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The Age of Knowledge Frontier or Fad?

Not so long ago, the Hudson Institute, an international public policy institute based in Minneapolis, Minn., that forecasts trends and developments, made it very clear where our complex 21st century society is heading. "In one year," it stated bluntly, "people now have to absorb an amount of information that took 100 years to absorb, 400 years ago."

The age of information overload is, it seems, truly here. Driving much of this "overload" is the revolution in technology, pushing an explosion in global markets, business "on the net" and the need to manage change.

So with a barrage of information coming from all sides, it's perhaps timely to ask: how best do we make use of it?

What we, as individuals and organisations, know and how we use it can make the difference between prospering or being left behind. Vague as it may seem now, managing knowledge is likely to be a major factor for future success: how knowledge is grown, shared and put into effect. Perhaps equally important: within this scenario, where do the communicators sit?

These were dilemmas put to panel of six experts from the United States and Europe on the issue of managing knowledge during a lively debate at a London hotel in February. The IABC Research Foundation had posed the idea of such a seminar by floating the theme "Communication's Role in Helping People Manage Knowledge."

Panel moderator David Kistle, ABC, IABC Foundation chairman, guided the discussion through the maze of a topic that still has to grab the attention of many people in business. Acronyms such as KM (knowledge management) carry to tag of "soft issue" talk of high-tech gurus, with little relevance for hard-nosed, budget-stretched business managers -- let alone communicators.

After three hours of discussion, it became clear that there were no simple answers. Yes, we instinctively feel knowledge is important. But what does it really mean? Is it insights, ideas, lore, lessons learnt, practices and experiences gained? And if it is, what's to be done with them?

One panel expert suggested that just as TQM (Total Quality Management) had a rough time becoming a part of the business mix, knowledge management faces a similar uphill slog to acceptability. Another compared KM to teenage sex: everybody thinks everybody else is doing it; when in reality, very few are doing it and hardly anybody's doing it well.

Whatever the image of KM, the experts agreed on one important point the potential is there for it to be a critical part of working practices and long-term commercial survival. What's more, communications do have a role.


What it is? What are the benefits to an organization in implementing it? How best to align with business objectives? What are the differences between North America and Europe?

Kistle: First, I'd like to explore what knowledge management is -- and what are some of its critical components.

Carrozzo: In my opinion it is simply the ability to locate knowledge when you need it so that you can leverage it. If you can't do that, knowledge may as well not exist.

Koskiniemi: Knowledge management is probably a poor term. It sounds like something happening to you instead of something you're doing. We prefer to call it knowledge sharing -- it is a behavioural change with people helping the organisation to use knowledge.

Oxbrow: I see it as a cultural shift -- from people's mindset engrained in the industrial economy, to moving toward the knowledge economy. It's the most important asset and you want to leverage it.

Kelleher: A succinct quote attributed to the former head of Hewlett-Packard was: "If only HP knew what HP knows, we'd be three times more productive." My favourite quote in this context is by Arthur C. Clark, the science writer, who said that "cave dwellers froze to death on beds of coal. It was all around them, but they couldn't see it, mine it or use it." And we're in danger of doing the same thing. In this new economy, if you can't turn an idea into a product quickly, you're dead.

Sage: Knowledge management is a critical element in e-business -- whether it's with us permanently or whether it fades out as it becomes embedded in our processes. It's incredibly important to become a successful player in the e-business economy.

Wilson: People are realizing that they have to do this. There is no way forward without it. If you don't leverage your knowledge, then you are not working as fast or as smart as you can be. I'd like to know if HP is really more profitable now.

Carrozzo: One of the reasons it's so important in the new economy is that technology is ceasing to be a differentiating factor. You come up with something today and tomorrow that technology is available to everyone. So the only thing that really matters, or is becoming more important, is the intellectual capital that you have and the speed at which you can turn ideas into real life stuff.

Kistle: Are there some other tangible benefits to businesses implementing a knowledge management initiative?

Sage: Survival could be a tangible benefit. If you don't do this type of stuff, you're going to be eaten by a faster and more agile competitor who does.

Wilson: People are realizing businesses are too clunky. If you can stop people duplicating the effort, then you're going to be a faster, more responsive work force.

Oxbrow: One of the benefits is being able to create new knowledge more effectively. It's about being more innovative rather than just moving knowledge around. So the creativity within the organisation goes up if you are successful.

Kelleher: It's also about getting rid of old knowledge. And the personalised portal such as My Yahoo, where you can choose what kind of content is served up, is good information management in action. Now translate that into an organisation like Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Some 150,000 employees will get served up on their desktop computers only what they need, and their speed of response to clients will go up enormously. If you can stick this information on the intranet, update and in real time get it around your organisation, then you're already getting very tangible benefits -- and we're targeting huge cost savings from that.

Sage: You can't follow the line that this is for free. You can reduce costs, but there's a phase of investment and development that is substantial -- before you're achieving significant cost benefits.

Koskiniemi: We've seen it will take an organisation about three years to really get up to speed, so we're talking a long-term investment. We're talking about changes in attitudes and culture. So we can't look at knowledge management as its own little project in a vacuum. It needs to be part of other changes and processes that are part of the organisation.

Kistle: How can companies best align knowledge management initiatives with goals or business strategies?

Wilson: TQM [Total Quality Management] has become embedded in the way people work. People now take quality for granted. What your business wants to achieve is what your knowledge management program wants to achieve -- so companies should align them in that way.

Koskiniemi: But sometimes you can't program it to that extent -- to say, "well, if our knowledge management efforts don't deliver X, then it's a failure." The way to kill something is to measure it right away from day one. You're not really committed to that investment. With Buckman, in a few years we started seeing metrics that were changing, and when we backtracked, we said, "our knowledge management efforts have helped shape these numbers because we were changing other things at the same time."

Wilson: Buckman is a very responsive culture. It's all about language, diversity and culture. And that's where communication comes in.

Carrozzo: Someone asked last night at dinner: "where does knowledge management start?" And someone said: "with the chief executive." I agree with that. Employees are very adept at seeing when lip service is being given. If you work in an organisation where you're penalised for seeking out knowledge because it's perceived as an admission of failure or penalised for handing out knowledge in a knowledge-hoarding culture, then it's not going to work.

Kelleher: Knowledge management differs slightly from traditional communication in that there's a lot of ugly, unpleasant stuff that has to happen behind the scenes for it to work, certainly in larger organisations. You know, "content architecture" and "bandwidth," etc.... It's being able to sell to your senior executives both halves of that proposition that many organisations may find hard. They'll want to invest in the sexy stuff but they won't see the link.

Sage: But there's also some "horrible stuff' that has to happen ... on the HR side. If you re-engineer in this way, a library becomes virtual. People will need to be reskilled, perhaps some will be made redundant. So there's a change management, restructuring process.

Carrozzo: Within HP we have MBWA, Management by Wandering Around. Management actually comes around and looks at what's going on in the trenches. We have something called Next Bench, where we go over and share our ideas, products or services with colleagues and get their input. It's a culture where management has clearly demonstrated that this is important to them.

Oxbrow: The question was, how to align KM strategies to business strategies? The best way is to involve everybody because you're trying to change the whole culture. In so many organisations, you have functional silos that don't talk to each other. The only way you can actually get people to change is to move them away from their comfortable desks and get them involved in a much broader, far more wide-ranging activity.

Wilson: That's what you (Koskiniemi) did at Buckman, isn't it? A lot of people were forced to change.

Koskiniemi: There were several things we did. We opened up our forum, where everybody had access, like a bulletin board. We would look at who was participating in the forums every week. And on Thursday everybody made sure they were in the forum by noon. We also set up our knowledge transfer department. Its mission was to facilitate the process by developing the appropriate tools. And we looked for volunteers, people with the real fire for this stuff. We made them knowledge management functional leaders in their areas of expertise.

Kistle: In our own circles we've talked about the understanding and practice of knowledge management around the world. To what extent do you compare what's going on in North America with that in Europe? And is one more advanced than the other, or how has that evolved?

Kelleher: There are technical ways you can measure people's usage of a forum or you can see who's read a database or contributed to an intranet. But that is absolutely unacceptable in large parts of continental Europe and certainly also, in my limited experience, in Asia Pacific. That kind of assessment would be acceptable I guess in an Anglo-Saxon culture but would be an absolute invasion of privacy in other cultures.

Sage: In Germany, it's illegal to do that, to track data about usage, using one of the data tracking tools. But another point about American-versus-European culture comes down to how you use e-mail. An e-mail coming from the States is a one-liner: "why weren't you there?" Whereas in the U.K. it's more: "Hi, hope you're well. Why weren't you there? Regards." In France or Germany it's: "Good morning, how are you, how are things and how's your job going?" Right at the bottom it will say: "Well, I don't really want to ask this, but it might be interesting. Kind regards." It's very, very different. Two-line e-mail notes could be interpreted as insults.

Wilson: In the U.K., we will answer the phone rather than leave it on voice mail. We will respond to an e-mail quickly, but in detail. Whereas in the U.S., they receive so many more messages than we do. People are a lot more message hungry.

Koskiniemi: But mostly it's the latest joke.

Wilson: Well, that happens here too, A report run by the Institute of the Future and Pitney-Bowes said the average Fortune 500 worker sends and receives 201 messages a day in the U.S. That's voice mail, e-mail, faxes, everything. In the U.K. it's far less than that. So adapting your entire organisation to take these things into account is quite difficult.

Oxbrow: The States' companies are much more ready to adopt technologies. Whereas Europe has taken much more a cultural approach. And in the longer term, I think the European approach is probably better, because there's much more to KM than just technology. The area Americans do have a big advantage over us in is the area of risk. Risk is actually quite important to KM because if you're looking to people to bounce ideas around, share their knowledge, they have to be willing to take the risk of getting something wrong. And that is a culture shift that we need to make if we're going to take advantage of the knowledge economy.

Kelleher: A fundamental principle underlying the new economy is speed. And if you can't explore and develop new ideas in an environment where risk is an acceptable and even desirable ingredient in the mix, then you're not going to move fast enough. One of the big fears I have for Europe is that we'll go into committee and say, "Is this a good thing?"

Sage: We've been talking a lot about internal knowledge management. But if you look at the e-business models that are really exciting and generating revenue, they expand into the marketplace. They share knowledge across the corporate firewall to clients, and you're building knowledge together and sharing risk even more.

Oxbrow: As we move into the knowledge economy, we're moving into a much more complex environment of relationships and cooperation. And in Europe we do have more experience of managing complexity than in the States.

Kistle: Tony or Mark, do you want to comment about this comparison of technology and culture?

Carrozzo: If you work in Silicon Valley, the worst thing you can do is not to fail but not to try. People wear their failures like a badge of honor. Even CONNEX, the system I had developed for Hewlett-Packard, was a big experiment done not entirely with the support of management. But it was an experiment and one that's succeeded. The whole Nike "Just Do It" philosophy is something that in America really pushes us to try different things. If you're not failing, you're not trying.

Koskiniemi: You have to be careful that there isn't a preconception of how technology is going to make things different -- that's part of what's going on as well.

Carrozzo: Technology is just the enabler, it's not the end-all.

Wilson: The technology needs to be related to what the needs are. I've seen organisations that have rolled out what dominates in fancy technology because it looks like it's got all the right knobs and buttons. But actually it hasn't achieved what people need to do to make their work better or work smarter. There is a complexity here, that you have to manage a bit of chaos in this as well.

Kelleher: There was a comment made about making sure you get rid of old knowledge. I'm not sure I want to get rid of old knowledge. We've got a number of examples where somebody had a hobby and they used it to solve an industrial problem. Knowledge is knowledge. I'm not going to label it good or bad or whatever -- it's all in the application.

Kelleher: Before we leave the North America versus Europe thing, there are a couple of other issues we haven't touched on. A huge communication issue is language. I spent a lot of time working in Italy and the whole "wear your failure as a badge of honour" thing doesn't exist there. It's not unique to Italy, you see it all over Europe and it's even more exacerbated in Asia -- the whole teacher/apprentice type of model. The culture isn't based on 20-somethings becoming the new heroes, the new multimillionaires, the new billionaires. You still call your boss by his/her formal title, until you've gone through the succession and stepped into his or her shoes. And that's not going to change overnight.


What makes organisations successfully manage knowledge? What are the barriers to transfer of knowledge and best practices? How do you move from collection to connection?

Kistle: This is a really good segue into exploring the characteristics of organizations that do this very well -- and also looking at some of the barriers that prevent knowledge management from being successful.

Wilson: If it's something that sounds new and they don't understand it, then people at high levels of management will react in an adverse way. Another barrier is that if it's not going to show them instant returns they won't go with it. But your main barrier is going to be cultural -- people saying, "I don't have time to be a subject matter expert and have people phone me asking: how can you make this easier?" And that's where communicators come in. Communicators have to be able to get people to understand what this is, what's in it for them. I don't know if knowledge management professionals can be communicators or vice versa. But the communication discipline is critical in the moment of launching your knowledge management program.

Carrozzo: Another barrier is tradition--tradition being that time honoured, revered and staunchly defended way of doing things that prevents them from being done even better.

Koskiniemi: It it's not broken, don't fix it.

Sage: It boils down to traditional things about "what I know is what I'm worth, and they're not going to sack me because they know that, for instance, all the experience of working with our key clients is in me. And as long as I keep that, my job's safe." The last thing you do is to share things that you see as the key to your success.

Carrozzo: It's a knowledge-hoarding culture.

Oxbrow: One necessary characteristic is the leadership of the chief executive or senior executives. Unless you get that, you don't get a successful knowledge culture. If you look at the successful companies out there, most of them have a figurehead who is leading the charge. BP Amoco is often quoted as one of the leading companies. They went through drastic business process re-engineering and were forced to change. And if you look at some of the other companies that aren't doing it yet, they haven't been hurt enough to be forced to change.

Koskiniemi: There's no pain that they have to react to. We started off with a global forum for everybody. Then we realised that some parts of the organisation will use knowledge to any advantage they can. So you have to be very careful all your salespeople are nor going out and destroying your patent position on things. We developed a tech forum where confidential R&D conversations would go on and the field salespeople weren't going to be privy to those discussions. The next forum we created allowed people to feel comfortable conversing in Spanish or Portuguese. They didn't feel obligated to participate in English. It just bloomed.

Sage: If you look at the global content of the web as it stands today, something like 55 percent is still in English. But that's changing quite dramatically. There are different predictions, but the fairly conservative one is that by 2005, less than 40 percent of the content of the web will be in English. And it's likely to go down to 30 percent. So you've got 70 percent of what's out on the web and possibly on your corporate networks not in English. And it could be Chinese. Now, if you need to access that knowledge, you've got to have a means of doing it quickly and cheaply. So the whole potential of online dynamic language translation is that you have a button on your browser that says "translate." If you're not able to penetrate that vast body of knowledge because of language barriers, you're "blindfolded." We see language as a really important factor, as an important barrier to overcome to achieve proper knowledge sharing.

Carrozzo: I see three other barriers to knowledge sharing. Culture is one. CONNEX is a database of knowledge profiles available worldwide to all employees of Hewlett-Packard. I found certain cultures, for example Japan, are hesitant to make use of this without having been invited to. Another barrier is lack of perceived reward. "What do I get our of it if I share my knowledge? Do I get some kind of tangible reward? Is it part of my performance evaluation? Will management criticise me for helping someone else with their work instead of doing my own, or will that be something that's viewed positively?" So that's another barrier. The other barrier is infrastructure. Even in organisations where knowledge sharing is encouraged, is there the infrastructure to actually do that? But having that infrastructure doesn't guarantee knowledge sharing, any more than having a telephone encourages brilliant communication.

Kelleher: What are the things we see when companies are doing it well? You have to put real tools in place, real intranets or databases. Put world-class, multilingual search tools on top of them, support it with a taxonomy or a content architecture that makes what's served up to the person consistent. Back that up by culture change. Support it with networks of people available on the end of the phone. Using the CONNEX example, you can link up to the world expert. One well-known story in the KM World: BP Amoco had an oil wellhead fire, I think in Colombia, and had only one person at the time who could fix that. They linked him up by videoconference in Alaska and he did most of the work remotely. Chances are, before knowledge management came along, they mightn't even have known that person existed, let alone tapped into his expertise.

Sage: There's the point about rewarding people by how they contribute. You'll find they get wise to that and say, "Hey, if I load up these databases, every day I put 10 things in there, people will see I've contributed." But you've contributed a lot of junk. You're clogging up the network. It's not quantity but quality that is needed.

Koskiniemi: We took the top 10 percent of users of our system and said: "We want to give you the opportunity to help shape the direction of our organisation, and you're being invited to the strategic planning meeting." But we've also seen the flip side of change and saw a little spike in turnover in personnel because people said, "No, this is not what I'm in it for." And they'll go find another organisation where that is not going to be an issue, where they aren't going to be pushed to go public and share their ideas.

Carrozzo: One of the barriers to sharing knowledge is the fact that people tend to be rewarded on the basis of what they know, not for sharing what they know. And I think that needs to shift.

Sage: If your publication goes online and gives people for free your biggest asset, your knowledge nuggets that you sell by your magazine, what's the risk in that, and what's the risk of not doing it? This whole aspect of intellectual capital can become a very important differentiator for the future.

Wilson: It's an issue of ownership as well. If you feel the company is saying, "We own your knowledge, everything that's in your head," there's going to be resistance. This is where corporate communication comes in as well. An element the corporate communication department has in knowledge management is raising awareness of what it really is -- and that's at the base level. It has to be less exclusive than saying, "It's the top 10 in our company who need this."

Kelleher: It's definitely a communication challenge. One of the traditional ways of rallying the troops within a company has been to have a staff day once a year. But what about the person who joined the firm the following day? They're talking about an event he or she feels disenfranchised from. At least if you use your knowledge management tools sensibly, you can't replicate that experience, but you can capture some of the essence of it.

Sage: One thing we should draw out about best practices is the information overload factor -- how knowledge management can help make sense of the world's complexity. On our intranet, we've been saying to people surfing the web who may be new joiners: "If you need that, these are the web sites you ought to go to. This is your external data source we've put a global contract with. So if you're looking for that, this is where you find it. If you need other people's experiences pulled in, these are the sites you can use.

Oxbrow: Innovation and creativity is as important as the sharing and use. Very often the pace of life in companies doesn't give people the space to reflect. And there's some interesting work going on in enabling, particularly, people in the research areas to have time and permission to reflect on the information and knowledge around them -- and to create new knowledge. Gerry McGovern, who works for Neua, says information used to be like gold. If you kept it, it would appreciate in value. Now it's like milk. If you don't use it, it goes out of date and goes off. So what you've got to do is to keep generating new milk.

Carrozzo: Synergy happens where two minds coming together are greater than the sum of the parts. I know a researcher in Palo Alto who went into CONNEX and found someone in the U.K. who had been doing essentially the same research for the last few years, and started a dialog that continues to this day. It's exciting when minds come together like that, whether through some physical meeting place or a mechanism such as a database.

Oxbrow: There's some interesting work being done in using space. British Airways has a building by Heathrow that's built on a street, and the offices are on side streets. People can go into an oasis and reflect and meet. Everyone has a laptop connected to the network.

Carrozzo: We're not used to thinking of that as knowledge management. But that's where the real action happens, around the water cooler. One study shows that managers tend to get two-thirds of the information they need through meeting face-to-face with other people. Schmoozing is probably good for the whole process.

Sage: It boils down to something Tom Peters said some time ago, that "management is about emotion." KM is about emotion. If you try to rationalise it and make it too scientific and you don't have the cultural element, it won t work.

Kelleher: We've been able to show that through using KM tools, you can cut down the time in responding to an urgent proposal. Previously, it could take an average of six phone calls even to find the right person to mobilise a team.

Sage: The life cycles of ideas are getting shorter. The time we have to bring product to market is getting shorter. The time we have to respond to a proposal is getting shorter. There's no substitute for the people networks. But you have to back that up with reliable, automated tools. This is fundamental stuff. This is not a function that's nice to have. It is crucial to the way businesses and nonprofit organisations, such as government departments, will work.


Where does knowledge management sit in an organisation? Who should lead a KM initiative? What other rotes and skills are needed? What is the proper role for the communication function?

Kistle: Let's talk a little more about where knowledge management resides in the organisation. Who's on this team? How do they function and what is the role of the communicator?

Oxbrow: Perhaps it needs to reside with the chief executive. Then it needs a chief knowledge officer or whatever job title you'd like to give it. That person has to have a deep passion about knowledge sharing, mobilisation and creativity. Then that passionate leader builds a team that's got a wide range of skills. And the role of that team is very much selling the concepts of knowledge management, setting up guidelines, helping different parts of the business to develop their own initiatives. So there's a very strong communication element. Very often you'll find people who have PR, marketing communication, selling backgrounds, because these skills are needed. And alongside, you also obviously need the infrastructure skills and the IT skills.

Kelleher: We have a leadership team that almost exactly matches the kind of profile Nigel's talking about. There's someone in charge of global intranet and another develops our extranets -- (i.e., how we share our intellectual capital and share our knowledge with clients in safe web environments). We have somebody who looks after the whole content management side of things -- all the things you have to do to make content show up on a search engine or portal. She's also in charge of the risk management elements such as privacy, confidentiality, content ownership etc.

Increasingly, we've transitioned many of the news channels on the intranet over to our firm-wide internal communication people. And that's where it should reside -- that's where the firm as a whole needs to get messages out most quickly and effectively.

Sage: I've recently put together a job description for a knowledge management champion: someone with change management experience, creative thinking, client experience, knowledge of the business--a sort of visionary for new technology and the intranet. If you put your 25-year-old techie in front of your chief executive and they start talking about content architecture, you lose the opportunity to get across the right message.

Carrozzo: With CONNEX, it really struck a nerve. People popped up in various parts of the company around the world. They took it upon themselves to serve as champions for this system and saw entirely different ways of using it. So now it's used as a way of hooking up mentors with mentees. Others have used it to form communities of practice or as part of an employee development program to locate those willing to grant informational interviews.

Sage: Management experience and gray hair are good for that also. If you've done other things, you're going to get more credibility. It's not a sort of sub-30 job. It's something where if you've seen a bit before, failed a few times in your career, you're going to get listened to a lot more.

Wilson: This is where the communication department comes in. They have to present a credible visible phase of knowledge management. And they need to champion it, get people involved, and that takes communication skills. If you cant have a communicator as part of the team, then at least look to techniques that get this going.

Sage: A fundamental problem with KM is that you've got marketing or marketing communication, you've got HR, you've got IT all competing for resources. And they shouldn't be competing for resources. We need a completely different approach. Unless KM is embedded within HR, IT and Marketing, it's not going to work. The ISO 9000 approach became total quality management. If you've got total quality, you need to be measuring things like learning and education, customer satisfaction. And it's the same thing with KM.

Kelleher: I spoke at a conference on knowledge management where we were trying to develop people managing KM. I asked the audience: "How many of you do KM as your day job?" And probably half the hands went up. Then I said: "And how many of you think you've got a career path in KM?" And no hands went up.

Oxbrow: In the last few months we're seeing a recruitment market for KM appearing. A number of companies who have only just started thinking about it are looking for expertise.

Sage: You need someone commonly called the "harvester." They go around harassing people saying, "Before you disappear for the weekend, you've done a great job, sit down with me, make sure we get that up on the database, make sure it's consistent, that it matches what we need from you." And that role is crucial.

Koskiniemi: Do we make sure that time is available for that to happen?

Sage: I asked a French management consultant how you do this. Every two weeks the plan was to take consultants laptops away to check their hard disks to see if there was anything about an assignment that hadn't been shared. If there was, they wouldn't get their laptop back for another two weeks. People started to say this was crazy, they couldn't work like that. Then they started to see this was really advantageous. Because what each consultant put into the database helped them also. So then they started doing it.


How do you motivate employees to participate in knowledge management? How do you train these employees? How can organisations create and promote a knowledge-sharing culture?

Kistle: This whole discussion seems to start to focus on organisational culture and mindsets. How do you effectively promote this new cultural environment so people will grab on to it? How do you drive that culture?

Sage: It needs to be in your enterprise strategy and in your job description and valuation. Unless it's threaded right through the metrics in a proper way, it's not going to work.

Koskiniemi: You've got to make it part of the day that's not just from nine to five. We didn't start by limiting access to various parts of the CompuServe system we were using at the time. We encouraged people to go outside our forums, use the tools by checking out a site of interest for hobbies or maybe school work the kids were doing. It's giving that freedom, showing you trust them, and then working on those exceptions where there are abuses or excesses.

Kelleher: I don't want to pour cold water over this, but the only problem with "knowledge harvesting" is that you have to either do it in a mandatory, systematic way or not bother. If somebody goes in to search for the learning from an assignment and it's not there, they'll tell somebody else. It's the old principle that a dissatisfied customer will tell twice as many people as a satisfied customer. And that's my only qualm.

Oxbrow: The values of the organisation need to change and be very well communicated to the rest of the organisation. Research we did found that there was a set of skills and competences the whole work force needed to operate more effectively in a knowledge culture. We've dubbed this information literacy because it builds on computer literacy. This needs to be part of recruitment and training strategy so everyone in the organisation has those skills and competences -- and can participate in the knowledge-sharing environment.

Kelleher: We started on that kind of path, then e-business came along like a storm. And everybody seems to be doing e-business now. So somehow we need to bring those knowledge management principles and competencies into line with e-business learning.

Wilson: It involves taking a long-term look, not seeing this as a fad but as something that is business-critical. I don't know how you do it: embed it forever. It just happens. There needs to be a realisation that KM is not just about functioning e-business or just about communication. It's about helping your organisation change and be responsive to the future. KM is still a stand-alone thing that you need to promote within the organisation.

Sage: The fact is, KM is a difficult concept. That's one of the biggest challenges we have. It's not a helpful label for what we're doing.

Kelleher: We're all saying the right things, but embedding some of this stuff in organisations is the real challenge. We tried pioneering "digital storytelling" within our organisation. We were trying to convey some pretty complex stuff around KM. But the medium's success depended on the person communicating -- he had to be a good storyteller and know how to relate to the audience, how to be a communicator and be backed up by high quality visual aids.

Oxbrow: We're talking to a very large scientific research organisation that is trying to make their scientists aware of the importance of knowledge and the potential of sharing and knowledge creation. And then to give them the skills to be able to do their research better, which is what they are there for. The idea is to improve research output.

Sage: Maybe it is something as simple as how to use Explorer. We're finding that people have missed out on some of the basic skills that are crucial knowledge.

Carrozzo: When I joined IBM right out of university, they attached all new employees to a mentor, someone who could get us indoctrinated, help us learn. The Japanese do this as well. They don't leave that to anyone who just has the free time to bring up a younger employee. They assign the best, most knowledgeable people. Tacit knowledge is the hardest to codify; it's the person-to-person contact that still seems to be the best way any kind of knowledge gets transferred.


What are the standards for performance metrics: how do you measure success? Who's doing it best? What is the relationship between knowledge management and an organisation's bottom line?

Kistle: How do we measure what it is we're accomplishing? Are there standard metrics that are evolving or have evolved? What do you measure?

Koskiniemi: We measure a ton of stuff. But I warn against measuring knowledge management for its own sake, going back to the business results again and looking at what you're doing to impact your business more holistically. If we pulled everybody's computers and looked at what sections they are subscribed to, we would get an idea of how broadly sharing is being done.

Wilson: Measurement is something that knowledge management can learn about from the communication function. They've been forced to measure for the last few years. Effectiveness of the communication program is not measured on its hits. There are some really interesting models that are coming out of communication measurement that can be applied to knowledge management.

Kistle: When you look at how PR people in particular measured in the past, it's been how thick the pile of clippings might be. And we know that's not the way to do it.

Kelleher: Certainly in our organisation, we wouldn't get any investment dollars next fiscal year if we didn't come up with some hard measures. If we do an inventory of spending on external content around the world and we're able to recontract for that, then put it online, we're achieving savings. Look also at the analyses of how much of each day people spend looking for information. People in our corporate finance practice spend up to 60 percent of their time looking for information in some capacity. If you can cut that time down by 10 percent, that translates in time saved to millions of dollars a year.

Carrozzo: I've seen people paralysed by measuring and trying to quantify the Return On Investment before they make the next step. When I developed CONNEX, it seemed intuitively obvious that there was value in being able to have someone who spent two months working on a piece of code connect to someone who needed that code. I didn't think it necessary to spend $10 to count a box of toothpicks. The cost was negligible and it's essentially free. It takes me less than 15 minutes of my time per week to administer a system like that. Every day I get responses saying, "Thanks, I've found who I was looking for." I can count and measure, but it seems pointless.

Koskiniemi: It's almost like speed diving. You get style points, but you've got to get there fast and first. The race still goes to the swiftest if you've got the right answer. And that's what we want to do: to get to the customer the quickest with the most complete answers. It has to go back to your basic strategic intent as an organization and driving your KM efforts to deliver on those issues.


What does the future hold for knowledge management? Is KM the issue du jour or is it here to stay?

Kistle: Coming close to the end would be as good a time as any to talk about the future. What do you think lies ahead for knowledge management? Is it faddish or here to stay? How do you see it evolving?

Sage: I think the name is a bit faddish, but KM is here to stay. It's fundamental to the way we're going to do business, not only in a business environment, but in a public service environment. It's fundamental to the way we're going to work in this century.

Koskiniemi: I'm going to go out on a real limb and say knowledge management's going to start us down the path of taking apart large organisations. We now have an opportunity where people linked up to the network or the Internet can be their own individual knowledge workers. They can take their knowledge and ability to share and communicate it -- bid it out to the highest bidder. They don't need a teal organisation around them. I'm really concerned about these big structures of people and bricks and mortar. The coming generations -- and we've seen this with little three-person start-ups in their garage -- don't need huge organisations, as maybe we or our grandparents did.

Oxbrow: We've only just started down the route to the knowledge economy. And the KM organisations will no longer be boxed, they will be amorphous collections of expert groups. And those groups may work for one organisation for a while but may well move off and be working for several different organisations at the same time. You'll have a much more fluid workforce. Older people who have experience, the gray hairs, will be brought in as expert groups to solve particular problems. Organisations that don't adopt the principles behind knowledge management -- and I agree it's a horrible term that will die very quickly -- won't be able to survive in that fluid, dynamic environment.

Kelleher: I agree with everything that's been said. I think Winston Churchill said, in about 1941, that "This is not the end; it's nor even the beginning of the end. It might be the end of the beginning [phase of the war]." And that's where we are with knowledge management now. The first phase has been people identifying how to do it, how to build tools. Not everybody's completed that phase yet. But we're already moving into the e-business world of personalisation of mass customisation. Then, once you can get all this knowledge, what do you do with it? A whole bunch of issues are going to cloud the horizon, There's going to be a privacy issue. There's going to be a confidentiality issue. There are going to be issues around "who owns the knowledge." For example, if I left PricewaterhouseCoopers tomorrow, how much of my knowledge could I really put in my rucksack? What belongs to me and what belongs to PwC? A whole lot of things need to be resolved.

Wilson: KM is going to go through a term of assessment. People are in shock at the moment at the rise of the dot com. They're going to go into a period of reflection where they say, "Okay, well, what are we doing?" You can see that in Reuters, as an example. The big organisations are going to have to do that. So the term knowledge management is not going to die initially, because there are still people who are very much in the beginning of this. In some instances, it will converge with corporate communication. In other areas, it will converge with e-business.

Carrozzo: The reality is that we're living in a world where someone like Bill Gates, with the brilliance to create a complex operating system and a multi-billion-dollar company, can walk through customs of any airport, anywhere in the world, with absolutely nothing of value to declare. The value that exists in organisations is in the minds of the people who work there. The fact that technology itself is becoming less and less of a differentiating factor means KM is, whatever you feel about that term, critical. So I'm in violent agreement with you guys. For those reasons, it's here to stay in one form or another. We've just given a handle or a label to a collection of activities, some of which we've been doing for ages, because we're recognising that these realities exist.

Kistle: It's been an extraordinary morning and we could go on for another three hours if we had time. Our experts have helped define knowledge management in the context of business strategies and new business models calling for faster access to information and nimble decision making. We've examined how innovation, creativity and discovery are fueled by information and knowledge. It is clear that communication drives this process, but who's in charge -- is it IT? Is it marketing? Is it HR? Is it corporate communicators? I want to thank our panelists for challenging us to think about knowledge management's contribution to the bottom line, to consider what might result if we fail to harness the knowledge assets we have in our organisations, and what we need to do to address ethical issues like privacy and ownership. One thing is clear from this morning -- communication is a critical success factor in managing knowledge.

Alan Lane is founding chief executive of VASGAMA -- a company specialising in reputation management and communications strategic planning, based in Hampton Court, United Kingdom. VASGAMA counsels in the areas of risk assessment, issues and crisis management, media relations and corporate communication to international clients.

Tony Carrozzo is an information systems architect and leader of the information systems team at the Hewlett Packard Labs Research Library in Palo Alto Calif. He's been involved in software development and Internet applications for more than 16 years. His latest work includes the design and implementation of a web site that delivers over 50 Library e-services to the desktops of HP employees world-wide. Carrozzo is the creator of CONNEX, the first knowledge management system used within HP and the most heavily used service offered by the research library. CONNEX enables employees to locate each other using attributes such as knowledge, skills, affiliations, education and interests. Carrozzo has had ample opportunity to share his work as invited speaker to numerous companies, conferences and consortia.

Dominic Kelleher is director of global knowledge management communication for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), responsible for internal and external communication and related culture change and thought leadership initiatives. Kelleher serves as KM liaison to various other business units with PwC, including marketing and communication. He also chairs PwC's KM communication action committee and is an active contributor to PwC's Global KM Council.

Kelleher speaks frequently on KM and Internet-related topics, both internally and externally (in such far-flung places as Dubai, Budapest, London, Hong Kong and Amsterdam). He is a member of IABC. He has a master's degree in modern languages and post-graduate qualifications in marketing and international trade.

Since 1995, Kelleher has lived in Brussels. He is married with three young daughters.

David C. Kistle, ABC, is senior vice president at Padilla Speer Beardsley Public Relations (PSB), a full service public relations firm headquartered in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. Kistle is a nationally recognized communication consultant who leads PSB's employee communication and small organizations in health care, financial services, manufacturing and other industries on issues ranging from employee and customer satisfaction to reputation management. He is an accredited member of IABC, the current chairman of the IABC Research Foundation, and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. He holds a B.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota and an M.S. in advertising from the University of Illinois.

Mark Koskiniemi is vice president, human resources, at Buckman Laboratories International, Inc., head-quartered in Memphis, Tenn., USA.

Koskiniemi's diverse background in sales, technical support, international marketing, R&D, and human resources gives him a unique perspective on how competitive advantage can be achieved through knowledge management efforts. In 1999, Workforce magazine awarded the Human Resources department at Buckman Laboratories its Optima Award in the category of competitive advantage, primarily for the department's support of a knowledge-sharing culture.

In addition, Buckman Laboratories International, Inc., has received the Arthur Andersen Enterprise Award for Sharing Knowledge in the Organization and the Computer World/Smithsonian Award for Innovative Use of Information Technology in Business Category: Manufacturing.

Jonathan Sage heads up the EMEA knowledge management team in Brussels for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a member of the PricewaterhouseCoopers EMEA Human Capital Council (with HR, Learning and Education) and the EMEA Marketing Council. As EMEA KM leader, he is responsible for leading and co-ordinating knowledge management activities across the matrix with EMEA territories, Service Lines and Industries. Sage is also leading a global project to evaluate the role of language and language translation in PricewaterhouseCoopers and implement recommendations. Before the merger between Price Waterhouse and Coopers and Lybrand, U.K. Following the merger, he was head of new media for the U.K. PricewaterhouseCoopers firm before taking responsibility for knowledge management in EMEA.

Sage has previously been director of marketing for a U.K. software house specialising in e-business. He formerly was commercial attache for the British Embassy in Vienna for Industrial Goods. Previously he worked with a wide range of industries as a management trainer.

Sage was also lecturer in business administration at the University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna and more recently a member of the teaching faculty of the U.K. Open Business School, lecturing on strategy for the MBA course.

Nigel Oxbrow is managing director of TFPL Ltd, the company he founded in 1987. TFPL specialises in the skills of information and knowledge management in all sectors and provides consultancy, research, recruitment, executive search, conferences and training services.

Oxbrow has more than 25 years of experience of the information market in a career that started with an MSc in Information Science and included 12 years developing a successful international document supply and publishing business before setting up TFPL Ltd in 1987.

Oxbrow is a respected figure in the knowledge and information world and regularly advises clients on KM and IM issues. He is currently active in many knowledge management forums, on the Professional Development Committee of the Special Libraries Association and a member of the advisory committee for the British Council. Previously he has been chairman of the European Association of Information Services (EUSIDIC); a member of the U.K. Government's Library and Information Services Council; vice-president of the Institute of Information Scientists; and director of the Business & Finance Division of the Special Libraries Association.

Rowan Wilson is editor of Knowledge Management Review and commissioning editor of Strategic Communication Management. Both titles are published by Melcrum Publishing, a U.K.-based business-to-business publisher. She has worked on these publications for more than two years, and this dual role has put her in the unique position of seeing communication strategy from the perspective of both the knowledge manager and the corporate communicator. She sees a clear role emerging for the corporate communication function in KM and has spoken at a number of conferences on the subject. Before joining Melcrum, Wilson worked as an editor for Reuters.
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Author:Lane, Alan
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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