SME/PROFESSIONAL COUNSEL - Knowledge Management - It pays to know yourself. Much of an organisation's value is locked up in employees' heads.
Knowledge management has been attracting a great deal of publicity recently. With the realisation that too much of an organisation's value is usually locked up in the heads of its employees, even Tony Blair has 'caught the wave' by advocating the wider use of knowledge management within organisations and collaboratively across UK plc. After all, it makes sense to capture and share the knowledge and learn from the sometimes painful experiences of the people in your organisation, to break down the barriers between organisations, their departments and people.
But where should smaller businesses begin?
The examples usually cited may seem to be irrelevant because they generally involve large organisations, big budgets and lots of consultants. But knowledge management is relevant to smaller businesses, which may already be using the practices and principles without even realising it. For example, they may have regular internal meetings where they deliberately and consciously create opportunities for people to learn from each other, either by presentations or cross-functional problem-solving groups. They may have a 'best practice' book or database to which everyone can contribute, and from which everyone can learn - or a document that details who in the company has which skills and what experience. They may operate a mentoring programme to develop their people's abilities.
All of these are examples of how knowledge can be harnessed and disseminated easily, and can bring about a shift in culture from exclusive to shared information.
Modern IT, if structured to facilitate the sharing and exploitation of information and experience, can aid these processes greatly. Even a simple e-mail system allied to an intranet can do much to link geographically or organisationally distant individuals and groups. The addition of collaborative tools or databases, often termed 'groupware', can provide real insight across the organisation. They often come with templates, which can make it less of a chore to establish a working system.
Businesses that take this route should do so with the same business head they use when making any other major decision. Knowledge management is about trying to save money and to make money, rather than producing an organisation that 'knows' itself better. So it is worth keeping watch on all outputs and trying to find the few examples where real gains have been made. These can then be used to reinforce the whole process. If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a lot of it could be dangerously valuable.
Rob Wirszycz is marketing and strategy director of EDS UK 0181 535 3200.