Where Knowledge Matters Most

Quite by chance and luck, last night I ran into the man who should get most of the credit, or blame, depending on your outlook, for creating the market that is now collectively known as "knowledge management," or "KM." Bruce A. Taylor (affectionately known around here as "BAT") was the founder and publisher of what was then known as ImagingWorld Magazine. See, back then there was enough curiosity about the mechanics of scanning and moving images of documents around organizations, storing them, retrieving them and creating workflows based on their disposition, that we could write a whole magazine about it. How fast were the scanners? How quickly could the monitors display those large graphic images? How many bytes can dance on the head of a pin?... these were the subjects that seemed to matter the most. At the time, there were entire articles being written about how to most effectively remove staples.

Then we sat down one day, at pretty much the very location where we reunited last night, and agreed that there had to be more to information management than mere bit rates and refresh cycles and staple-removal techniques.

We started from the quite practical and unflinching belief that the "imaging market" as we knew it was disappearing. The technology that supported it—scanners, storage devices, monitors—was fast becoming commodity items. You could buy a scanner at WalMart! Which was something you could not have said two years prior. The price of large-screen monitors had plummeted, to the point where many of the manufacturers were opting out and closing shop. And somehow the glamour of CD-ROM jukeboxes had faded like Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard.

So what was it about? we asked ourselves that day. The conclusion we finally arrived at was pretty simple, but difficult to measure: It was the value of the content of those documents, not the mechanics of reproducing it from paper, that mattered the most. The term "knowledge management" certainly wasn't new in that mid-'90s era. But the awakening concept that content represented an asset of value to an organization, and might in fact represent the primary source of competitive advantage, was just beginning to erupt. And it erupted like crazy on that spring day on the deck of the Waterfront Restaurant in downtown Camden, Maine.

So, that's a long and overdue prologue for introducing where we seem to be today. The dust is still settling around knowledge management, but it appears that the most fertile application in organizations has been in the area of customer service.

I know... there is plenty of fertile ground. I've heard all the stories about expertise location, collaboration, manufacturing quality and the value of story-telling ‘till I'm blue in the face. But when it comes to creating, perfecting and sharing true knowledge, the department that owes the most to knowledge management is customer care. To me, it's now become quite obvious. If I can somehow collectively know everything I need to know to either create or retain a new customer, the return on that ability is immeasurable.

So I set out to test that idea. Duane George is the director of Knova product management at the Consona Corporation. I spoke with Duane recently about this idea of "knowledge-centered support" and how it all works.

"Knowledge-Centered Support" (capital letters intentional) has come to mean something very specific, as promulgated by the Consortium for Service Innovation and its KCS v4 Verification efforts. More about that later. But it can also be referred to generically, in lower-case letters, to simply mean how knowledge is best applied in a service setting.

"That's correct," said Duane. "The key to KM is understanding that it's not a ‘system.' Implementing a system and walking away is a failed implementation. It takes a methodology and a team of people, from the executives all the way down to the person answering the phone, to create a KM culture. That's why we're passionate about it," he said.

"It's got to be a culture. It can't just be a statement on the wall that you expect everyone to follow; it's got to be driven from every level of the company from the time you enter a new hire, through how you evaluate the success with your job, through to how the executives communicate" the knowledge initiative. "Because it's a culture, you have to have executive buy-in at that level," Duane insists.

So can it be thought of as merely another business-management fad, based on the last book someone got from Amazon? "No," said Duane emphatically. (Might have to backspace and add some exclamation marks.) "But you DO need to place the emphasis on how important a KM initiative is. Then you put the tools in place. Although it's primarily a commitment to culture, it's also a commitment of resources and budget. End of story."

Well, not quite end of story, or this would be a short article.

Why Didn't KM Work Right...Till Now?

As you've probably gathered from the title and theme of this piece, and the subject of this White Paper, Duane is primarily focused on the customer-service/customer experience end of things. Which, as I pointed out, might be the ultimate expression of knowledge management in the organization. The question remains: Why doesn't it work right?

"The reason that many early KM projects failed is that there were separate authoring teams, who determined what the agents needed. And it WASN'T what the agents needed. So one of the main ways to get agents to use the system is to let them own it. They own the content, they own the structure of it, and they determine what goes into the knowledgebase, how it gets reviewed and how it is structured. This gives them self worth and satisfaction," he said. "The next thing is to tie that to recognition. Let them see that ‘John Smith' contributed seven articles that led to a hundred self-service resolutions."

It always amazes me the degree to which ego plays a role. Duane agreed: "It's not enough to simply own the content, but to demonstrate the value that owning it creates. And getting some competition going helps, too," he added, "by creating evolving and new knowledge."

So at this point in a conversation like this, I always ask the bleeding obvious question: Why in the world would anyone want to go out of their way to help someone else? It does not compute. There has to be a "what's in it for me?" calculation and conclusion, or else the whole thing crumbles. Right, Duane?

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