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Making connections at KMWorld 2011

This article appears in the issue January 2012, [Volume 21, Issue 1]


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A full range of strategies for connecting individuals and organizations, both within and beyond the enterprise, were presented at the 2011 KMWorld Conference on the Networked Enterprise in November in Washington, D.C. In his opening keynote speech, Jeremiah Owyang outlined a progression for using social technology to foster connections, beginning with basic elements such as access, and moving to a holistic, real-time view.

Only the most advanced companies do an effective job of empowering all their employees and achieving "outside-in" innovation to combine ideas from within the organization with those from their customers and partners, said Owyang, who is an analyst and partner with the Altimeter Group. Many companies are not prepared to use social strategies at all, and have been taken off guard by the vehement response of online communities to corporate infractions, such as failure to pay compensation to deserving customers.

The majority of those social media crises, which center on poor customer experiences, could have been mitigated or averted, according to Owyang. The key is to have a well-trained team that monitors social media and a plan in place for a quick and decisive response. In order to do so, however, organizations must think carefully about the intended purpose of entering the social realm, because developing and marketing products is no longer at the heart of business.

Building relationships is the new core competency, because of the emergence of the social, connected customer, according to conference speaker Sameer Patel, a partner with the Sovos Group. Engagement, not data, is the new currency. Productivity is no longer measured in terms of the number of items sold, but in terms of customer satisfaction. Social media has made consumer opinion glaringly transparent, amounting to "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide."

Although lingering structures from the manufacturing era continue to separate customers from most employees, Patel envisions a collaborative customer-centric ecosystem involving all aspects of the corporation-partners, R&D and suppliers, along with the marketers. In that environment, customers can offer their ideas, the organization is responsive and the "social web" does a lot of the heavy lifting. Customer acquisition costs are dramatically reduced, ROI increases and satisfaction grows.

One of the challenges in managing social media is the need to balance spontaneity with order. That theme was echoed throughout the conference in presentations on collaborative initiatives. At Target, employees created a corporate Wikipedia-style encyclopedia to document a wide range of information useful in carrying out their jobs. David Schwartz, Enterprise 2.0 adoption consultant for Target, described how a mix of structure and good faith allowed participants to contribute their knowledge while aligning with the corporate philosophy of "if you see it, you own it."

Governance of emerging techniques such as the use of wikis for sharing corporate information should embody corporate strategy, roles and responsibilities, principles and policies, Schwartz explained. Those elements provide the structure for smooth operation while allowing the flexibility for differences in content and style, which helped improve productivity among the different teams at Target.

Dealing with the fear factor that often accompanies new collaborative ventures is essential, explained Stan Garfield, community evangelist at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited in "Ten Tales from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management." Fear of criticism stifles innovation and original thinking. Garfield advised a combination of patience and persistence so that over time, barriers will disappear and creativity will have a chance to emerge.

Measuring the success of any knowledge management initiative is a challenge but is important to do. The process of developing metrics entails setting objectives that help guide the project's direction and capture lessons learned, according to conference speaker Susan Hanley, president of Susan Hanley LLC. Objectives might include increasing customer satisfaction or improving risk management. Especially valuable are quantitative metrics that document time or cost savings. Hanley also pointed out that it is important to have a plan to act on the metrics once they are obtained.

In the conference wrap-up, a panel of experts reached a consensus that knowledge management is a vital component of a vibrant organization, but that implementing it is more important than labeling it. Knowledge management should be woven into the fabric of work, not established as a separate entity, advised Pat Conway, CKO of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command. The purpose of knowledge management is not to collaborate, share or document information, but to achieve an outcome. It may be hard to do, but once it gets rolling, knowledge management is powerful.


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