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The Information Revolution: Knowledge Management
Thanks to the Internet, immense amounts of information
on any topic are just a click away. That’s the first stage of the
information revolution. In the second stage we are learning how to
organize the information, first with powerful and intelligent search
engines, and more recently with targeted E-mail newsletters.
Nevertheless, the information that workers need to use in a particular
company is usually not accessible at the click of a button. That
resides in file cabinets, on individual computers, and in people’s
That’s why the third stage of the information revolution is going
to be something called Knowledge Management. And like the search
and the E-mail newsletters, Knowledge Management is destined to grow
into a lucrative profit center for its pioneers. Lotus Notes, the
software program that enables teams to simultaneously work on a
is an example of an early knowledge management tool.
Technology New Jersey is partnering with the Knowledge Management
Consortium International (KMCI), a Maryland-based group with 17,000
members worldwide, to help companies implement knowledge management.
"Knowledge management is where companies have to concentrate,
but it is still very new to a lot of companies," says Grace
Polhemus, TNJ’s director (E-mail: email@example.com).
"Knowledge has to be widely accessible, and that is very hard
for companies to do that are not used to sharing," says Polhemus.
"We’re so used to keeping secrets. The technology was there, but
companies needed to encourage people to empty their brains, their
files, and their computers onto the local network."
Companies starting this initiative should begin slowly, perhaps with
learning to use Lotus Notes or implementing a way to coordinate and
consolidate the E-mail. Some have created a new job title: Knowledge
Manager or Chief Knowledge Officer. Michael J. Burtha,
is executive director of Knowledge Networking for Johnson & Johnson.
Knowledge managers are starting to substantiate return on investment
(ROI), but as with any new idea tracing ROI is always difficult.
We naturally manage knowledge," says Edward C.
president of Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI),
the Maryland-based group working with Technology New Jersey. "We
humans have been doing it since the first tribes. Now we are trying
to figure out how to do it better for some advantage. If technology
is helping to increase the flow of knowledge, it can help us organize
it and help create more knowledge."
Swanstrom, a philosophy major at Park College in Kansas City (Class
of 1978) and formerly a practice leader for knowledge management for
Arthur D. Little, firmly believes that with efficient knowledge
corporations can more than double their pace of innovation, thus
profits. Cutting R&D time has obvious benefits for a pharmaceutical
firm, but it also would enhance the bottom line for consultants and
even for those in academe.
"Knowledge management applied to innovation will be the trend
for 2000," Swanstrom says. "At first data warehousing and
document management was talked about, but then we realized that using
knowledge management to become innovative was the payoff." His
developed a training course for your company that could be used
Look at the intellectual assets within your organization and, in
have a garage sale.
If you have five friends with advice on buying stock, which advice
would you choose and why?
managers use and devise a way of capturing that.
more knowledge . "The social network is the valuable asset,"
says Swanstrom. Determine who are the pollinators, people who can
travel between groups and introduce information, spawn ideas, or make
important introductions. "If I map that out in your organization
I’ll know more about where you’re getting your knowledge from than
what technology can tell me."
Take a good hard look at your most valued information sources: people.
"Even if you have the greatest Lotus Notes system in the world,
it doesn’t mean people are going to use it," Swanstrom says.
if you get the social network together, people will store the
because someone else needs it. Trust is the key."
economy, he predicts. People who were previously involved in
transactions will now become "value-added" members of the
Is knowledge management just the next fad? In the 1980s, for instance,
"quality circles" were a profit center for many training
Could knowledge management be just another way of getting corporations
to send people for training? "Not the way I approach it,"
says Swanstrom. "My background is innovation management. You go
after the lever points, the biggest bang for the bucks."
Too much information and no way to organize it —
millennium. In his best-seller "Business @ The Speed of
(Warner Books, 1999), he writes that "middle managers can be
by day-to-day problems and not have information they need to fix them.
They may have reams of data in front of them — literally reams
of paper reports — that are difficult to analyze or correlate
with data in other reports."
Gates thinks that a good digital nervous system — "with a
flow of specific, actionable information" — will empower
managers. "They should be seeing their sales numbers, expense
breakdowns, vendor and contractor costs, and the status of major
online, in a form that invites analysis as well as coordination with
in his prediction that conditions are finally ripe for a full-blown
technological revolution (U.S. 1, June 16, 1999). "A lot of
are striving to use technology but the problem is that historically
it’s been too expensive to deliver," he says. "Now it’s
Software applications are more powerful and are cost effective. Even
small businesses can use it to their competitive advantages."
first determine whether its problem pertains to software issues,
or hardware needs. "We’ll get into a company that says `I need
accounting software,’ and we’re hesitant to do that until we get into
a real sense of where the company is headed," Lubas says.
can do is make decisions without consulting the people whose lives
you’re affecting," Lubas says. "You want people to buy into
the concept, or a lot of times you end up with failed projects."
The earlier you get people involved in the transition to digital,
the better off you are, he says.
Age is essentially about converting human intelligence to artificial
intelligence. "The concept of `Business @ The Speed of Thought’
is to use technology that will replace what was usually done by human
thought," says Lubas (firstname.lastname@example.org).
<D>Kevin O’Sullivan of the Knowledge Company (U.S.
1, June 23, 1999) says to start with the basics:
information — information that is typically associated with
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 (E-mail:
initiatives around the world have failed because of a lack of
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
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
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
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."
"If you wait, you won’t be able to learn, you just have to
he says. "That’s if you’re around."
Social networks are indeed important, but
technology is still the coin of the corporate realm, says Michael
Charney, product manager at ServiceWare Inc. (formerly the Molloy
Group) in Parsippany (973-540-1212). Powerful intuitive computers,
the so-called "thinking computers," or "intelligent
have software that enables them to "learn." Companies that
use this technology are the ones that will survive in an era of
commerce, but right now they are expensive and available only to the
The new technology, called a "neural network," enables
to make sophisticated associations when dealing with a query. "If
you punch in the word `sun,’" Charney says, "you’ll also get
moon, and everything related to it." The process is organic; it
is about making connections, similar to the way in which the creative
human mind works.
Charney sees the new technology becoming an essential tool in
that rely on customer service and support. "Consumers are much
more empowered today," he says, pointing to how the Internet is
both guiding sales and providing customer support services. "If
you’re looking to make customers happier," he says, "an
technology is a way to do that."
A customer service representative dealing with a billing problem,
for example, would be able to tap into the collective experience of
anyone who has ever dealt with a similar problem and could retrieve
a sophisticated answer quickly. The advantages are obvious, says
"The website or telephone support center that allows me to do
my business quickly and efficiently," he says, "is the one
that’s going to get my business."
A medium-sized business may be able to afford a standard software
package that needs only a little tweaking to make it work. For now,
neural networks are too expensive for small businesses, says Charney,
but costs will inevitably come down. So all business people, whether
working for corporations or a mom and pop business, should start
ready to harness the neural networks. Prepare to undergo — not
just technological change — but also cultural change, he advises:
incentives to employees for careful documentation and sharing of
"There has always been a cultural bias towards knowledge
Charney says. "In the past, businesses and employees have been
territorial about knowledge. It was a competition thing."
software, you need to establish the integrity of the information
in place. "The effectiveness of the system depends on the ongoing
quality assurance process," Charney says.
better product, technical or sales support? Do they want it over the
telephone or on the web? Knowledge tools and software can be
on an enterprise-wide level, helping both employees and customers
in a variety of ways.
Inexpensive "knowledge enabling" technology
can help your business, says Ira Barkoe
Concepts in North Brunswick. He sells a CyberVista tool that for about
$2,000 can track your competitors’ advertising on the Internet and
download the data into an Excel spreadsheet. Another tool, for as
low as $50 per month, tracks your own advertising and documents when
your banner ads appear.
Similar tools, known as task agents, can report to contractors on
what state bids are available. Others use them to develop sales leads;
they capture the name from a media or trade publication web page and
deliver it back to the sales force. "It is a tremendous
for companies to take greater advantage of technology to help make
strategic decisions," says Barkoe, "and for the most part,
they are not doing it."
Here are some of his Knowledge Management solutions:
to monitor Web sites for new press releases, product announcements,
or price changes and inform key personnel automatically.
information on a regular basis from different sources to make more
monitor their websites and automatically restore them to a previous
state in the event of unauthorized changes.
or of customer service requests on particular accounts.
customers with special programs on overstocked items.
across the country and drop them into spreadsheets for quick analysis
veteran of the IT industry, points to other potential applications:
to monitor sites and/or chat rooms for negative comments about a
company — and to collect data during the early morning according
to detailed specifications and have it ready at 7 a.m. on executive
desks. "It makes so much sense on the cost basis alone," says
Barkoe (E-mail: email@example.com). "If it can
the cost in four or five months, people will be jumping all over
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