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This article by Melinda Sherwood was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 23, 1999.
All rights reserved.
Companies In the Know
If companies are going to be ready for next millennium,
they better start spring cleaning now. Bring out the old files, unlock
old E-mails, and most of all, get your employees to communicate.
This is what Kevin O’Sullivan, CEO and president of the Knowledge
Company Inc., calls an "information audit" — a thorough
company-wide search for information "assets." "When you
look at most of the leaders, you see that they are mainly existing
on information," he says. "In the past the dilemma was finding
enough information, now the problem has shifted to identifying and
managing the nuggets of mission-critical knowledge among mountains
of meaningless noise."
That’s where knowledge management experts like O’Sullivan come in.
He helps companies recover and discover overlooked information assets,
and puts them in a form that can be used by everyone in the company.
As part of the New Jersey chapter of the Knowledge Management Consortium
International, O’Sullivan gives practical advice and offers strategies
for implementing "knowledge" in your company on Thursday,
June 24, at 4:30 p.m. at DeVry Institute. The seminar is free. Call
Technology New Jersey at 609-419-4444.
O’Sullivan earned his BS from Pacific Western University, Class of
1969, and went on to receive an MBA there. He is an honor graduate
of the Securities Institute, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania,
and a registered securities dealer. For the past three decades, he
has consulted for companies in over 25 countries. Other jobs include
managing principal for financial and insurance practice of Xerox Professional
Services and managing principal for Unisys Corporation’s Latin American
Management Consulting Practice. He was also first vice president for
money management for Smith Barney, Harris & Upham.
In the next few years, O’Sullivan explains, information will be considered
low-tech; knowledge will be its hi-tech offshoot. "Databases only
account for 1.5 percent of all the information in a firm," he
says. Not only that, he adds, most databases aren’t company-wide forums.
Where is the rest of a firm’s information? E-mails, letters, faxes,
voice-mails, video, and files, O’Sullivan says. While it’s crucial
to convert all of that into digital form, it only becomes "knowledge"
when it’s accessible and applicable in a more "human" way.
"You’re doing a search for information, you’re putting in keywords,
and when you find a list of all the things that hit. You then get
a summary of what is in the documents." Much like the way search
engines work on the web, he explain, but better.
Even the greatest software salesman of all time, Bill Gates, acknowledges
that knowledge management "is not a software product or a software
category." Rather, Gates writes in his new book, "Business
@ the Speed of Thought," knowledge management is a means to achieving
high corporate IQ — "a measure of how easily your company
can share information broadly and of how well people within your organization
can build on each other’s ideas."
Like any cutting edge techno-philosophy, knowledge management is also
somewhat controversial. Its basic premise — share information
— makes both employees and CEOs uneasy. First, explains O’Sullivan,
it runs counter to old-school territorialism. "Humans don’t like
to share," says O’Sullivan, "but knowledge is only good if
it is shared."
To many, this a direct threat to company security. If everyone is
plugged into the company’s "digital nervous system," then
the employees can take a lot with them when they go. On the other
hand, editing vital information could thwart decision-makers operating
on the assumption that all the information is there.
"The industry is divided on this question," says O’Sullivan.
Leaky buckets may not be a real threat to maintaining a competitive
advantage. "They basically have on the Internet all the information
about the Intel chip, but anyone who wants to use that information
would behind the marketplace," he points out. "Right now,
when you invent anything, it’s already obsolete."
"Investments in 1999 will be nominal compared to the outcome in
2001," he says. Start with the basics:
information — information that is typically associated with documents
and with the innate understanding and expertise of your employees.
— to enrich the assets. "Leave nothing out that will have
an impact in years ahead," says O’Sullivan.
<B>Customize the technology. "Most of technology
initiatives around the world have failed because of a lack of agreement
between technology and its users," says O’Sullivan. "The job
of any organization is to make sure the users are explaining what
they want, and make sure the technologists understand that. Banking,
manufacturing, retail and insurance all have unique ways of operating."
If no one in your firm is qualified to tailor-make "knowledge"
software, go to one of the big six consulting firms or work with a
local company with a strong reputation.
both figuratively and literally — on the web. "The wars will
be won or lost on relationships," says O’Sullivan, "on whether
or not you have a good name on the web."
their knowledge and draw from others’ knowledge more readily. "As
many firms have found, you can have a great system, but it’s no good
if nobody is going to use it," O’Sullivan says. Each time someone
invests or uses information, offer some kind of reward.
new, too old, too prominent or too obscure. "Technology is cheap
— I mean really cheap," says O’Sullivan. "If it goes down
more, it’s not going down much." The return on your investment most
likely will far outweigh the little amount of money you save by waiting
for a year."
If you don’t decide to implement knowledge management in your company
now, others will make the decision for you. "Eighty percent of
Fortune 500 firms are planning to implement knowledge management within
one year," says O’Sullivan. "In the near future, your company
will be expected to handle information much faster. The velocity of
things happening in the industry dictates rapid action."
By starting now you can really explore the assets your company holds.
"If you wait, you won’t be able to learn, you just have to implement,"
he says. "That’s if you’re around."
— Melinda Sherwood
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