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Report, discussion offer practical KM information

The thirst for thorough information on implementing knowledge management has been whetted by the recent release of an Ovum (www.ovum.com) report entitled "Knowledge Management: Applications, Markets and Technologies" and a free teleconference discussion.

Co-authored by consultants Eric Woods and Madan Sheina, the report analyzes the market and identifies opportunities for users and suppliers alike.

As market research, the report is aimed at the vendors of KM products and services, said Woods, but the value to "user organizations is to give a picture of the real development in knowledge management and help them make strategic decisions about where to go and with what technologies."

KM has hurdles to cross and the study clarifies some of the basic issues of knowledge management.

"The novelty of the conceptual models for knowledge management, the inflexibility of existing technology and the immaturity of new software products all mean that knowledge management requires considerable investment in external expertise for most organizations," wrote the authors. "As knowledge management products mature and users become more familiar with knowledge management concepts and techniques, the biggest opportunity will be helping companies to adapt their internal knowledge management initiatives to changes in their relationships with customers, suppliers and distributors."

Technology has been an important catalyst for knowledge management, according to the report, and KM software is a core element of the corporate infrastructure.

"The goal for knowledge management technology is to create a 'connected environment' for knowledge exchange," the report said. "This connected environment is the technical embodiment of the corporate memory--that complex web of knowledge that includes the skills and experience of staff; intellectual capital assets such as R&D work and patent licenses; and information on customers, products and competitors. The corporate memory is a vast potential resource."

Breaking down the software

The report breaks down the software vendors into categories and explains how they fit:

  • information retrieval--Those tools address "the need for coherent and integrated access to corporate knowledge resources."

  • groupware--The "de facto infrastructure for knowledge management" is groupware, but most customers don't take full advantage of the collaboration capabilities.

  • document management--It's key to managing unstructured information.

  • newcomers--Start-ups are having the most influence in organizing and navigating large bodies of unstructured information, filling the gaps in groupware and focusing on application niches such as competitive intelligence.

The challenge of deploying KM systems can be overcome in three phases, according to the report. First, get the technology in place and train support staff. Next, facilitate its use through management process. Finally, coordinate "the organizational and cultural changes associated with the knowledge management system in terms of new roles and responsibilities, and user training."

Acknowledging that KM must be tied to business problems, the report points out examples of problems knowledge management can address:

  • competitive intelligence--Your company is bidding against a competitor. What do you know about that company's strengths and weaknesses? How can you make a better bid? Who within your organization knows the most about the competitor and the customer?

  • customer service--A customer calls about a problem with your merchandise. Is it something that can be solved over the phone or should you send an engineer immediately?

  • product development--How do you get the right people on the team from different departments and locations? How do they collaborate?

  • best practices--Some of your factories are performing better than others. How do you discover, share and promote those best practices to get each operation up to that level?

"In essence they are all one problem: how to utilize your knowledge resource in order to improve efficiency, customer satisfaction and staff retention," according to the report.

"Collecting and analyzing information is only a first step," the authors said. "What really matters is a company's ability to use that information effectively--that is, its ability or competency in working with information for commercial benefit--it's know-how."

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