Kevin O’Sullivan

Company Security

Corrections or additions?

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.

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Kevin O’Sullivan

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."

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Company Security

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:

Knowledge audit. Go beyond the database and look at unstructured

information — information that is typically associated with documents

and with the innate understanding and expertise of your employees.

Fill in the gaps. Figure out how to update that knowledge

— 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.

Leverage relationships. Link with other companies —

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."

Give incentives. This will encourage employees to divulge

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.

Don’t wait. Don’t put it off because your company is too

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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