have been unfairly discredited by their association with what re-engineering became.

The same is happening to knowledge management. Two paths, two directions.


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