#549  Innovative Leader      Volume 11, Number 3          March 2002

e-Knowledge
by Bray J. Brockbank

Mr. Brockbank is a business and technology integrations consultant for Learnframe.  bbrockbank@learnframe.com .

It's a war out there – a war of knowledge. Victory lies with organizations that create, recognize and organize knowledge. Those who fall in battle, fall prey to developing and implementing lengthy processes and extensive systems to gather and manage their knowledge. The victors recognize that knowledge isn’t static – and shouldn’t be managed – but rapidly deployed and channeled.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the business world saw the emergence of new Internet capabilities, models, and technologies. Many of these technologies were marketed as the 'silver bullet' solution to more effectively interact and manage relationships with customers and partners, address value chain challenges, manage organizational knowledge, transform business models and processes, and manage organizational knowledge.

At the time, knowledge management (KM) was marketed as one of the 'silver bullet' solution technologies and models. Early KM approaches, technologies, models, and expectations were immature, requiring considerable experimentation and risk-taking by the investing organization.

Even though most of the new technologies and models of the time were unproven, organizations were quick to adopt them because of growing competitive pressure to 'e-enable' their processes and operations. Perception at the time was, “No time to think, only act.” Unfortunately, too much time and money was wasted on putting a knowledge-management system in place instead of a knowledge-channeling system.

Those organizations that installed KM systems will now need to reflect on creating a channeling process to better deliver the knowledge that they have gathered and manage.

Matter of Confusion

The confusion between ‘knowledge management’ and ‘knowledge channeling’ has caused executives and managers to waste literally billions of dollars on technology projects that have, for the most part, yielded marginal results. Over the past few years, executives and managers have jumped into knowledge management without knowing or defining what knowledge is or how to channel it. This approach is dangerous, costly and highly ineffective.

Knowledge can’t be ‘managed’ by an organization. Attempts to do so, will likely result in a detrimental reversal of roles – with knowledge managing the organization. Organizations should focus primarily on creating, recognizing, capturing, organizing, and channeling knowledge.

Knowledge Isn’t Universal

The ultimate goal of knowledge channeling is quality, not quantity. Value created from intellectual and knowledge-based assets involves disseminating or ‘channeling’ knowledge to employees, partners, suppliers, and even across barriers to other organizations in an effort to generate best practices and synergistic value. Three basic premises must be understood by the organization for the channeling to succeed:

1.  Knowledge isn’t universal. There's no consensus as to what constitutes knowledge -- no universal template for recognizing or creating it either.

2.  Knowledge isn’t static. Knowledge is organic and evolutionary.

3.  Not all knowledge is valuable. Organizations need to determine what information is an intellectual and knowledge-based asset.

Intellectual and knowledge-based assets can be categorized into one of two categories: explicit or tacit.

1.  Explicit knowledge. Includes assets such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, business plans, and marketing research. Explicit knowledge includes anything that can be documented, archived and codified.

2.  Tacit knowledge. The know-how or information that constitutes knowledge resides in the ‘minds’ of people. Information technology can help facilitate the channeling of tacit knowledge through e-mail, instant messaging, groupware, and collaborative technologies.

Knowledge Creation

It’s important to recognize the value of technology access and utilization for the individuals, organizations and communities who participate in the knowledge creation and channeling processes, and all of those affected by such processes. However, future developments in knowledge channeling systems have to consider two key issues: knowledge is organic and evolutionary. Therefore the channeling process must be focused and immediate to be of value to an organization.

Knowledge creation is a dynamic process. Knowledge is created and recreated in various contexts and at various periods of time. It is a process by which organizations create ‘added value’ from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. This added value is realized through recognizing, organizing and channeling critical knowledge to the appropriate people at the appropriate time.

Unlike information, knowledge is rooted in people. Knowledge is created through the process of social interaction.

Channeling

Knowledge channeling is not a technology-based organizational solution or concept. Organizations that implement a centralized database system, electronic message board, Web portal or any other collaborative tool in the hope that they've established a knowledge management program are wasting both their time and money.

While technology can support knowledge channeling, it's not the starting point of a knowledge channeling program. Knowledge channeling decisions should be based on:

who (people)
when (it will take place)
where (it will be channeled)
what (intellectual / knowledge assets)
why (objectives defined)
how (methodology, technology)

Channeling Challenges

In an environment where an individual's knowledge is valued and rewarded, establishing a culture that recognizes tacit knowledge and encourages employees to share it is critical to organizational success.

Organizations need to advertise the knowledge-channeling concept as a value-added benefit to them and their work. After all, employees are being asked to give up their personal knowledge and experience -- the qualities that make them invaluable as individuals to the organization.

Knowledge isn’t static. Some knowledge has little or no shelf life. It outlives its value and becomes obsolete. Its value can erode over time. Therefore, ‘knowledge’ should be constantly reviewed, analyzed, updated, amended and if necessary, discarded. Organizational management must look at knowledge channeling as a constantly evolving business practice and process.

Knowledge Mistakes

Organizations tend to fall into the following categories:

1.  Those who depend primarily on information technologies for maintaining the organization's competitive edge.

2.  And those who depend upon people and their training through existing educational, organizational and business models to maintain their competitive edge.

Simply stated, the business world has moved to an era when 'right answers' in one time and context will undoubtedly become wrong answers or solutions in another time and context. Similarly, unless 'best practices' are repeatedly analyzed for their relevance, they may become 'worst practices' – obstructing organizational performance and competence.

What's Needed

What’s needed for organizations to succeed? I suggest that a complete reinvention of the organization is needed. Knowledge channeling isn’t merely a technology problem, but a matter of reinventing every aspect of the organization, how it works, thinks, and interacts both internally and externally. An effective knowledge channeling program should help a company do one or more of the following:

Further innovation through encouraging innovative ideas

Streamline customer service response time

Improve revenues by getting products and services to market faster

Recognize the value of employees' knowledge and reward them for it

Streamline operations and reduce costs by eliminating redundant or unnecessary processes

Supply knowledge and training to the right people at the right time

An innovative approach to knowledge channeling will result in improved efficiency, higher productivity and increased revenues in practically any organizational function.

New Economy Assets

To derive the greatest value from knowledge channeling, organizations must understand the nature of their knowledge-based assets and how they link to other mission critical assets and goals. Increased realization of knowledge as the core competence coupled with recent advances in information technology such as intranets, World Wide Web, and portals has better enabled organizations the wherewithal to channel their knowledge to the right people at the right time.

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