Knowledge Management — A Quick Self Assessment

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If knowledge management is an item on your team’s to-do list, you are already behind and will have to play catch-up.

Next-generation knowledge management is allowing enterprises to reach a whole new level of collaboration and efficiency. Here are six questions every executive should answer for themselves to assess how effectively their organization manages knowledge. These come with right answers. I have also included a case study for each to illustrate the point.

What is Knowledge?

Case Study: A small stock brokerage firm caters to hundreds of thousands of retail investors. These investors are likely to trade on actionable news, which generates revenue for the brokerage. The small brokerage is unable to maintain research teams for manually generating proprietary opinions. In conventional terms their knowledge base was non-existent. The brokerage decided that any piece of information in the public domain that is relevant to any of 6,000 stocks, is relevant knowledge for them. Its systems can crawl through 3 million articles everyday, distill the relevant insights, personalize them and deliver to the retail investors.

Common Practice: All proprietary end products created by humans in an organization are managed as relevant knowledge.

Advanced Practice: All human curated information and high-value data or insights from certain IT systems or business processes are thought to be relevant knowledge.

Best Practice: All internal knowledge as defined above, plus certain qualified external sources are thought to be relevant knowledge.

Next Generation Behavior: Every relevant piece of information, external or internal is managed as knowledge.

How is Knowledge Captured?

Case Study: A leading manufacturing giant with multiple BUs and subsidiaries has decided to centralize the procurement function — especially focusing on rewriting contracts with a consolidated view. However the purchase and payables data is non-standard and varies in quality. Purchase managers, typically working under stiff deadlines, are used to anecdotal research, at best. Often they don’t even worry about compliance with existing contracts, let alone entering quality data that may be used later. In a forward looking approach the company decided to use AI to manage contracts. Given the flux, they decided to automatically ingest all WIPs of contracts under negotiation and all data related to purchases. For any item, the system can now find the best applicable contract in place or being negotiated across the conglomerate. It can also identify external vendors the procurement team should pursue contracts with. Most importantly it collates all the knowledge that may be necessary to get these contracts.

Common Practice: Professionals create purpose built documents that are uploaded to a portal.

Advanced Practice: There are existing IT systems that make publishing some knowledge document as simple as a right-click or drag and drop. However, humans decide what is published as knowledge.

Best Practice: All end products, major presentations, and distributed content is automatically ingested by knowledge management systems.

Next Generation Behavior: Every piece of digital information in the enterprise is managed as knowledge, along with relevant knowledge found outside enterprise firewall.

How is Knowledge Discovered?

A major oil and gas provider prides itself in being on the leading edge of innovation in the energy industry. Their management and research cadres frequently discuss the latest in petroleum discovery, renewable sources, regulation and other topics. A big hindrance to nimble decisions is that many executives show up to meetings unprepared. Most of the time goes into explaining the concepts and not much productive discussion takes place. The company decided to ensure that relevant knowledge was automatically delivered to executives using artificial intelligence. The system can integrate with calendars of executives, understand the topics that are to be discussed in the meeting, and email briefing packs to the attendees. These briefing packs are assembled from public and proprietary knowledge.

Common Practice: Knowledge is contained in documents organized under directories on a portal. This portal is often also searchable via keywords, however, the relevance of the results is tenuous at best.

Advanced Practice: Knowledge is contained in documents searchable via keywords as well as metadata e.g. practice, function, author, etc. Usually there are experts that assist in discovery when necessary.

Best Practice: Knowledge is discovered using a natural language search system. Such systems use cognitive concepts to relevance sort documents and/ or their content.

Next Generation Behavior: Knowledge is predictively delivered to users with no effort, or on a click/ tap.

How is Knowledge Disseminated?

A large Group Purchase Organization represents thousands of hospitals and other healthcare providers in United States for their procurement needs. The purchase choices for millions of SKUs are driven by medical practitioners, primarily Doctors. Any effort to consolidate purchases has limited success because the knowledge about comparable products is spread across multiple brochures, white papers or surgical protocols written in very technical language. The GPO decided that the relevant knowledge should be abstracted and tabulated in a directly usable format. They decided that the knowledge should be disseminated as tables, vs. as documents. An AI-driven system converted millions of documents to tables for millions of SKUs. For the first time, the GPO has insights like SKU no. X is same as SKU no. Y, but is 20% cheaper.

Common Practice: Knowledge is disseminated and consumed in form of documents, mostly PDFs.

Advanced Practice: Knowledge is disseminated in form of documents that are accompanied by relevant metadata like infographics, author contacts, etc.

Best Practice: Users can interact directly with the text, diagrams or tables contained in knowledge documents.

Next Generation Behavior: Knowledge is disseminated in the form of actionable insights, summaries, scorecards or relevant data. Documents are irrelevant.

How is Knowledge Secured?

A leading consulting firm deals with highly sensitive information on behalf of its clients. Professionals working with respective clients are very hesitant to share relevant documents even with their colleagues. There are legal implications to such sharing as well. As a result any traditional approach to knowledge management is simply not applicable. The firm decided to secure its knowledge using a bleeding-edge AI system. Such a system can automatically differentiate between information that is client specific vs. information that is in the public domain, or is generally known within the organization. Knowledge contained in these sanitized documents can now be managed without any risks.

Common Practice: Documents containing knowledge are shared as is or are sanitized by humans before being uploaded to a knowledge management system.

Advanced Practice: Access to knowledge is restricted as per an enterprise’s security policies.

Best Practice: Documents representing knowledge are sanitized by technology like tactical cognitive computing.

Next Generation Behavior: Knowledge is not shared in form of documents, but in terms of insights, abstractions and other derivative formats that are secure and can be consumed immediately.

How Involved is the Leadership?

No real case study for this one, but here are some learnings:

  • Most executives face challenges with knowledge management and have a wishlist of things that were available or more easily accessible. Still, most executives think that their organization is taking sufficient steps to manage knowledge given business and technological constraints.
  • Most executives think that their organization should invest in knowledge management for long-term success. On a personal level, most executives take part in activities related to knowledge management because they think such investment of time is the “right thing to do”.
  • Most executives think of knowledge management as an important support function or cost center.

Common Practice: Knowledge management is thought to be an important cost center. All professionals in the organization are highly encouraged to contribute to and benefit from knowledge management systems.

Advanced Practice: Actively contributing to an enterprise’s knowledge base is reflected in the KPIs or each executive. It appears disproportionately in the KPIs of the leadership.

Best Practice: Knowledge management is a very important investment focus in terms of time and resources. The leadership is committed behind a clear roadmap for investments and organizational discipline around knowledge management.

Next Generation Behavior: Knowledge management is imbued in every single activity of the organization. There are sufficient investments in IT systems so that knowledge management does not add any overhead for executives.

I have come to believe that knowledge, and ability to manage it, is the only sustainable competitive advantage for enterprises in the long term. The ideal approach is to make sure that contributing to an organization’s knowledge base, and accessing the knowledge base for meaningful decisions should not cost anything to the professionals in terms of time and effort.

How did your company do on this test?

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AI, Product, Strategy, Digital Transformation

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