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The knowledge movement: trends and opportunities

The knowledge movement in India has gained a new community member with the launch of the Pune K-Community. The inaugural session in late February featured a panel discussion about trends, opportunities and challenges in knowledge management, which, as a formal discipline, is close to 20 years old now. Panelists from Unisys, eClerx and Zensar addressed a wide range of KM frameworks, concepts and impacts. What have been the key contributions of KM? What are the success factors of KM in the long term? How does KM boost organizational innovation? What does it take to reach industry leadership in KM and win awards? What career prospects are there in KM?

Here are a dozen trends and ideas that I took away from the event: 

1.  Mature KM initiatives address not only internal collaboration but also external collaboration. Internal collaboration has been achieved by a range of KM initiatives, but the challenge is to involve external business partners and customers in process design, service offerings and co-creation. Procter & Gamble and Nike are good examples of companies with advanced knowledge strategies. At its user conference called Unite, Unisys invites input from its valuable customers, which is used in drawing a product roadmap.

2.  Well-designed KM initiatives pay attention to the branding of KM and communicating the knowledge message. Some organizations have KM brand managers. Others choose clever newsletter and event names that reflect the organization. For example, Unisys has an annual KM festival in India, China and Australia called Unilight. Its KM leaders' forum is called Talking Heads. Zensar's intranet is called Zen Lounge, its chat utility is Zen Talk, and its technology incubation forum is called Zen Lab.

3.  Social media are playing an increasing role as knowledge narrative, and mobile cloud is a key trend in workflow infrastructure. Some companies are developing their own hybrid social media tools that integrate the best features of consumer social media tools. The rise of Gen Y is a major opportunity—and challenge—for Gen X-dominated organizations, and there is a need for those in between who can bridge the gap (Gen X.5?).

4.  Organizations should find the right balance between creation and reuse of knowledge assets. Wipro has developed useful metrics: the Contribution Index (percentage of employees contributing knowledge assets), Engagement Index (percentage of employees using existing knowledge) and Usage Index (percentage of assets being accessed and reused).

5.  Gamification is a growing practice in KM, such as coding contests and competitions for best personal KM (MySite) at Unisys, as well as a best paper contest to showcase thought leadership in a field.

6.  Academic research is finding increasing acceptance among KM practitioners. Zensar's CEO has authored two books on KM and has a Ph.D. in KM, and its CIO has a master's degree in KM. The company has developed fundamental tenets of KM practice, such as "knowledge is socially constructed and consumed."

7.  Mature KM practices from India are winning awards around the world. For example, eClerx has just won the MAKE India award.

8.  The true success of KM is when it "disappears," meaning that KM processes are embedded in workflow. Ninety percent of the knowledge contributions in Wipro happen as part of the normal workflow and are not created via additional activities. However, KM professionals will always be needed to design and upgrade such workflow tools, to analyze knowledge conversations and life cycles, and to keep up to speed on harnessing supply side factors like emerging social media and cloud tools.

9.  The scope and metrics for KM are becoming increasingly sophisticated. KM is being used within organizations not just for activities like project management, but also for discussing and defining high-level organizational vision and market strategies.

10.  Idea management will become intertwined with KM as tools, such as MangoApps, emerge to manage idea pipelines. Many KM practices of knowledge validation, ranking and rating are also applicable to idea management. Some organizations open up ideation to all kinds of activities to encourage the flow of creative juices.

11.  To broaden the KM movement in India, practitioners will have to go beyond English and tap local languages as well. Tata Chemicals now encourages employees to submit ideas in their local languages.

12.  KM has different flavors in different industries. White collar IT and services firms have the advantage of using advanced IT tools; new strategies will have to be devised to harness and unleash knowledge flows from blue collar workers who have their own forms of expertise. Public sector and government agencies have their own cultures and knowledge dynamics, and KM strategies will need to be different from profit-centered companies.

The Pune K-Community is off to a good start, and will be able to create useful synergies with the neighboring Mumbai K-Community. Future Pune K-Community meetings will be hosted by Zensar, MindTree and TCS.  

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