You know what they say, “two heads are better than one”. Throughout human history the very survival of our species has often been tied to our ability to think and act in groups. One might even say that mutually beneficial goals and perks are part of the very life-blood of our entire civilization. Similarly, knowledge management has a tendency to create centralization and / or a strong sense of “gravity” about how information is collected and used; likewise, it’s something that’s used to bring everyone in an organization together under a common bond or purpose.
Furthermore, there are so many great examples of knowledge management in action which are literally all around us. Perhaps one of the best examples of how knowledge management can inspire collaboration is the website Wikipedia. Take this whitepaper written by Christian Wagner of City University of Hong Kong for example, the title is:
“WIKI: A TECHNOLOGY FOR CONVERSATIONAL KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND GROUP COLLABORATION”
He’s right, that’s all Wikipedia really is – a unified system which allows the collective users of the site (basically everybody on the internet) to collaborate and improve our shared understanding. In many ways, Wikipedia is one of the best examples of success when it comes to knowledge management; however, it’s not necessarily the best illustration for businesses who are interested in KM.
When most businesses begin seriously looking at knowledge management, the tendency is to internalize the entire process. The reason for this is simple; they don’t want information and/or insights leaking out to the public or competitors (which is perfectly understandable). So, whereas something like Wikipedia might be an online database that anyone can tap into, a business’ approach to knowledge management tends to be a little more “sheltered”, to say the least.
In fact, a company’s KM strategy might even be divided into subgroups which either restrict or grant access to certain pools of information. In other words, maybe only people of a certain rank or title within an organization can access more “sensitive” bits of data. Of course everyone would still have access to the database at large, but they wouldn’t have sweeping “administrative” powers. Why take this approach in lieu of simply opening up the project controls to everyone? By limiting access to certain things you might say that you’re also directing certain people toward others. For example, if there are two sections main sections / divisions in a database and I prevent most users from accessing the first section, they will naturally delve into the second (because there’s nowhere left to go, of course).
Those in positions of control can use this obvious fact to promote new types of synergy within knowledge management among different departments if they are so inclined. In other words, it’s a bit like diverting water through a serious of pipes until everything pours into one chamber. That’s on oversimplification of course, but clearly there are other benefits associated with carefully choosing who you grant universal access to. Likewise, when people have extra options to choose from there’s a higher chance that confusion will arise.
Most of the time, knowledge management in a business environment is powered by software systems environments which not only maintain the database and oversee its organization, they also promote collaboration and autonomy. What is autonomy, you ask? Simply put, it is self-governance; a system that is able to ensure that knowledge is being collected and filed in the most appropriate manner for it to be used later. One might even argue that autonomous design is among the most important aspects of knowledge management in general and key to the overall success of such a program. What this often leads to is something called personalization, which allows distinctively different people to interface with one another more efficiently. Let’s face it, not everyone possesses the same knowledge base or skills, through personalization (directed by autonomous knowledge management) people from entirely different departments can effectively work together to achieve some goal.
Similarly, collaboration networks will also often emerge as a result of the influence of knowledge management. Autonomous software systems will use personalization to create recommendations (also based on other statistics and criteria) for group collaboration. Needless to say, this is a pretty amazing use of knowledge management and its one that more and more businesses should consider taking a look at.
If used properly, a knowledge management program / system can help you and your organization achieve some pretty amazing things. Additionally, any business that adopts a dedicated approach to KM will also find that they’re able to increase the speed and efficiency of most of their operations; meaning – higher profits and more satisfied customers. At the same time, KM promotes collaboration, which can open up new possibilities and/or help create entirely new products, ideas or services. The point is, if you haven’t taken a serious look at knowledge management yet, right now is a great time to do so.