Knowledge management: scatter the crumbs

Implementers of knowledge management systems should remember the fairy tale they heard as a child, in which the witch scattered crumbs to tempt the children into her house, says Desi Lorand of IBM/Lotus.

Implementers of knowledge management systems should remember the fairy tale they heard as a child, in which the witch scattered crumbs to tempt the children into her house, says Desi Lorand of IBM/Lotus.

Morsels of immediately usable and valuable knowledge should be used in the same way to draw staff into using the KM system and contributing their knowledge to keep it valuable to others.

“What drives people is an urgent need,” says Wellington-based Lorand, formerly of defunct Notes developer Progressive Systems. “You start by satisfying that need, then you take what you’ve got and grow on the basis of that, in small incremental steps.”

Staff do not give up their knowledge easily, she says, but that failure often occurs simply because they don’t make time to key in, for example, the details of what happened and what was said during a visit to a customer. But once they get value from it — even if it’s just recalling their own previous input — staff will develop the discipline of entering details into the KM database after each visit. As with so many new information systems, management should set an example by using the system themselves.

“The customer likes to think the organisation knows, rather than an individual person,” Lorand says.

She admits, though, that some customers do see a certain power in “knowing the person in the organisation who really knows about this topic”.

IBM’s Lotus Notes-based Knowledge Discovery System attempts to discern individual experts on particular matters within the organisation by the — perhaps less than reliable — technique of counting how many times users access a certain part of database.

There are few people who could be said to be “knowledge management experienced” in today’s world, Lorand says. The best strategy, she says, would be to employ an IT expert.

Librarians are acquiring IT expertise, but are still oriented toward the storing of information in one place, Lorand says.

Because of this tendency, they would be less suitable for a knowledge management role, where input and output of information is distributed.

Lorand says knowledge management is pertinent to e-government, since it is capable of putting a single interface over a collection of knowledge that derives from many departmental databases, hitherto residing in separate “silos”.

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