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Tap into the power of knowledge collaboration. (Customer Relationship Management).

It's no longer news that the "new economy" bubble has burst, but it's also clear that the Internet has irreversibly altered the world's competitive landscape. Whether you call it the "knowledge economy" or attach some other label to it, this new environment is defined by the way the Internet liberates knowledge in organizations by reducing the costs of storing and distributing data. This new economics of information" places increasing emphasis on the ways that companies employ information and is a fundamental tool in their struggles to compete and create value. For example, if you compare the valuation and balance sheets of the Fortune 500 today with 10 years ago, you will find that intangible assets (often another term for knowledge) play a significantly more important role than they ever did before.

To take full advantage of their intangible assets, companies are increasingly seeking out knowledge collaboration solutions that combine customer knowledge and widespread innovation in products and markets with sustained improvement of core capabilities and associated business processes, leading to the ultimate competitive advantage.

Knowledge collaboration is a strategic organizational approach that dynamically builds upon internal and external systems, business processes, technology and relationships (communities, customers, partners, suppliers) to maximize business performance. Knowledge collaboration demonstrates the extent to which a corporation has institutionalized processes for knowledge creation, capture, sharing and reuse as a fundamental means of creating value. These capabilities produce the greatest value when they are embedded in the fabric of an organization's culture, values, processes and reward systems, Corporations that want to succeed in the networked economy need to master knowledge collaboration.

Unfortunately, most knowledge workers engage in daily work processes that have not yet changed to reflect the imperatives and opportunities of the new environment. To remain competitive, organizations are turning to knowledge collaboration systems to develop new roles, structures, processes and systems for knowledge creation, capture and reuse. Large organizations have the most to gain from instituting knowledge collaboration programs, as they share best practices and competitive skill sets across previously siloed lines of business and departments, However, knowledge collaboration should not be confined within the walls of a single corporation. At its most effective, knowledge collaboration reaches out across the extended enterprise's web, maximizing partner channel revenues and supply chain efficiencies. Companies that successfully maximize their extended enterprise value webs follow an approach that dynamically builds upon internal and external communities, business processes, technology and customer relat ionships.

Like any new technology endeavor, strong leadership is crucial to the success of knowledge collaboration initiatives. The leadership -- both at the executive and in the-trenches levels -- creates the organizational structures and professionals that are necessary in developing companywide and departmental initiatives, Only when senior executives become and remain champions of knowledge collaboration can it spread quickly and continue to provide the enterprise with the greatest returns.

While buy-in and support from senior executives is key, knowledge sharing also needs to be nurtured by small internal groups led by people who have direct access to senior management. These small groups provide strategic direction, are detail-driven and regularly interact with all departments. Employees may be initially suspicious of knowledge collaboration initiatives, but as they begin to see internal innovators and leaders tapping into the power of knowledge management (KM) tools, they will be drawn to the system, and momentum for the system's use will build.

One of the key responsibilities of any KM team is to support the work of both internal and external communities of practice. Informal but powerful, internal communities of practice form the connective tissue of the internetworked company by gathering together experts and enthusiasts based on particular themes, functions or experience. Extra-corporate communities of practice can include partners, buyers, suppliers, customers and other members of the value web. Online communities, which were originally established as a means to make "Web sites stickier, have emerged as informal communities of practice and are now considered important strategic feedback tools.

Knowledge collaboration programs can prevent costly duplication of effort. While "knowing what you know" is not a new corporate priority, today's Web-based applications better enable companies to capture and share best practices by aggregating documents in various digital formats, funneling them to a single repository and categorizing them according to appropriate taxonomies. Best practices programs can yield significant returns.

Today's knowledge collaboration systems combine the latest Internet technologies with search and customization tools to aggregate qualitative and quantitative information. The most effective of these active systems take into consideration the likelihood or necessity of users interacting with and building upon knowledge bases. The most common categories of tools for knowledge collaboration are:

* Online knowledge databases,

* Portals,

* Web-based conferencing,

* Collaborative project spaces,

* Private exchanges, and

* Expertise profiling tools.

An online knowledge database provides the backbone for most knowledge sharing initiatives. Serving as the most readily accessible form of the "corporate memory," a company's knowledge database provides global employees with around-the-clock access to a wide range of information and experiences. This shared access to material -- which is best facilitated through secure Internet access from any computer or handheld device -- breaks down the walls between people who are working on related projects, issues or customers in different time zones and countries. Knowledge databases also help make it possible to reconstruct intellectual capital that has been lost as a result of employee turnover.

In general, a portal -- be it corporate, customer or b-to-b trading community -- provides a single entry point to all necessary disparate systems, applications and databases. Its interface presents a common experience for all users regardless of their activities and is highly customizable to each user's needs. For example, highly mobile sales employees often require anytime, anywhere access capabilities, whereas research and development professionals usually require tools that provide fast access to large quantities of detailed information.

Another tool for knowledge collaboration is Web-based conferencing. Web-based conferencing services enable employees to share documents and applications, to participate in video and teleconferences, to conduct live polls and surveys and to send instant messages and work on virtual whiteboards. These tools are most commonly used to work through presentations and to plan and forecast. Web-based conferencing is particularly useful for supply chain collaboration.

If not properly connected, geographically dispersed workforces impede time-to-market efforts. Collaborative project spaces cut through geographic discontinuity by providing shared access to documents, blueprints and threaded discussions for product and project development. Collaborative project space typically includes synchronous (real-time) functions such as real-time char, instant messaging and screen sharing, as well as asynchronous functions such as threaded discussion and document sharing.

Private exchanges are one-to-many marketplaces that connect a single company to its supply chain. Originally designed for commerce, private exchanges today serve as platforms for robust collaboration among all members of the supply chain. Private exchanges maximize efficiencies, from planning to fulfillment, by enhancing the transactional layer with personalization, Web conferencing and decision support.

In many companies it is difficult to find out who knows what. Employees waste time re-researching topics or making decisions that are not based on the company's best thinking. Expertise profiling tools catalog each employee's skills and experiences and enable other users to quickly identify the most knowledgeable person via a subject query. Users are also able to ask the system a specific question that is touted to those users who are most likely to know the answer. The question is sent via a Web browser and individuals reply directly.

Today there exists an array of tools and technologies that both use and amplify people's expertise, experience and judgment. While these tools are part of the foundation for knowledge collaboration, it should be stressed that knowledge collaboration is a dynamic process directly dependent on the company's culture, leadership and incentives. Our experience suggests that after complaining about the need for better tools for knowledge collaboration, many employee bases are often initially suspicious of knowledge collaboration efforts. However, as internal innovators and leaders start tapping into the power of their new set of tools, the "sneakernet," or word of mouth among employees, will make the success of your knowledge collaboration efforts gain an unstoppable momentum.

For information and subscriptions, visit or call 203-852-6800.

Warren Karlenzig leads the Knowledge Services Practice for Dimension Data. He is responsible for the company's strategy on knowledge management and collaboration-related engagements, including corporate/enterprise portals, Intranets Extranets, communities and collaboration systems. He was formerly the editor-in-chief and a founding editor of Knowledge Management magazine.
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Author:Karlenzig, Warren
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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