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Will KM Alter Information Managers' Roles?

Knowledge management (KM) concepts and technologies have tremendous potential for increasing enterprise productivity and ensuring the effectiveness of information resources. KM concepts maximize the use of intellectual assets to engender creative ideas and foster productive business activities. KM technologies maximize the use of documents, data, computers, networks, and individual subject experts as information resources to accomplish organizational goals. When both KM concepts and technologies combine into an integrated approach to information resources management, organizations can become more creative, productive, and successful.

However, KM concepts and technologies are just beginning to develop. Methodologies for capturing intellectual assets into knowledge bases vary widely with KM practitioners. Software tools for creating searchable repositories of enterprise memory and experiences are limited, and the few companies that do specialize in KM systems have widely varying approaches to systems implementation and integration. The stark reality is that many corporate executives, information technology (IT) personnel, and information management (IM) professionals are not really sure what KM offers or how they should embrace it.

First, they must understand how KM is different from previous attempts at managing information resources. Second, they must define their roles and responsibilities in the newly forming enterprise activities. Do their job responsibilities change, or does the need for their services completely disappear? How should they prepare to meet these new initiatives? Change can be threatening and debilitating or exciting and rejuvenating. As always, how organizations and individuals respond to challenges dictates success or failure.

E-commerce, business-to-business (B2B)data interchange, IT outsourcing, and KM-based product development efforts are becoming accepted components of successful enterprise competitive strategies. IM professionals must carve out new niches that build upon their professional skills and experiences to add value to these new business processes.

KM Maturing in Concepts and Techniques

KM is many things to many people. There is considerable debate within the IT consulting industry regarding the overall validity of some KM concepts and the differentiation of KM from other previously popular IT management philosophies. In the last decade, concepts such as total quality management (TQM), information strategic planning (ISP), decision support systems (DSS), management information systems (MIS), business process re-engineering (BPR), and information resources management (IRM) have all influenced the role of information systems (IS) and IM professionals.

This alphabet soup of acronyms and faddish concepts has seldom enjoyed long-term credibility with executive management. Their attitude toward these overlapping, well-intentioned, and partially successful initiatives can often be summed up with two questions: "Where is the return on investment (ROI)?" and "What actual difference will KM make in my organization?"

The Delphi Group (www.delphi group.com) is a strong supporter of KM and the value that it can add to organizations. The company produces materials on the value of KM and sponsors seminars that illustrate methods and techniques for ensuring that KM projects succeed. According to Frappaolo and Capshaw (1999), "The intersection of business practice, organizational culture, and technology comprising a knowledge management solution sets KM apart from other information/ document management initiatives."

The single most unique aspect of KM is that it includes organizational experience and knowledge found in practices and culture, which allows it to transcend the data and documents held in computer systems. Most of Delphi's methodologies and concepts stress the importance of quantifying and capturing these elements for KM projects to be truly successful. Explicit knowledge is said to be easily articulated knowledge held in computer systems, including data, documents, search tools, and classification schemes. Tacit knowledge is less easily defined and is based on personal experiences, professional perspectives, and organizational values. As Delphi staff view it, the four key functions to be performed by KM systems are

* intermediation

* externalization

* internalization

* cognition

In a nutshell, intermediation is the process of connecting people to people. Externalization focuses on the process of creating organized information repositories. Internalization concentrates on linking appropriately filtered, relevant knowledge to information users. Cognition works toward enabling knowledge to influence functioning systems for enhanced organizational decision-making.

If all this sounds esoteric, theoretical, and impractical, it is probably because innovative solutions, services, and products often start out that way. Remember that the Internet, electronic mail, and Web sites were in their infancy only a decade ago but are now considered established, critical, strategic business assets. KM as a concept is here to stay, and only the maturation of the concepts and tools is required to ensure that KM adds tremendous value to organizations. However, let's look at the present challenges KM faces, as voiced by some of its detractors.

Is KM just another fad based on marketing hype? Some prestigious consulting firms would reply that KM's present state does not deliver much more than promises with little quantifiable ROI in the near future. International Data Corporation (www.idc.com), an IT market research group, has historically maintained that KM is a concept in need of development rather than a practical reality and does not sufficiently stress the importance of document management technologies. This position is occasionally echoed by other organizations that seem to be ready champions of innovative concepts and technologies.

For example, many computer technology vendors see KM as a diffuse and too general an approach to managing data and documents. In his book Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999), Bill Gates sees KM as "a general concept -- to gather and organize information, disseminate the information to the people who need it, and constantly refine the information through analysis and collaboration ..." (see book review) These generalist attitudes open the door to many interpretations of KM's meaning and substance. Vendors of document management software, recordkeeping software, imaging systems, and document scanners have all variously claimed to provide a means to enabling KM. This has only fostered the opinion that KM is no more than a new fad to sell consulting services and fantasy software to executive managers who do not fully understand the work required to make KM systems remunerative.

Extensive theoretical discussions regarding the best approaches and tools to support KM will continue. However, there are underlying principles that offer opportunity for IM professionals.

KM Concepts Require IM Activities

A major dilemma for KM is the need to integrate knowledge residing in documents and data with the knowledge residing in human minds. Although many newer software products that create KM systems have tools for capturing human expertise and assuring collaborative communication, there is an ongoing irony that the largest, easily captured repository of enterprise knowledge still resides in documents. The debate centers on the dilemma that content management is strongly related to knowledge management.

Content management stresses making intellectual capital (i.e., ideas, text, graphics) accessible, flexible, and useful, whereas document management stresses managing the container of the content. According to McKinley (2000),"Document management was the shackle that we put on information management to control versions and access. Content management is the way we share information and put it to multiple purposes."

Despite the occasional negative attitude toward document management (DM) systems among KM proponents, most KM implementations must still mine the content of documents for facts, data, and other pearls of wisdom. Electronic documents and records still comprise the most accessible and best-organized repository of enterprise experience and knowledge. According to Frappaolo and Capshaw (1999), research conducted by the Delphi Group indicates that the central role document management is expected to play is as a foundation for knowledge management implementations. Intranets, document management, groupware, data warehouses, relational databases, text searches, and Internet Web sites are all considered high-value technologies for KM. In one way or another, all have repositories of documents or data.

One wonders how all these documents and data varieties will be imported into KM repositories and what metadata will be used to classify and categorize documents. A major challenge for current document management and record-keeping systems lies in obtaining user participation in the classification process as documents are created. Data elements, field descriptors, terminology, nomenclature, validation tables, authoritative terms lists, records series codes, and other such details of metadata and records classification must be collaboratively designed and implemented for documents to be retrievable in the future. Document creators rarely have the time or attention span to perform these activities; they serve primarily as subject experts for systems analysts and records managers to interview as they build the metadata repositories that ensure accurate records descriptions are created.

The categorization of experience and knowledge will require cognitive participation by humans who enter terms and descriptors into computer software. How will a knowledge management system know the difference between a "barrel of monkeys," a "barrel of laughs" and the price of a "barrel of petroleum" when looking for "barrel" within a document repository? Someone must configure the computer software to recognize the different contexts in which such documents were created. Some sophisticated KM software attempts to catalog document content through learning processes that recognize context as well as content. In many real-life KM implementations, there will be significant efforts directed at incorporating existing documents and records into KM repositories in order to improve the collaborative work that can be performed with these documents.

KM Technologies Implement IM

KM systems will be implemented as organizations realize the potential for synthesizing human expertise and enterprise memory into new products and services. A first step may be to buy KM software for a pilot project that starts the organization toward enterprise implementation of KM.

KM software approaches vary widely. Products like Dataware II KMS (www.dataware.com) serve as development tools to build a KM system and require customization and programming. Others like RightSite from Documentum (www.documentum.com) work with existing document management software. No KM software tools cover all aspects of enterprise KM, but working to efficiently classify and categorize information is common among all products. However, software will need to perform specific functions to be useful, such as cataloging, indexing, abstracting, concept linking, and classifying documents.

As e-mail messages, Web sites, and electronic documents proliferate, it becomes increasingly difficult to classify each one. DM and recordkeeping systems have tried to take the life cycle back to creators by encouraging classification when documents are first saved. This has been only partially successful. Some software implementations make it optional for users to classify documents, and some implementations require only minimal classification due to user resistance. In addition, the exploding volume of electronic documents makes it almost impossible to classify and categorize the information contained in many unstructured documents.

Autonomy (www.autonomy.com) is a KM software product that focuses on automated categorization and linking of unstructured documents' content. By cross-referencing and hyperlinking related documents, the content of e-mail messages, Web sites, and diverse electronic documents can become a captured knowledge base. According to Andrews, Balla, and Harty (1999), "The key to Autonomy's power is its ability to extract the meaning from almost any piece of text, allowing it to automatically analyze, categorize, and deliver information. Autonomy supports both natural-language and language-independent searching -- a significant differentiator in the KM market." Also, it potentially eliminates manual categorization and classification.

The power of software like Autonomy becomes even more important when coupled with electronic recordkeeping software. Provenance Systems' (www.provsys. com) Foremost Enterprise is a well-known recordkeeping software product. Now Provenance offers AutoRecords, which uses records management intelligence on the desktop to capture and classify information automatically. The Autonomy Knowledge Server performs concept extraction on Foremost Enterprise records, thus reducing the need for end users to classify and file records. The Autonomy dynamic-reasoning engine uses pattern-matching algorithms and contextual analysis to enhance Foremost Enterprise with automatic records classification, profiling of user interests, and context search enabling. After records analysis, AutoRecords sorts records into categories and classifies them according to a corporate filing plan.

Using software like Autonomy with software like Foremost could completely eliminate the IM professionals' custodial role in classifying and categorizing records. IM practitioners have realized that it is increasingly impossible to inventory, categorize, and classify electronic records given the creation frequency, volume growth, and document accessibility challenges. Now it may not be cost-effective to accession electronic records individually -- just let the computer do it.

IM Professions Continually Change

KM builds on the premise that businesses leverage knowledge assets to create products, and many businesses are actually becoming sellers of knowledge-based products and services. Since much of the contemporary knowledge available within organizations resides in documents, it appears that records management and document management systems should be excellent platforms on which to build KM systems.

However, IM policies and procedures often lag behind software procurements and hardware installations. Many KM implementations do not have well-documented policies for sharing information or capturing intellectual capital assets. Such policies and procedures must be embedded (i.e., programmed and configured) in software if KM systems are to realize their potential in capturing the enterprise's memory and experiences backlog.

KM has many barriers, including organizational priorities, lack of leadership, limited vision, and general resistance to change as well as a need for understanding the tangible and intangible assets that it can provide. According to Duffy (2000), KM's usual initial focus is on creating business value through employee development, business planning, product design, and customer management. As these high-level strategic initiatives are addressed, organizations will eventually implement KM software systems with policies and procedures that manage document and data repositories. To assist with in-the-trenches activities, KM will require IM professional support and assistance.

IM professionals will be well-positioned to guide the development and implementation of KM systems if they can do the following:

* become knowledgeable about KM theories and concepts

* visualize how IM policies and procedures can support KM

* verbalize how classification, retention, and metadata concepts support KM

* be flexible in job assignments and responsibilities

As global economies transition from reliance on industrial production to e-commerce-based business activities, organizations will develop strategies to leverage knowledge and information technology to create new products and services. The maturing market for KM will offer increasingly sophisticated techniques for information managers to use in supporting organizational success. IM professionals that understand these concepts and technologies will be well-positioned to survive and prosper in the new millennium's new business models.

Editor's Note: The companies and products named in this article are provided as examples by the author and do not constitute endorsement by ARMA International.

REFERENCES

Duffy, Jan. "Knowledge Management: To Be or Not To Be?" The Information Management Journal. January 2000.

Frappaolo, Carl and Stacie Capshaw. "Knowledge Management Software." The Information Management Journal. July 1999.

Gates, Bill. Business @ The Speed of Thought. New York: Warner Books, 1999.

Andrews, Linda, John Balla, and Jennifer Harty. "Executive Brief: Functional Assessment of Autonomy." Doculabs Marketfocus Report. 1999.

McKinley, Tom. "Content, Not Document, Management." KMWorld. March 2000.

John Phillips, CRM, is the owner of Information Technology Decisions, a management consulting firm. He has more than 20 years' experience in information resources management, specializing in automated records management systems and other technology-related areas. He can be reached at jtpid@usit.net.
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Author:PHILLIPS, JOHN T.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:2474
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