Knowledge management has never been so clearly a superior investment as it is now in this permafrost economy.
Five years ago, a raft of vendors despoiled the term KM by flying its flag above everything from search utilities to document management apps to “push” clients. Before KM had even established itself in the enterprise, marketing gibberish had rendered it meaningless.
But now things are different, and it’s time to re-examine preconceived notions about KM and its role in the enterprise. Vendors are using technological advancements in strategic tools such as XML and Web services to bolster KM, and through reimaginations such as these, KM — the real thing, not the label — has matured. With budgets tight, this maturity may pay large dividends for KM vendors and implementers alike.
“The value of knowledge management and all it encompasses is far more valuable in these economic conditions than when project investment dollars were dropping off trees,” says Albert Ray Edwards Jr., director of the capital markets group at New York-based Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. “The value of effective reuse of what we know, especially in the financial services market, is just so much greater now.”
Here’s the catch: Whereas technology has made incremental advances, deployment strategies and organizational behavior have not. KM must be approached as a way of doing business, one enabled by properly-used technology. In fact, organizations participating in the employee slash-and-burn wave — some out of necessity, some just for blood sport — find it more difficult to execute KM strategies and to reap the benefits right at the point where it would have yielded stratospheric returns. For organizations with the courage to take different approaches to difficult times, however, the payback can be significant.
According to Edwards, new approaches to KM are making sense for CGEY’s financial clients, such as American Express, CitiBank, Merrill Lynch, and JP Morgan Chase. KM brings together two disparate categories: all the data about potential investment choices, what Edwards calls “content”; and all the practical knowledge about how and when to use that content, that is, what resides in experts’ heads. According to Edwards, the real value comes when you blend technology with people.
The inability to mesh stored knowledge with human expertise is why so many attempted KM projects have failed, souring IT on the idea of KM, according to Bob Bauer, CTO of Stamford, Ct.-based Xerox Global Services.
“The singular focus that powered IT growth was [that] IT spent money by arguing there was all this data out there: ‘Let’s get it patterned and manage it better, and that will give us the ability to make better decisions,’ ” Bauer explains. “But they got lost because they got focused on trying to create transactions of data with data when the fact is that any decision process or action based on valuable transactions involves people. Someone has to make a decision, whether it’s a tactical choice or a strategic decision.”
“Data in these systems can only be made actionable by people. That’s the genesis of a successful IT view,” Bauer adds.