Making Knowledge Work

October 30, 2011

LIKE 30: Knowledge Transfer – making it work

Filed under: Knowledge Management, LIKE — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 3:55 pm

It’s often easier to talk about best practice than to just get on with it.  I’m sure lots of us have sat in after-action reviews or meetings where projects have been comprehensively analysed and “ways to do it better” have been skilfully identified.  Then everyone returns to their desks and carries on as before!  There are many reason it happens – change takes time, teamwork and, often, training.  Business as usual can dictate the pace of work (even if that work entails time-consuming activities such as trawling through over-loaded email inboxes to find important information).   Introducing new and more effective ways of working can prove to be ‘too much hassle’ – particularly if senior team-members consider themselves exempt from adopting new practices.

Maybe that’s why we’re more willing to invest external agents with the authority to make change or perform services that we could, if we chose, do for ourselves.

Gary Colet is the Facilitator for the Knowledge Retention and Transfer special interest group at the Knowledge and Innovation Network of Warwick University Business School.  He has a strong aversion to the term “Knowledge Management” preferring the description “Organisational Learning”.  It’s not difficult to see why he has a problem with the KM handle – it’s not exactly explanatory, and when practitioners (as they often are)  are called on to explain it, the descriptions of KM’s value and impact can vary widely.
So, organisational learning is what Gary facilitates.

The LIKE evening started with Gary calling on four volunteers to assist in illustrating how ‘knowledge’ rapidly degrades when passed along a human chain.  The first volunteer was told a story that contained a number of facts.  Their job was to relate the tale to the next volunteer, ensuring the facts were transmitted.  That volunteer then had to relate the story to the next person to enter the room and so on.  Surprisingly, one of the participants asked if she could take notes – Gary said that was the first time anyone had ever thought to do so (maybe not so surprising that a LIKE member should think so practically :-)).  His point was well illustrated though – facts evaporated in the telling, and the name of a publication morphed into another (the New Scientist became the New Statesman).

We moved on to analyse the shelf-life and value of various examples of knowledge/information transmitters:

  • Transactional information such as emails = low value, short life
  • Round-tables and seminars = high value, short life
  • Meeting minutes, FAQs, check lists =  low value, long life
  • Partner contracts, design rationales, projects decisions = high value, long life

Transient knowledge fits into the high value, short life category – and the high value makes this knowledge well worth eliciting.  Gary is often called in at times of change in organisations: when a round of redundancies is taking place, or when acquisitions and mergers are in progress.  He facilitates meetings or dinners during which the outgoing individual (always a key team member or senior leader) is encouraged to pass on their knowledge and experience.
Gary calls his approach to achieving this ‘O.P.E.C.’: Open, Probe, Examine, Close.  So his questions begin with “Tell me about your current role?”  or “Tell me about the project you’ve just completed?” – deliberately broad and open queries aimed at opening the dialogue in an unchallenging way.  With the discussion initiated, he moves on to the probing questions: “What were your particular successes in…..?”, “What were you trying to achieve in doing…..?,“What didn’t go so well in…..?”, etc: the kinds of enquiry aimed at garnering facts and details.  Then come the ‘examining’ queries: “Why didn’t it work so well?”, “Why did you choose that approach?”, “Who was your most useful contact?”.  These questions focus on clarifying details and encouraging the individual to make their implicit knowledge explicit.  Finally he asks the important closing questions – for example “If there were three main things you’d speak to your successor about, what would they be?”

As anyone who’s facilitated these exchanges can testify – the process is not easy or comfortable.  The last thing a person who is feeling bruised and cynical may want is to share their professional knowledge with the organisation that is discarding them!  So, as Gary pointed out, the approach you take is vitally important.  Even if the organisation believes they own, or have a right to, that person’s knowledge, the individual is likely to see things very differently.   These structured exchanges do, however, offer them something worthwhile: respect for their professionalism and the value of their know-how; acknowledgment of their contribution and importance to their soon-to-be former colleagues.  By making this respect and appreciation clear to the individual at the outset, exchanges which begin with hostility and suspicion can quickly become positive and rewarding experiences for both parties.

It may seem trite to say “do as you would be done by” – but it’s a fact that this sentiment underpins good practice in Organisational Learning (or KM, sorry Gary).  The moment you allow yourself to believe that time is too precious to invest in enabling individuals to exchange knowledge and information is the moment you step onto the wheel of organisational amnesia and recurrent mistakes from the past.

October 9, 2011

LIKE 29 – Connecting Information with Innovation

There was an enthusiastic response to our announcement that LIKE 29 would focus on the findings of a recent report by the specialist professional services company TFPL:  so enthusiastic that the evening was quickly over-subscribed.  The only way to satisfy demand was to run the event twice.

On both evenings the very lively discussions were skilfully led by John Davies , Head of Consulting at TFPL and co-author of the report.

The title “Connecting Information with Innovation” was chosen because responses to the survey forming the basis of the report showed organisations are increasingly linking information services with corporate purpose.  And the purpose of the report was to take a fresh snapshot of the Info Pro landscape.  (Back in 2006 the TFPL team had worked with Hazel Hall to produce “Who’s Managing Information?”)

Of ten thousand questionnaires, two hundred and twenty were returned.   35% of respondents worked in the public sector, 48% in the private sector, and the rest in education and the third sector.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most respondents classified themselves as senior managers.  But more interestingly only half worked in core info management service, while the other 50% said their services were dispersed across the organisation.

Most people reported little change from 2006 in Knowledge and Information (KIM) staffing levels.  But there was much evidence that organisations were reallocating responsibilities – for example with business information being moved into the remit of business intelligence. And there was   strong evidence that organisations were looking for increased value from their information services, with more accountability and pressure to contribute to the organisations’ strategic plan than there had been in 2006.

Many of the respondents could be classified as Librarians, Records Managers, Content Specialists, Information Services providers, Business Analysts…..  but such things as  information security, information governance, communications, competitive intelligence and digital preservation fell outside of their responsibilities.

John said there are approximately 30 million people in work in the UK.  And, based on work done in the US following Drucker, around 60-70% of us are classified as “knowledge workers”.  However, for every million knowledge workers, there are maybe one thousand with recognisable qualifications. And, it seemed, qualifications still matter to recruiting businesses.
So he wanted to know how LIKE people saw their profession – what distinctions they made, and who they thought were “KIM” professionals.

It was clear from the comments people made that we’re not doing a great job of explaining to each other what we do, or feeling particularly comfortable with the KIM umbrella term:

“Business Intelligence is all about coding”. “Business development people get my goad”. “Archivists, Records Managers and Librarians have a similar mindset, but KMs come at it from a very different angle”.  “Knowledge Managers don’t need a qualification but librarians do”. 

Some people were bemused (and amused) by the increasing pressure to ‘professionalise’: “ If someone sees themselves as a KIM professional, they pretty well are”.  “In  Government there’s a move for civil servants to be part of a profession – IT Professional, Lawyer, Statistician etc – so that’s led people like Immigration Officers  to say ‘well I use information a lot, so I’m a KIM professional’”. 

John told us recruitment specialists are having a hard time keeping up with the demands of employers.  Job specifications are getting broader, deeper, more demanding.  The old distinctions between the junior and more senior roles were being blurred as everyone is expected to demonstrate business acumen, project management ability and IT knowledge.

Five attributes that were key to recruitment, came out in the survey.  He described them as:  Visionary, perseverance, logical, pragmatic, collaborative.  He wanted to know what we thought of these, and which of them we’d prioritise.

Several people said they’d never heard two definitions of ‘Knowledge Management’ that were the same.  Others confirmed that the same went for ‘Information Management’.  So how would it be possible to attain definitive descriptions, or prioritise attributes?
One Consultant had stopped putting job titles on her CV entirely.  She found they confused her clients and didn’t add value – her skills and experience were more important.

Someone said most Information Managers are just Librarians by another name.  And a professional from the British Library said “I work in the biggest library in the country – not a single post at the British Library is called Librarian.  Titles are meaningless!  I’m a Reference Specialist – what does that mean?  Even within the reference team there are different interpretations of what a Reference Specialist does and is.”

This was one of the areas of consensus on both evenings.  Lots of people felt it was pointless to define terms when each organisation had its own definitions.  Every organisation has its own jargon – “So you read the job description and interpret – then you repeat their language when you fill in your application for a job.”

Someone said “we’re good at collaborating among ourselves, but maybe not so good at doing it within our wider businesses”.  And it was suggested that some Librarians see themselves as Librarians first, then employees of their specific business.

But of the five key attributes Collaboration, Vision and Pragmatism were seen as the most important.  So we proved to be pretty good at prioritising!

John told us that since 2006 training on the job had fallen by the wayside.  In-house training is increasingly in demand, while external courses are being cut.  LIKErs confirmed that they were being directed to develop or use in-house resources for training.  Some are making use of online courses.  And, of course, transferred knowledge inside the organisation is an important element of Knowledge Management, so there’s a case for looking inside for skill development.

On both evenings the discussion about training and development inevitably led back to the issue of professional qualification and its importance – both to the professional and the employer.  Although “Some people are professionals in the field without having professional qualifications”, it was agreed that these individuals usually have years of experience to support their ‘claim’.  For others, especially those just starting out, it was seen as essential to have a professional qualification “so you have credibility and can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.” “It’s a badge of honour, showing you can do the job” Some people also saw professional qualifications as a means of gaining a broader understanding of their specialism than can be gained in an isolated role “it gives you a structured core skills base”.  But there was a rider to the importance placed on qualifications: “courses really do need to link up with reality”.    And qualifications alone wouldn’t cut it in modern business: “inside the organisation it’s your success stories and the reputation you’ve built up.”  “It all comes down to demonstrating you have the skills to do the job”. 

During our discussions we briefly revisited a question that comes up pretty regularly at LIKE meetings (and elsewhere) – the value of professional bodies.  It’s always an interesting debate.  The specialised roles (such as Law Librarian) need to have their own knowledge networks.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  But what doesn’t make sense to many KIM professionals is to have professional bodies that are out of tune with their members’ requirements and experiences.

John Davies was very complimentary about LIKE – he said it was invigorating and refreshing,   a model for how professional bodies could develop “rather than the ossified, committee-ridden groups I’ve been so familiar with over the years”.

If LIKE is any kind of model, that’s brilliant.  Our primary focus, though, is on providing LIKErs with what they tell us they want – open, inclusive discussions about issues relevant to them.

We seem to have done that with LIKE 29, and LIKE 30 should fit the bill too!  Gary Colet from Warwick Business School will be getting us thinking about how to make transferred knowledge stick.

 

 

 

August 16, 2011

Strategy for Success

Filed under: Change Management, Knowledge and Information Management, Strategy — virginiahenry @ 12:54 pm

If you specialise in knowledge and information management, you get used to being asked by clients and colleagues “how do you make people share their knowledge?”   And you get used to finding ways of gently saying “you can’t”!

The question often arises in a situation where:

  • The organisation wants to introduce, or improve,  knowledge-sharing and collaboration across its business
  • They’ve invested in a technical KIM “solution” such as an organisation-wide intranet or SharePoint or  WebCenter or whatever
  • They’ve “rolled it out” and sent everyone an email about it
  • After, perhaps, an initial flurry of interest – nothing much has happened….

In short, the organisation has spent a lot of money and done everything it was told would work, but what’s been done hasn’t worked.  Important, useful documents are still being stored on personal computers and local drives; communication is still being conducted via email; departments and teams are continuing to work ‘independently’ rather than collaboratively.

There can be a number of reasons for this, but it often comes down to the absence of strategy.
I don’t mean the kind of strategy that sees a lack of organisation-wide knowledge-sharing and collaboration as a problem and the IT implementation as the solution.  This approach often employs a strategy, and the strategy often focuses on process.  For example, introduction of the technology is accompanied by a set of new processes and procedures with which people are expected to comply.  In my experience these strategies rarely make people share their knowledge.  In fact, they’ve probably helped ’Knowledge Management’ become a term of derision in many organisations!

The strategy I’m talking about is more closely allied to organisational cultural change than IT initiatives or business process re-engineering.  It is a product of the leadership’s vision, and everyone’s ambition, for the business.  It is a stratagem for focusing the creative, competitive drive within the organisation more productively – replacing internecine rivalry with effectiveness in the global marketplace.  The strategy engages everyone in all areas of the business at all times: it’s woven into the fabric of the organisation.

Developing and sustaining such a strategy demands long-term commitment.  There are lots of challenges, and “quick wins” can be rare.    The benefits, however, will be noticeable.  They may start small, but they’ll grow.  And they’ll include practical gains such as:

  •  New employees  feeling valued,  and being brought ‘on-board’ quickly and effectively (instead of being left to sink or swim)
  • Ideas and innovations being shared rather than stifled
  • Adaption and improvement of existing ‘wheels’ rather than constant, costly re-invention
  • Hours of trawling through overloaded email inboxes being saved (as easily-accessed document stores and collaboration spaces are made available)
  • Cost-savings from drawing on internal expertise(rather than seeking solutions from external consultants)

These are just a few of the benefits to expect.  The list could also, realistically, include improved client and business partner relations, greater success in bids and business wins, more efficient business processes, more focused business development….  All of these things are achievable with a well-devised, coherent and sustained knowledge and information strategy.

So, the answer to the question “how do you make people share their knowledge?” is “You can’t.  But you can create a culture in which people want to share their knowledge.  Your organisation can become one where ‘that’s the way we do things here’”.

 

August 10, 2011

Tardiness, tagging and things to come

Filed under: LIKE, Tagging — virginiahenry @ 4:14 pm

The year’s flying by, the ‘To Do’ list isn’t shrinking, and I’ve been meaning to write this entry for ages!…

Recently the LIKE ‘collective’ turned its attention to planning the autumn/winter season for the London Information & Knowledge Exchange. Looks like it’ll be exactly what we LIKE best – a programme of enjoyable and enlightening events.

We ended our official summer sessions on a high, with Martin Belam’s: “Information Architects: The Secret Librarians of the Internet”. Martin talked of the varied roles and experiences that led to his present job as Lead User Experience & Information Architect at Guardian News & Media, then he told us about how he does that job (read more about the talk’s content on his blog.   His hands-on, pragmatic approach to the role was inspiring. I guess you’d expect someone with “user experience” in their job title to be pretty focused on making the users’ experiences as fruitful and rewarding as possible, but expectations aren’t always fulfilled are they?  ‘Guerilla usability testing’ helps keep his information architecture on track, as does his empathy for colleagues’ requirements and deadlines.
What fascinated me most was how the Guardian’s content model relies for its success on tags.  Having recently spent a few months implementing an Oracle WebCenter platform with Balfour Beatty WorkPlace I’d been immersed in content tagging (tags being one of the more pleasing aspects of WebCenter – a bit like delicious, but not as pretty), and was interested to hear how they manage tags and use them to create content relationships and cross-promotion of content.  I love that the Guardian’s got a keyword guardian (tag manager, Peter Martin ).

In a recent survey of LIKE members, one question we neglected to ask was “what were your favourite sessions of the 2010/2011 season?”.  If we had, I think Martin’s would have been high on the lists: it prompted a number of blog posts, and a vow from me that I’ll try tag-based file management on my laptop (anyone out there used software such as Elyse, or have any alternative suggestions?)

Informal LIKE summer meet-ups continue through August then, at the end of September, we’re back at The Crown for what promises to be a brilliant start to the autumn/winter season: ‘Connecting Information with Innovation’.  John Davies will be exploring the findings and implications of TFPL’s recent survey of KIM roles and responsibilities. See you there perhaps?

April 29, 2011

Human Library – LIKE 24 being bookish!

Filed under: Knowledge Networking, LIKE — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 7:47 pm

One of the many things that make LIKE  events wonderful is that you can turn up after a long day at work feeling weary and a little out of sorts (at LIKE 23 I was ‘going down’ with the pneumonia that kept me in bed for the next fortnight!), or maybe a tad dubious about the issue up for debate (what the heck is Human Library, and why should I care?!) – and in no time at all, you’ll be having a fascinating, illuminating evening.  And you probably won’t want it to end.

In truth, if you’re going to spend a night learning about Human Libraries, there can’t be anyone better to do it with than Linda Constable

Linda’s been working with Human Libraries for five years, and she told us how the Human Library is a forum for making connections, communicating differences and challenging ideas.  These events are best held in comfortable environments, with quiet corners for books and readers to talk – and with a few ground rules agreed:  books and their readers need to maintain a relationship of respect, books can refuse to answer questions they don’t feel comfortable with, they should be’ returned’ in the same condition as they were when’ taken out’ and the period of the loan depends on how many borrowers are waiting their turn.
Human Libraries are often used as a means to help bridge cultural gaps – getting people talking and listening to those they wouldn’t normally come into contact with.

There are a nice couple of sentences on the Human Library website:  “One of the great features of the Human Library and taking out a book, is that there are no such things as stupid questions.  Books have been prepared and made themselves available, in order for you to be able to dig deep and find out what you always wanted to know about the book title.”

Not sure how prepared the LIKE books felt, but Linda made things easy for us by guiding us through the process of writing titles and descriptions on sheets of paper.  These enticing “covers” also acted as booking slips, so readers wishing to explore the subject could book a loan with the book.

There was an impressive range of topics including:
Comics for Adults, Online Gaming, Multicultural Britain, Gardening, Running a Marathon, English Non-conformism, a Guide to Hackney, a Rough Guide to Italy, Flamenco Dancing…..

Linda was adept at pairing readers with books and orchestrating the loans- which was great, as everyone else was so deep in conversation they seemed scarcely aware of time passing.  I got very involved in discussing Knowledge Management with a LIKE member who’d flown down from Edinburgh for the event, and by the time we were joined by another LIKEer, and were delving deeper into ways of making knowledge work, it was almost time for dinner – but it felt as though we’d only sat down to talk a few minutes earlier.

It was good to catch up with others over dinner, and hear about what they’d been “reading”.  And it was interesting to think about the applications of such a format in business environments.  An evening that had started with insights from someone who works a lot in communities – helping people to benefit from sharing their life’s experiences with strangers – ended with discussions about how useful Human Libraries could be as vehicles for business knowledge sharing.

April 25, 2011

Mobile Information. LIKE 23

Filed under: Communication, LIKE — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 3:46 pm

On the last evening of March Mark Needham – the far-sighted founder of Widget (UK) Ltd - presented us with information at the speed of LIKE ;-)

Just a few days before we welcomed the 500th person to join the London Information & Knowledge Exchange, it was especially appropriate that one of our newest expert members should give us a lightening review of the evolution of ‘pocket computers’.

Mark told us how a Starship hero in “The Mote in God’s Eye” had used a pocket computer in 1974, long before they were available to us in this tasty world.  By the 1980s you didn’t need so much imagination to see the future coming.  Mark was then working at Psion and their Organiser 1 . was a revolutionary device.  Its 2k of RAM and 8k or 16k memory cards may seem puny now but, Mark told us, the evolutionary line from Psion to Smartphone is clear.  And the great inventions – microprocessors, the worldwide web and wireless networks – that enable us all to carry pocket computers have been around for over two decades.

Mark compared the delay between the emergence of such innovations, and public uptake of them, to the time lapse between the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century and the mass production of the Model T Ford in the 1920s.  And, just as cars have remained basically recognisable for the past century, handheld computers are likely to undergo lots of minor improvements, but remain consistently familiar to us.  It may become common practice for us to use our phones for video calls and to make movies – but Mark’s iPhone will still carry the data he’s been transferring to each new device since he first saved it to his Organiser 30 years ago.

Henry Ford, with his vision of consumerism as the key to world peace, would probably have been delighted by the ubiquitous Smartphone and, maybe, even more chuffed that its development is so obviously being driven by user demand.

Andrew Swaine, another expert member of LIKE, runs knowledge sharing and internal communications at ARM 

Andrew explained the powerful influence Smartphone users were having on the evolution of his industry.  The focus used to be on how fast a computer was, now it’s all about power consumption: pocket computers need to run for an entire day (his Smartphone works for 10 hours, but his laptop battery lasts for 2 hours!).  And although battery technology isn’t progressing very fast, people are writing programmes taking into account not only how fast they are, but how much power they consume.

Speed of performance is high on Users list of must-haves too, so Andrew foresaw a pretty rapid evolution from multi-core (lots of phones are now dual core) to many-core.

And platforms are being consolidated – impatient users will demand a single working environment across all platforms.  Andrew hoped one day to be able to plug his iPhone into a docking station, as he currently does his laptop.

There’s lots of change happening in his industry, not least because it was taken rather by surprise at the big deal applications on phones became – in such a short time.  The web wasn’t really ready for it.  Andrew reckons that we’ll end up using web applications a lot more, to overcome carrier and storage issues, and improve user experience.

Users rule!  When, as is the case, the interactive experience is more important than the underlying hardware – anything that irritates a user is “officially” a bug (music to the ears of anyone who has worked with uncompromising, unempathic Developers :-))!   If you’ve lost data because you didn’t save a document, you are not a stupid user – the interface is wrong.  So on mobile phones and tablets, you don’t need to remember to save stuff.

Andrew said it wasn’t because there’s anything special about mobile:  it’s just that at this period of change in the industry it has been possible to change underlying assumptions about user behaviour quite rapidly.

After the inevitable comparisons of what mobile devices we all had on us (to my perverse delight – it’s not like I don’t know how desirable Apple stuff is – we HTC users seemed to outnumber the iPhoners, and lots of us had business Blackberries) we got down to a pre-dinner exercise. Groups around different tables were asked to identify the kinds of information different professionals need to access via their pocket computers, and the barriers to doing so.

Requirements included:

Office documents, contact details, schedules, spreadsheets etc, legal information, research papers, reference sites, Hansard (for MPs), news reports, business systems, audio and video, sites for the co-ordination of activities (in case of Aid Agencies), lesson plans and registers (in the case of Teachers)

And among the Constraints were:

Tiny screens, the need for the device to be as effective at ‘ input’ as it is at ‘consumption’ of data, lack of single sign-on, lack of  voice recognition, unreliable infrastructure, employer policies, information management issues such as document versioning control and lack of confidence in data security – eg of cloud hosting under US regulatory system.

Well, Ford cars may not be the most inspiring of analogies, but the Maserati brothers  started creating their steel symphonies just a couple of decades after Henry’s Model T first came out – and look where that’s led in a relatively short time!  It surely won’t be long before our pocket computers can do all the stuff we want and need them to do.  Probably rather stylishly.

Talking of innovative chaps, my wonderful husband has just ordered me a Kindle.  On the basis that “you’ve always got your nose in a book, might as well have a lightweight collection to carry around”.  Among my first downloads will be a chapter or two of Mark Needham’s new eBook “66 Famous Plots Updated with Modern Technology”   Apparently it all started with Bill Proud’s tweet from Anna Karenina……

February 27, 2011

Real Knowledge Management – LIKE 22

Filed under: Knowledge Management — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 5:50 pm

For February’s LIKE we wanted to explore what Knowledge Management really is.

There are so many books and academic papers devoted to the discipline, so many definitions and declarations of its rise/demise/resurgence…… that we thought it’d be refreshing to look at KM from the perspective of practitioners.  You know – people who really do it, in real jobs, in real organisations :-)

It was a popular decision: the upstairs room at the Crown Tavern was packed, and the four LIKE members who delivered speed presentations on KM were compelling speakers.

Matt Walsh is Knowledge Manager at the Medical Defence Union.  He’s been working in knowledge management for around 7 years, and knows about the challenges and practicalities of making it work.

His organisation has adopted five key principles – they were originally developed to guide a specific intranet project, but were so well received that they’re applied for all aspects of organisational knowledge management now:

  1. All users must be able to add content and use content in any system. (Matt told us that when they started on the journey, 5 years ago, they were confronted with folders with names such as “Bob’s stuff”, and information was widely duplicated across the organisation).
  2. Everyone has to share collective responsibility for information, and for putting it into the systems. They must share their knowledge and take it forward.  (Matt’s been working with people to help them take ownership of information and develop the confidence to say “this is in the wrong place – it should be moved to somewhere more intuitive”)
  3. Information should be shared wherever possible.  (Matt spends much of his time dispelling the belief that “knowledge is power” by negotiation with people and getting them to exchange knowledge with their colleagues.  Demonstrating that shared knowledge is ultimately more powerful than small islands of know-how)
  4. Information must be current and accurate.  The organisation is interested in using their qualitative information, or business intelligence, to inform their decision-making: connecting current knowledge with the people who need it, when they need it.
  5. Information should be easily retrieved. (The MDU has found taxonomies and ontologies are important in achieving this)

Linda Woodcraft has the challenging role of Global Portal Content Manager at Hay Group.

She told us that selling KM as a stand-alone proposition is incredibly difficult to consultants whose primary concerns are selling and billing, not sharing best practice.  Particularly so, as the Hay Group has no CIO or CKO, and KM is not endorsed or advocated at a senior level.

Linda’s tiny global team of 4 KM professionals have to take a covert approach.  They’ve developed a tool for ‘project summaries’ – when a project worth more than $50,000 is recorded, project managers are sent an automated form which they must complete before the project can be closed and the billing credit activated.  The story behind the project can then be shared on Hay Group’s portal, and consultants working with a similar client or sector can benefit from the experience and use an already-invented wheel.

To connect the knowledge-poor with the knowledge-rich in their global firm, there is another tool – “Ask the Experts”.  Questions are submitted through the portal and the KM team direct them to relevant experts.  The responses, and any supporting documents, are collated and published on the portal – tagged with a rich range of metadata so they can be easily found.  Some expert groups are less responsive than others, but the tool has proved very successful and the team receive up to 40 responses a week.  They’re developing an extensive knowledge base, and are planning to enhance its value by adding discussion forums.

Linda explained that the Q&A tool illustrated an important aspect of Knowledge Management – connecting people with content (news, documents, tools, methodologies) is important, but connecting people with the right people is key to successful knowledge sharing.

She identified another trend that showed the important role of the Gatekeeper: a move away from unmanaged collaboration areas to team/project sites which use the standards, taxonomies and guidelines her KM team have put in place through their global portal.

James Andrews The Knowledge and Information Management Officer for the British Red Cross began his speed presentation with a couple of quotes on what Knowledge Management is about: “Helping people to work better together”,  from Chris Collison. And from Dave Snowden “Helping to drive organisational improvements and better decision making based on past experiences and better understanding and appreciation of our current situation”

James told us that the British Red Cross KM strategy is focused on People Processes and Technology – they advocate the provision of technology, and of KM tools and techniques, to support activities wherever they occur in the organisation.

‘People’ encompasses social media, collaboration, loose networks, unstructured data etc (the unordered side of Cynefin framework )

‘Process’ includes records management, information management, approval flows, structured data, HR systems, Finance systems, CRM etc (the ordered side of Cynefin framework)

These elements of the KM strategy are supported by a platform of technology and techniques.  This approach emerged from the organisation’s overseas work – the experiences of their international divisions in a number of the programmes and emergency responses they’ve been involved in: reviewing the programmes and identifying improvements to be made around knowledge sharing and the coordination of their work.

They’ve developed a new programme for information management – starting with their people:  finding out how they work, the similarities and differences between different teams, what works well, what doesn’t, how things can be improved. Having gathered that information, they applied it to the processes, tools and procedures for programme development and delivery. They then identified suppliers of the technologies that would help them.  SharePoint 2010 has been chosen to deliver new standardised procedures, linking with key corporate systems such as HR and Finance, allowing global collaborative working and enabling access in high and low bandwidth areas using a specially designed interface  It’s currently being developed using the Agile approach.

Katharine Schopflin is the Head of Information Management at the House of Commons and Head of Information and Knowledge Management at the Houses of Parliament.

She told us she’d first come across the term “Knowledge Management” about 14 years ago, and was completely sceptical – KM systems seemed to be just databases, and Knowledge Management seemed simply to be what information professionals had been doing for ages.  Her scepticism wasn’t alleviated by the knowledge that the BBC had a ‘Head of Knowledge Management’, who had nothing to do with information or archives, but worked in the internal communications department.

Nowadays she’s an advocate of Knowledge Management and feels it’s important to define it: “If we can’t define it, how can we justify it – and how can we justify our role in delivering it.  We need people to understand it’s a profession, and to prove its not, as I once thought, just a gimmick but a way of making organisations work better.”

The definition is challenging, however, because at one end of the KM spectrum you can have mandated organisational processes – for every operation and project you do, you note down your method and what you’ve learned.  But on the other hand you can have unstructured staff events and discussion forums and that’s knowledge management too.  Katharine said that in theory she manages a department that does things in a structured way, but in practice they often find that it’s the less structured approaches that work better.

Katherine took up the challenge of defining KM:

“If Information Management is ensuring useful information can be found again in a logical place.  KM aims to do that with knowledge that has not been expressed or written down but is held in the heads and capabilities and skills of the workforce”.

The four speakers sparked an animated debate – groups of five or more LIKE members gathered around their tables to continue the discussion of what KM is.  Matthew Rees had the unenviable task of calling the room to order and asking for summaries from spokespeople.

A number of discussions focused on the differences in organisational cultures, and how “KM-ready” they might be. Some people felt that many organisations get stuck at the information management stage, finding it too challenging to move on to knowledge management, or actually believing that they’re doing KM with their databases.  Others considered the many barriers to knowledge management – people have other things to do, there are prejudices against KM, there can be paranoia about sharing knowledge and thereby losing influence, lack of desire or will to be bothered with KM….. but at the same time, many organisations are recognising the strategic angle of KM, and seeing that they need to do something about managing their knowledge.

There was talk about the valuable knowledge of people who’ve worked in an organisation for years, and the risk of losing that expertise – KM helps ameliorate the risk by connecting others with that person and by helping them to make their knowledge more public.

Another table asked how much it mattered if an organisation lost knowledge in that way.  For some evolving businesses, the loss may not have too much impact, but for an organisation such as the British Library, where focus is on the long-term, it probably is important to capture it.

There were debates about KM’s value in informing business decisions, and stopping the continuous ‘reinvention of the wheel’, and there was quite a lot of chat about enabling informal knowledge-exchange (I’m sure someone mentioned the effectiveness of KM down the pub!)

It was generally felt that social media was tailor-made for KM, and there was a realistic debate about the challenges of tagging content with meaningful metadata.

There was no single answer to the question “What is Knowledge Management?, but underlying the variety of opinions and interpretations was a belief in its constructive role in building businesses and informing business decisions.

I think the late Lew Platt has been so frequently quoted over the past couple of decades (“If only HP knew what it knows it would make three times more profit tomorrow”) because he was right.

I remember working with an insightful CEO who also understood what Knowledge Management could achieve. When she took over a recently merged group of companies, her brief to the knowledge management team was to “create the culture” of the business.  Using the intranet as a central collaboration platform, and a network of local knowledge managers as “match-makers”, the barriers of discipline, geography and habit were gently dismantled.  Not an easy process, but achievable because the leadership made knowledge management central to the success of the business.  Everyone was responsible for knowledge-sharing, and all managers were accountable for their teams’ contribution to the organisation’s growing knowledge assets.

That company wasn’t too different from most of the organisations I’ve worked with.  There were the inevitable “black holes” – where knowledge and useful business information went in, but nothing came out.  Often, at the centre of these black holes was just one individual, whose reasoning were variations on one of the themes identified during our LIKE discussion.  Maybe you’ll recognise them:

The “I’m too important and busy” person: often a member of the leadership team.  They never had the time – always rushing to a meeting, dashing for a train or plane, too busy to do anything they didn’t want to do.  Sometimes their lack of input was underpinned by a belief that their knowledge really was their power, and to give that up too readily would somehow emasculate them.

The “I have people to do that” person: often a manager with an impressive title such as “Head of….” or “Director of….”.  Sometimes their belief that managers delegate rather than do was accompanied by a conviction that attending courses or workshops – where they might learn how to manage a team or how to lead by example – were also activities they were exempted from.

The “They can’t mean me” person.  The motive for this notion could stem from a number of beliefs – different for each individual.  There were the old hands who’d been in the same, relatively junior, role for some time, and believed they had little knowledge of worth to contribute to the organisation.  There were those who were new to the organisation and felt they had much to learn before they could share what they already knew.  There were the “fast track” graduates who focused on their career and the benefits they could accrue from the organisation, rather than the contribution they could make to it.  And there were the poorly-managed, highly skilled, people whose confidence had been so diminished by their daily experiences they doubted anyone would be interested in what they had to share.

It’s a pity, but we don’t see too many of those people at LIKE events.

February 6, 2011

Getting to Grips with Information Governance -LIKE 21

Filed under: Information Management, Knowledge Networking — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 3:17 pm

There’s plenty of discussion about Corporate Governance, but Information Governance isn’t a topic you come across so often. Gartner’s been talking about it for a while, but as “Information” has so many meanings to different people and organisations, discussions around defining governance frameworks for it are relatively rare.

Fortunately, LIKE loves to tackle such subjects.  We invariably take a very practical approach – asking “what is it?”, “why should we care about it?”, “how important is it to the future of my business?”……   Sometimes, when we’ve stripped away the impenetrable business, or academic, terminology that shrouds the subject – you’ll hear comments such as “Oh, that’s what it’s called!  Been doing it for ages….”   And then we have to remind each other – “common sense” for one person is new learning for another (and the “common sense” we’re alluding to almost certainly started as new learning for the cognoscenti).

Hanna Kazerani is a woman of uncommon sense, and she was an excellent practical guide to the topic of Information Governance.

Her varied career has focused on information – whether as a journalist or parliamentary speech writer, or as a consultant with Andersen, TFPL or The Content Group.

When with Andersen, she spent a year in Silicon Valley running a sandbox for big multi-nationals, exploring the ways information technology could help their businesses.  She realised that, although these organisations were buying lots of applications, they weren’t very clear on how to use them or connect them with each other.  Their business information had no business intelligence applied.

At TFPL she set up a content management practice and started to audit information for clients such as the Inland Revenue. Invariably she found her clients’ information affairs were in a mess.  The Revenue had millions of internet and intranet pages – and much of the content was out of date and unhelpful.

Since then she’s been on a mission to inform her clients on how to cost-effectively store information and how to manage it.

Recently she ploughed her way through a utility company’s unstructured store of 45 million documents (around 20 terabytes).  Of those 45 million documents 32 million were duplicates. Her recommendations saved them more than £1million in storage costs.

Hanna set the LIKE group a challenge – to work on two scenarios in small groups and come up with some answers:

Scenario 1 was “You’re an information manager in a company with around 2,000 employees.  Your task is to rationalise the disparate information policies (where they exist) and draw together a framework.  What are the top 8 elements, or chapter headings, of your draft framework?

Scenario 2 focused on an organisational implementation of SharePoint: “You’re an information Manager preparing for your first meeting with your IT colleagues about SharePoint – what issues will you raise?  How will you ensure a successful long-term relationship with your IT colleagues?

After ten or fifteen minutes of intense debate, LIKE’s members had come up with lots of practical answers to Hanna’s questions.

The teams working on the draft information governance framework had identified these priorities:

  • Conduct a knowledge and information audit
  • Investigate current data policies
  • Analyse current information lifecycles, and get an understanding of the landscape of information ownership
  • Consider issues such as data security
  • Define what information means within the organisation
  • Look at current taxonomies and classification
  • Identify the thought leaders in the organisation, and get a clear picture of responsibilities at board and leadership level
  • Implement training – so that everyone is clear about their role in information governanc

Those who were focused on the SharePoint scenario had plenty of suggestions for issues to discuss with their IT colleagues and strategies for ensuring good relations.  These included:

  • Identifying the full range of responsibilities and sharing them fairly between the Information and the IT teams
  • Explaining business requirements clearly, and making sure you understand IT’s perspective
  • Ensuring regular communication and cross-discipline collaboration
  • Agreeing an approach that satisfies both parties
  • Discuss things over a pint!

There was general agreement that information governance was the responsibility of everyone in an organisation – not simply the domain of the IT department.  Vendors love to call their applications “solutions” (just as they like to name the unfathomable verbiage that accompanies their software “help files”), but most KIM professionals and honest CIOs know that the application is only an element of the solution.

Knowledge Managers are accustomed to repeating the mantra “people, process and technology together” when explaining the impact a new implementation will have on a business.  Actually, Knowledge Managers do a wide range of things to help organisations thrive, and although the terms KM, Knowledge Management, or KIM, Knowledge and Information Management are well known, what KM and KIM professionals actually do isn’t common knowledge.

At the end of this month LIKE will be hacking through the undergrowth of jargon and misconception to throw some light on what Knowledge Management really is about.  I’d invite you along, but we’re already fully booked……  You’ll have to revisit this blog to hear how it went :-)

December 4, 2010

Networking with Santa (LIKE 20)

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 9:40 pm

It might seem odd that November’s LIKE focussed on networking.

We’re a pretty successful network, after all: each month the events are booked to capacity, and everyone gets along like old pals – even if they’ve only just met!

Lots of people who come to our events say how relaxed and welcoming they feel.  That is SO good to hear, because that’s what we set out to create – an open, relaxed and welcoming forum in which professionals could get together, learn from each other and enjoy one another’s’ company.

But LIKE 20 wasn’t about networking at LIKE.  It was – well, here’s the billing for the evening:

Lesley Robinson has never applied for a job in her illustrious working life. All of her roles – from running the specialist recruitment agency, TFPL, to running KPMG’s transformation programme and consulting for lots of big city firms – have been acquired by recommendation. Her career is a testimony to the power of effective networking, and she’s going to help us get really good at it!

We know (Jennifer, Marja and me) – because it happens to us – that there are many types of networking events and opportunities,  and at many of them you find yourself standing with a glass in one hand and a canapé in the other looking around at a room full of strangers.  You might be lucky enough to spot a familiar face, but even if you do, you can’t latch on to that person for the entire evening – you’re there to network!  So, how to do it?

That’s where the expert advice of an expert networker such as Lesley comes in useful.  She was brilliant – commanding the attention of the packed upstairs room at The Crown with a near whisper (not done for effect – the consequence of a cold!).  She explained how your attitude and expectations will dictate your experience of networking (if your approach is not “what can these people do for me?”, but “how can I help the people I meet?” your experience will be far more successful and satisfying).  She showed us how to, winningly, insinuate ourselves into a conversing group of strangers.  And her tips on demeanour had us all standing more upright and holding our heads higher.  When we had a go at the practical exercises – of introducing ourselves, finding common ground with someone else, and moving on to repeat the ice-breaking with yet another person – not one of us mumbled or stumbled or headed for a corner to hide…..

Richard Nelsson’s blog post about the evening is worth reading, and he has a link there to Lesley’s 10 top tips for effective networking.

LIKE 20 ended with the promised ‘networking with Santa’.  Folk were a bit distracted by then as the buffet and another round of drinks had arrived – but some Xmas cards were swapped.  The cards contained promises of “gifts” of knowledge to be exchanged.  I’m really looking forward to unwrapping mine – in return for some help with KM engagement strategies, Nikki West is going to share her knowledge of Records Management with me.   Can’t remember what Roger Farbey’s gift is to be – maybe a nice box of choc’s if you’re reading this Roger :-)

October 30, 2010

Making The King’s Fund Go Further

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 5:36 pm

LIKE 19 was as good as it promised to be.  The evening started with a relaxing drink with lots of lovely LIKE folk, and a quote from Louis Pasteur – “chance favors the prepared mind” – from our main speaker of the night, Ray Phillips.

Ray is the Head of Information Services at The King’s Fund, and has around 20 years’ experience in information work.  Before he got to The King’s Fund, he’d developed a certain wariness of vendors: he had wanted to upgrade a health service library system, been assured it would cost maybe £2,000-£3,000, and then been told by a smiling salesman that it would, in fact, be 4 or 5 times that much!  The guy even had the audacity to say “It does look a bit like we’ve got you by the balls, doesn’t it?”.

At The King’s Fund they needed more from their Unicorn library system than it was delivering.  They wanted to get away from using a fixed server  (stuck under a long-suffering member of the IT team’s desk) – maybe using Cloud . They needed modern functionality and user interfaces.  They wanted to integrate their library system with other services such as a new customer relation management system, and a proposed eLearning platform.  They wanted to be able to do seamless searches across the King’s Fund Website, and take advantage of RDF categorisation.  Not a wildly ambitious wish-list, but cost definitely was an issue.

Matthew Hale, the Online Services Librarian at The King’s Fund presented Ray with a paper that he and his talented team had put together.  In it they laid out the issues, options and opportunities.

Koha looked attractive – for a number of reasons.  Its flexibility was one. The opportunities it would offer to Matt and his team to stretch their talents was another.  The notion that they could use a company they already had a relationship with – PTFS Europe to help train and support them was a third.  The fact that the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital had created a viable library from scratch, using Koha, was yet another. And the promise of a system that would engage The King’s Fund team’s brainpower, but wouldn’t burn through their budget was a very convincing fifth!

In fact, when the Director of Finance realised how much they could save by moving to open source things moved very quickly.  The decision to go with Koha was made in October 2009, work began in December and in January 2010 the system was up and running.

They love it! They’ve saved money; improved efficiency; got the integration they wanted and have a growing UK usership.  Of course it’s not all plain sailing – what system is?  But they’re confident that they have the talent and the (affordable) support to deal with any issues that arise.

Message to smug, high-cost vendors: when you tell a client you have them by the balls, be sure yours are protected by a metaphorical cricket box – you might just have ‘incentivised’ them to kick you.

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