Advertisements

Tag Archives: IT

For My Eyes Also (Part 2)

https://www.sonhslks.com/knowledge-management.html

A (very) Brief History of Knowledge Management

Although the current move toward gathering, cataloguing, storing, and disseminating information and data for widespread organizational use is a fairly recent development, the basic concepts of Knowledge Management have been with us for as long as humans have gathered in communities. Humans have always struggled with the need to pass on information gathered through hard experience and disastrous failure.

In his new book, to be published this fall, Steven Denning sets forth a brief synopsis of the human activities which have preceded our current drive toward Knowledge Management. In it he states, “The pursuit of any significant human activity typically leads to the acquisition by those involved of know-how and expertise as to how the activity may be successfully conducted. Insofar as what is learned in the process can be captured, and communicated and shared with others, it can enable subsequent practitioners – or even generations – to build on earlier experience and obviate the need of costly rework or of learning by making the same repetitive mistakes.

In the village, from time immemorial, the elder, the traditional healer and the midwife have been the living repositories of distilled experience in the life of the community.

“…

Interactive knowledge-sharing mechanisms have always been used – from palavers under the baobab, village square debates, and town meetings, to conclaves, professional consultations, meetings, workshops, and conferences – all functioning to enable individuals to share what they know with others in the relevant area of knowledge. “[1] (emphasis the author’s)

In 1988, as the pace of change was accelerating with the rapid development and deployment of large-scale information systems, Peter F. Drucker observed, “Information responsibility to others is increasingly understood, especially in middle-sized companies. But information responsibility to oneself is still largely neglected. That is, everyone in an organization should constantly be thinking through what information he or she needs to do the job and to make a contribution”.[2]

Drucker understood then the pivotal dilemma with respect to data and information now being faced by many organizations, that of understanding its power and devising the methodologies whereby it can be harnessed and used to the benefit of the people who need it to perform their jobs properly.

In referring to information specialists as toolmakers, Drucker said, “They can tell us what tool to use to hammer upholstery nails into a chair. We need to decide whether we should be upholstering a chair at all.

“Executives and professional specialists need to think through what information is for them, what data they need: first, to know what they are doing; then, to be able to decide what they should be doing; and finally, to appraise how well they are doing. Until this happens MIS departments are likely to remain cost centers rather than become the result center they could be.”[3]

Today, MIS departments are still struggling with the notion of becoming “result centers”. Too frequently, they concern themselves with the infrastructure of the organization’s data processing capabilities, and completely ignore the role Knowledge Management (in its broadest sense) can play. Instead of leading the way through the morass of competing needs, whether perceived or real, they find themselves being led around by various departments seeking to have their agenda legitimized, often to the detriment of the MIS department’s ability to serve the company as a whole.

At Rocketdyne, which employs a large percentage of well-educated, highly computer literate individuals, there exists a great deal of enmity between the users and the Information Systems (IS) department. There are many who feel the department should fulfill the role only of providing the infrastructure, i.e. the telecommunications backbone and the hardware, and maintaining its reliability. These people believe IS has abdicated its responsibility of providing guidance for software development and acquisition, through an historic ineptness in performing this function.

Whether this view is accurate or not, it demonstrates a division which has long been developing and will not soon go away, especially without visionary leadership schooled in the concept of Knowledge Management. Many knowledgeable workers at Rocketdyne believe they must have the freedom to purchase software which will support their needs, or to develop that software without interference and second-guessing by the IS department.

The question which looms now for most organizations, and certainly for Rocketdyne, is how can the data which is both created and collected be harnessed for the purpose of continuing a company’s pursuit of its goals.

What we are experiencing, I believe, is a time of challenge and opportunity. Historically, humans have always valued the hard-earned wisdom of our forebears. We rightly believe in the inappropriateness of “reinventing the wheel”, and we have continuously improved on our methodologies for categorizing and memorializing the lessons we have been taught or have learned through experience.

Knowledge Management is merely the application of this historical pursuit of know-how and expertise to the comparatively new tools we have developed. The concept itself is nothing new, The question then becomes one of how do we go about harnessing these tools to our advantage; how do we make that quantum leap into an entirely new way of viewing an old problem.

In the next section we will look at a little bit of the background of the present day approaches to Knowledge Management, and see how companies are beginning to recognize the necessity of understanding and utilizing this approach to conducting business and running an organization successfully.


[1] Stephen Denning, “The history of knowledge management-The idea of sharing knowledge is not new“, in “The Springboard“; available at http://www.stevedenning.com/history_knowledge_management.html (accessed October 27, 2000)

[2] Peter F. Drucker, “The Coming of the New Organization”, Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1998) p. 11

[3] Drucker, Op, Cit, . pp. 11 – 12

Advertisements

You Can’t Be Trusted!

How many of us have heard those in charge of the organizations we work for complain that the use of some of the newer technology available is a threat to company security? How many are blocked from sites like Twitter or Facebook because – as the argument goes – the risk of compromising company security or inadvertently sharing intellectual property is just too great?

I recall a time when the company I worked for had a policy against bringing cell phones to work if they had a camera, the fear being we would all suddenly start taking pictures of . . . what? . . . papers? . . . hardware? . . . and sell them to the North Koreans, the Russians, or the Chinese. That restriction didn’t last very long and this presentation pretty much sums up why.

The futility of such an attitude, given the ubiquity of smart phones, is almost unworthy of discussion. In addition, much of this hand-wringing is tantamount to closing the barn door after the horses (or one high-level horse) have escaped. I have personally (along with tens of thousands of my colleagues) been subjected to training designed to “help” us not do what some corporate executive did, all designed to convince the government we had learned our lesson and would not do what none of us had any intention of doing in the first place.

I’m confident I could go on about this subject for quite some time and, no doubt, will in the future. However, I really just want to share this wonderful PowerPoint presentation I was recently reminded of. It’s one of those that is somewhat timeless. Hell, it may never quite go out-of-date. I think it’s deserving of a reprise. Please feel free to share. The author placed it in SlideShare, so I’m confident he wants you to see and share it.

View more PowerPoint from normanlamont

Obvious to Him . . . Perhaps?

The Obvious?

Euan Semple is a friend of mine; at least in the sense we are “friends” on Facebook and we are “connected” and have engaged in an email conversation on LinkedIn. I also follow him on Twitter and read his blog (somewhat infrequently, I must confess). I know he’s read my blog at least once because he commented on a post of mine. We have not yet met face-to-face, nor have we had an actual conversation where we could hear each other’s voices (each others’ voice?), say . . . over the phone or with Skype.

This morning I came across an item on my Facebook wall from him. It was a link to a video of his Do Lecture, shared through his blog, “The Obvious?”. I don’t see too many things from Euan in Facebook, so it caught my attention. I clicked on it to open a tab with the link so I could view it later. Many times I don’t end up viewing the item I’ve set aside, but this time I did. I’m very glad too. You can listen yourself here.

Euan is probably best known for his introduction of forums, blogs, and wikis to the BBC and now spends his time advising organizations on how to integrate these and other “social” applications into their businesses. You can learn more about Euan from his blog or from his website.

As I’m writing this I see one of his friends has commented on the original Facebook post. She says she finds his talk bitter sweet, because he says what she’s been saying too . . . to no avail. I have to admit to feeling the same way, though I did manage to get some traction in changing the organization I spent nearly a quarter century with.

Euan clearly knows what makes an enterprise tick. He also is keenly aware of the numerous ways in which traditional organizations and management waste time and energy and, actually, hinder progress in most every enterprise that’s built on the traditional, hierarchical business model we’re all so familiar with.

I strongly suggest you listen to his lecture yourself. It’s only about a half-hour and it’s quite enlightening and entertaining. He’s a wonderful storyteller. I actually took some notes while I was listening – which is not like me at all – and here are some thoughts that stood out. I’d sure be interested in hearing any of yours.

Euan points out that fear of messiness is troubling. I forget his exact word, but I wrote down the thought it triggered for me, and that was fear of messiness stifles creativity and, therefore, innovation. In addressing the fear that using social media would get out of control, he reasonably points out we still need middlemen to make sense of all the data and information out there. I have heard the people I believe he’s talking about referred to as curators or gardeners. He goes on to point out what we don’t need are gate-keeping middlemen who add no value at all.

He makes quite a few points about culture and how best to deal with the inevitable resistance and fear one encounters when even talking about social media. One of them is a reference to the concept of Trojan mice, i.e. unobtrusive, small things that generate change through their adoption and use. Another comes from one of the few slides he used with words – “Easier to build a tool for the community than a community for the tool” – though he expresses a bit of distaste for the way many view communities. Here he points to the difference between conscripts and volunteers and, for me, invokes the value of emergence, that communities spring up from recognized, shared needs and desires, not from the dictate of management.

I think my favorite thing he talks about is the dreaded ROI argument; one I was beaten about the head and shoulders with for many years, both in terms of knowledge management and later regarding the use of social media (which I have argued elsewhere is what KM is really about; surely the kind of KM I’m most interested in!) to connect people. In a sense, it’s what the entire lecture is about, but he offers up what he calls a Scotsman’s tip about ROI – “Keep the I really small and no one will give you shit about the R”. I got a kick out of that.

So, please take a half hour of your time (plus however long it took you to read this far) and check his lecture out. It’s quite good. It helped me get to know Euan a little better, as well as reinforced my thoughts about so many things I don’t know where to begin. It is, indeed, bitter sweet for me as well.


Are We Really Communicating All That Better?

In my over twenty years of experience at the large, very successful aerospace company where I labor, I have spent a great deal of time trying desperately to get the IT people to talk to the Engineering people. I haven’t, for the most part, been all that successful. Back in the day IT was truly an empire unto itself and it was pretty blind when it came to listening to the needs of the Engineering community. Furthermore, many of the systems that were used by various programs were dictated by the customers who were paying for our services and our products, basically NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and DOE.

This resulted in some very interesting problems with respect to systems, tools, and their use and subsequent development. What used to happen was Engineering would get an itch for a certain type of functionality but, since it hadn’t been contemplated in the original contract and since it might be some time before it could be renegotiated in order to get some money for developing the code required, Engineering would take it upon themselves to develop what they needed. You can imagine what happened many times. Though not an Engineer myself, I believe all Engineering students study one or more computer languages . .  . I’m fairly certain most of them  do.  Well, they would just get on the problem themselves, either writing code or – even worse – creating a tool in Excel.

So now we find ourselves in the interesting position of having something like a couple hundred tools, many quite useful, many overlapping in functionality. Many of them are unwieldy and kind of out-of-date, yet we don’t quite know how to get rid of them. This does seem to be changing somewhat as the tools of Enterprise 2.0 are gaining traction, i.e. blogs, wikis, user-generated content in general. Regardless, there are still numerous choices for how to deal with each of these as well. What wiki should we use? What about Open Source? (Anathema, btw, in my company – at least for now).

So the beat goes on. We keep adding tools, if at a slightly slower rate than previously (I think), and we seldom shed any. I suspect, as more and more content gets generated through the use of social media, and the ability to organize and make sense of it improves, we will eventually move away from many of the tools we’ve kind of grown up with. Data, too, will probably migrate toward a common format that can be accessed easily by anyone who wishes to and has authority to do so. It would be nice to see everyone on the same page, rather than pockets of people talking about the same thing in slightly different, and frequently incompatible, formats and locations.


%d bloggers like this: