by March 1, 2000 0 comments

Arange of knowledge manage
ment solutions are being presented by various companies. These range from solutions that enhance your intranet to boxed product solutions, to a mix that gives you the better of both worlds. Though the modes and methodologies are different, the aim is the same–to provide the right information to the right person at the right time, in order to maximize productivity. So, it isn’t important that an organization has tons of information.

What’s important is how much of that is used, and reused to generate knowledge and thereby enhance productivity. The approach to building such a knowledge management system would vary between different organizations, but there’s a broad set of guidelines that can be used by any company to build a framework. 

The basic framework
Two to three years ago, the world was hit by a phenomenon called intranets. It caught on like wildfire in every organization. Intranets gave organizations an easy way to disseminate critical information to all its employees. They were not expensive either, and could be built with freely available tools. All you needed was a Web browser on every desktop, and a Web server to host information on a server. E-mail was another killer application that allowed users to communicate effectively with each other. 

Due to their ease of use and effectiveness, intranets and e-mail are a good foundation for your knowledge management solution. It needs something that users find easy to use, so having an intranet and internal mailing system helps. 

The big idea
A proper knowledge management solution requires a well-defined plan. The idea of planning is to decide each and every aspect of knowledge management–the components that would go into it, the information that would be available to each employee, how it would be available, various information capturing mechanisms, etc. Essentially, the deliverable should be a knowledge base that’ll be useful across the organization. 

The knowledge base doesn’t come from information sharing alone. You must also define what kind of information to put in it, and how to put it. For example, for knowledge management, you can’t just place an online chat facility on your intranet to enable interaction between employees. Such a step could actually prove detrimental to productivity, with a lot of time being wasted in sending unnecessary messages to each other. Instead, the chat should have fixed windows and permissions. For example, members of a project team could be assigned chat facility, so that they can interact with each other even if they’re geographically separated. In this case, you’ll have to keep a tab on the number of project teams and the number of members in each. If the teams change, you’ll have to keep a tab on that too, etc. These details will have to be incorporated in the plan if they’re to be implemented. 

The top management also needs to be involved in this planning, as they would guide the program so that it gels with the company strategy. Plus, you would also need to get the budgets sanctioned.

Knowledge management team
Just as every project has a dedicated team and a team leader, knowledge management can’t be without one either. There has to be someone in the company on whom the onus of the whole project will lie.

Otherwise, the plan would lose direction and instead of managed knowledge, you would have a jumble of useless information. The leader would coordinate all activities and ensure timely implementation of everything. The team would be responsible for appropriate categorization of content on the intranet. It must also have people who’ll look into editing the content given by people in the company. After all, not everyone’s a born writer. Content management is a very important task, and the team must have members to handle it. 

To have effective content generation, you must create interest groups. The idea is to take responsible people from across the organization in various divisions and form a team. The members of this team would be responsible for providing the content from their department. For example, project leaders could be made responsible to submit complete details of their project to the content management team. 

Capturing mechanism
The main problem with intranets was lack of interaction. Users could only view the information. There was no way to share that information with others. A knowledge management solution lies on top of this, and provides a way for users to share their knowledge. After you’ve defined what information to share, it’s just a matter of deciding the technologies to use for capturing it. There are lots of them available. Online chat and discussion forums are the most common examples for capturing information. Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange both offer ways to implement these. Third-party chat solutions are also available. 

Another important way of capturing information is uploading it on the intranet. Users should be able to post documents, presentations, etc, on the intranet. What’s even more important is categorization of this content for easy retrieval.

The hardships
All this may sound simple to do, but actually, it’s not. What’s more important than capturing information and making it available is to ensure that it’s used to generate knowledge. So cultural issues play a very important role here. People generally have a resistance to change. They have to be told and encouraged to make use of the available information. One way of doing this is by tailoring information according to their needs. Giving user IDs to login to the knowledge base is one good way of doing this. You should be able to access the knowledge base just as you login and access your network file server—only seeing the files and directories you have rights to, and so on.

The knowledge base survives on knowledge, knowledge, and more knowledge. Your employees have a wealth of knowledge in their minds. They gain it from their day-to-day work. Therefore, they have to be encouraged to share this knowledge with others. The interest group plays an important part in this. They have to ensure that their divisions submit content consistently. 

A feedback mechanism in such a system is a must. This ensures that all parts of your knowledge base are used. Whatever isn’t used frequently could be kept in archives or removed. In today’s fast moving world, if a piece of information is not accessed the first time, chances are it never will be. So, the knowledge base should always have information that users can’t do without. The rest is a matter of time before it starts thriving.

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