Tag Archives: IBM

For My Eyes Also (Part 5)

Tacit Knowledge

There is one further dimension of knowledge which needs to be discussed, and that is the concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowledge which cannot be put into words. Despite the numerous definitions, and the apparent disagreement of what exactly Knowledge Management is, there appears to be a great deal of agreement on the type of knowledge which presents the greatest amount of potential benefit to a business.

IBM states the issue thus, “. . .lots of valuable knowledge ‘falls through the cracks’ within business organizations, never finding its way into databases, process diagrams, or corporate libraries. As a consequence, much of what the firm ‘knows’ remains unknown or inaccessible to those who need it. Such knowledge is present within the organization, but it remains hidden, unspoken, tacit. In business organizations, this hidden or tacit knowledge takes one of two forms: 1) knowledge embodied in people and social networks, 2) knowledge embedded in the processes and products that people create.”[1]

Tacit knowledge, therefore, represents at once both the most important type of knowledge and the least accessible form of knowledge. It is invaluable in efficiently carrying on the activities of an organization, yet is exceedingly difficult to harness in any meaningful fashion. Even when an organization is able to somehow chronicle the experience of its employees, it does not follow that it will be capable of passing that knowledge on in a manner that is both easily accessible and effortlessly assimilable. Two examples which come to mind from the organization of which I am a part are welding and scheduling.

Welding of exotic metals, especially for components which will be used in manned space flight and are, therefore, subject to the most stringent specifications, is composed of both explicit elements and tacit elements. While the former (the explicit elements) may be capable of precise, scientific expression, the latter of these are similar to art. It is not uncommon to find that a welder has retired and, suddenly, the company is without a person who can reliably perform a critical weld. Immediately, the company finds itself in a position where it must either allot a far greater amount of time to accomplishing the weld, or attempt to lure the retired welder back to perform the weld or to teach a younger welder how to do so.

The second example involves the scheduling of complex, time-phased activities which include the procurement, manufacture, inspection, and testing of literally thousands of items used in the manufacture of rocket engines. This task was performed for years by groups of individuals using hand-drawn Gantt charts. It is now being performed by individuals using a combination of mainframe software (e.g. MRPII, OPT21) and PC-based, standalone software (e.g. Microsoft Project98, Advanced Management Solutions’ RealTime Projects). Experience is showing that the earlier, more labor-intensive methods were, against all logic, accomplished with greater accuracy and reliability.

These two problems point to the necessity of Rocketdyne’s utilizing one of the basic elements of Knowledge Management, that of acquiring, retaining, and disseminating the tacit knowledge, gained through years of experience, of its workforce. This is not the same as simply cataloguing items such as tools used, temperatures achieved, lead time per component, and supplier on-time reliability, nor even placing all this information within easy reach through the company intranet.

Inherent in the definition of tacit knowledge is its ephemeral nature, the difficulty of conveying things which are understood, at times, only subconsciously or of which people are only vaguely aware. This, then, is probably one of the most difficult tasks faced by any organization, given our current state of development in the field of Knowledge Management.


[1] Working With Tacit Knowledge. Horvath, Joseph A., Ph.D. IBM

     <http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html> (undated; accessed October 28, 2000)


For My Eyes Also (Part 3)

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/30-knowledge-management-insights-stan-garfield

The Impetus Toward Knowledge Management

Whether it is called Knowledge Management, knowledge sharing, intellectual capital management, best practice management, the learning organization, or innovation management, there are powerful reasons to learn about knowledge and the process of communicating complex change and ideas in order to achieve rapid action in their integration into the organization.

There are also many reasons proposed for adopting a method of managing the growing volume of information gathered and accessed by various organizations. While these reasons are numerous and varied, they generally share some of the same characteristics. This is true with respect to both governmental and commercial organizations. Two disparate examples are the Directors of Information Management of the United States Army on whose website appears a lengthy presentation regarding Knowledge Management, and the Rochester, New York SGML/XML (Structured General Markup Language/Extendable Markup Language) User’s Group.

The Army’s presentation speaks to two of the basic issues addressed by KM, viz. how an organization can remain effective in the face of a diminished workforce, and how that organization can provide some form of logical continuity to its operations despite the possibility of frequent retirement and turnover.[1]

The SGML/XML User’s Group addresses the same general problem the Army faces, speaking in terms of “Leverag[ing] Work Already Done” and “Stop[ping] Knowledge ‘Walking out of the door’ “.[2] These are two of the most critical issues faced by all organizations today, and have been a continuing problem, the solution of which may now be possible through the use of new technology and new thinking. Much of the new technology has become available recently due to the continuing growth and development of the Worldwide Web and other forms of rapid communication and widespread dissemination of information.

Examples of tools which are commonly in use today, and which did not exist 5 – 10 years ago, are search engines, data mining software, the development of portable data format (pdf) and distillers, Internet and intranet portal sites, desktop dashboards, and knowledge organizing agents.

There are also two basic tracks, or methodologies, with which to approach the concept of Knowledge Management. The first treats knowledge as an object which can be identified and handled using information systems. These systems include artificial intelligence, reengineering, and groupware, among others. The second track looks at people and their management. To the people involved in this track, knowledge is seen as processes to be changed and improved [3]

The former is developing rapidly, as new technology comes on line, whether it be faster processors, wireless communications, new forms of data storage and retrieval, or new software for organizing and comprehending information and data. The latter, however, is where the real developmental difficulty lies. There are several problems inherent in teaching people new methods for acquiring and, especially, for sharing knowledge.

Nevertheless, companies like IBM and Lotus are investing a great deal of time and money in supporting the move toward Knowledge Management. In a recently published paper, these two organizations assert that “Knowledge Management will soon pervade business practices in the same way that eBusiness pervades commerce. Similar to eBusiness, this trend started out on the fringe of computing and gained incremental credibility from the successes of early adopters.

“…

“Similar to eBusiness, Knowledge Management will play a critical role in corporate longevity and ultimately distinguish the winners from those companies that merely survive. It will enable companies to apply their intangible assets, and in the spirit of eBusiness, revolutionize the way they do business. In fact, elements of Knowledge Management are already manifest in many successful eBusiness practices such as electronic procurement where knowledge accelerates and bolsters the entire procurement process.”[4]

The number of organizations, including Universities around the world, which are discussing, teaching, or extolling the virtues of Knowledge Management are too numerous to chronicle in so short a paper. To emphasize the point, as of this writing a search at http://www.altavista.com, typed in as “why do we need knowledge management” (without the quote marks surrounding the phrase) produces 1,274,124 pages or “hits”.

Of those, only the first 200 are available, and my experience is that the last of the pages will generally not be on point, that is their relationship to the original search phrase will only be ancillary. In this case, the 198th page is, although not responsive to the question “why do we need” it, nevertheless directly on point regarding Knowledge Management. Furthermore, it isn’t the website of some college kid who has a passing interest in the subject, it is a page from the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation.[5]

Other organizations whose sites appear in the first six pages of hits are Rutgers University, Oklahoma State University, the Xerox Corporation, Compaq, and the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. I believe it can be safely said that Knowledge Management has come in from the fringe of computing, and is gaining steam with every day.


[1]Using Knowledge Management for Mission Success“, [on-line presentation] 1999 U. S. Army DOIM (Directors of Information Management) Conference; available at http://doim.army.mil/dc99/presentations.htm; accessed 30 October 2000

[2] Jerry Ulbricht, “Turning Information into Knowledge” [on-line presentation]Rochester, New York SGML/XML Users Group; available at <http://www.rnysxug.com/> (1999)

[3] Sveiby Knowledge Management – http://www.sveiby.com.au/KnowledgeManagement.html (accessed October 27, 2000)

[4]Lotus and IBM Knowledge Management Strategy“, [on-line white paper], (Lotus Development Corporation, 2000); available as “Knowledge Management Strategy” at http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html

[5] Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation, [on-line business site] (last updated August 21, 2000); available at http://www.businessinnovation.ey.com/


Preserving My Past

The time has come for me to simplify . . . to apply some feng shui to my collection of old (ancient?) paperwork, some of which is more than several decades old. Paper is the one thing I seem to be a bit of a hoarder with; that and old clothing, I guess.

I am coming across papers, letters, and notes I’ve written over the years, many of them from my over two decades of service at Rocketdyne, where I was privileged to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. In that time I worked for (without changing desks) Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, and the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. After I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, I returned as a contractor to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2015, where I worked for a bit over two years.

Recently, I purchased a small, portable Brother scanner and I am slowly scanning old papers I’m finding. Inasmuch as I’m now publishing far more frequently to this blog, I’ve decided to save some of these things so I can throw the paper away and still have a record. It’s been over nine years since I retired and I find I’m forgetting what working in a large organization was like. Reading some of the documents I created helps me to remember what I did, as well as to feel reasonably confident I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.

What follows should be somewhat self-evident. It’s a letter I wrote to my manager in 1994, now over 25 years ago. I think I sound pretty reasonable, and I’m gratified to know I was pushing—pretty hard, I think—for positive change back then. I’m not an IT person; never went to undergrad and, besides, the earliest PCs didn’t come into existence until I was nearing my thirties. However, I did recognize the value such tools brought to managing and operating a business and I have always been a big promoter of technology in the office. At any rate, this is more for me than my readers, but some may find it “amusing.”

PS – I scanned the original “memo” in .jpg format and the accompanying Lotus presentation materials in .pdf, which you’ll have to click on if you’re interested in what Lotus was doing 25 years ago, before its acquisition by IBM.


Considering Attending IBM’s Social Business Jam? Here’s How!

I am a VIP guest taking part in a unique opportunity to engage in an interactive discussion about the growing influence of social technology in business.

On February 8-11, 2011 I will be joining IBM to host their Social Business Jam where we will cooperatively explore the value of social technology in business, the mitigation of its risks, and the management system required to drive the social transformation required for its use.  This web-based event will provide an unrivalled opportunity for thousands of leaders from around the world to pool their knowledge and experiences, and to examine this next generation of business.  I urge you to participate. Learn more here: www.ibm.com/social/businessjam

There will be 5 discussion forums occurring simultaneously, where participants can join any time during the event. The subjects of these forums are:

     

  • Building the Social Business of the Future
  • Building Participatory Organizations Through Social Adoption
  • Using Social to Understand and Engage with Customers
  • What does Social mean for IT?
  • Identifying Risks and Establishing Governance
  •  

Participation does not require your full-time involvement during the 72 hours of the event.  You can log-in to the Jam whenever you are available, and spend as much time as you want to comment, read or engage in topic areas you find most interesting. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Please join me in this exciting conversation about the new era of business:
1. Register for the Jam: Please register for the Jam via this link: http://ibm.co/joinsbjam
2. Spread the word about the Jam: Please help us generate buzz about this upcoming event via Twitter (#sbjam) and other channels of communication you have access to.

Thanks.


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