Explain the significance of Knowledge Management. Discuss the issues to be considered for successful implementation of knowledge management?
Ans. Knowledge management (KM) is the management of knowledge within organisations. A widely accepted ‘working definition’ of knowledge management applied in worldwide organisations is “Knowledge Management caters to the critical issues of organisational adaptation, survival, and competence in the face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change.... Essentially, it embodies organisational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings.”
This definition not only gives an indication of what Knowledge Management is, but of how its advocates often treat the English language. In simpler terms, Knowledge Management seeks to make the best use of the knowledge that is available to an organisation, creating new knowledge in the process.
It is helpful to make a clear distinction between knowledge on the one hand, and information and data on the other.
By the early nineties, it was clear that there were two distinct branches of Knowledge Management.
First Generation Knowledge Management involves the capture of information and experience so that it is easily accessible in a corporate environment. An alternate term is “knowledge capture”. Managing this capture allows the system to grow into a powerful information asset.
This first branch had its roots firmly in the use of technology. In this view Knowledge Management is an issue of information storage and retrieval. from systems analysis and management theory. This approach led to a boom in consultancies and in the development of so-called knowledge technologies. Typically first-generation Knowledge Management involved developing sophisticated data analysis and retrieval systems with little thought as to how the information they contained would be developed or used. This led to organisations investing heavily in technological fixes that had either little impact or a negative impact on the way in which knowledge was used.
A typical scenario might have seen an organisation install a sophisticated intranet in order to categories and disseminate information, only to find that the extra work involved in setting up the metadata meant that few within the organisation actually used the intranet. This occasionally led to management mandating the use of the intranet, resulting in resentment among-st staff, and undermining their trust in the organisation. Thus first generation solutions are often counterproductive.
Second Generation Knowledge Management: Faced with the theoretical and practical failure of first generation techniques to live up to its promise, theorists began to look more closely at the ways in which knowledge is created and shared.
Along with this realization came a change in metaphor. Organisations came to be seen as capable of learning, and so a link grew between learning theory and management.
Approach for Successful Implementation of Knowledge Management
Point 1: Knowledge Management is a discipline
A lot of people think knowledge management is a technology or software solution but it is much more than that; knowledge management is a discipline. Obviously, you have to have a good piece of software or a good system to capture knowledge – but that’s not the whole equation. Underestimating what it takes just to capture the knowledge correctly is a big risk, as is underestimating the integration task into your already complex environment.
There are some providers of pre-packaged knowledge out there, but our experience is that while they can be useful to the help desk they are not relevant to customer service centers which have business-specific content needs. In either case, you must ensure you have the adequate resources to create and maintain the content you promise. Creating content is not a one-time project. Also, over time the content must be updated and supplemented as new products or services are supported as shown in Figure 1. Empowering agents to add new content as resolutions are discovered is the key to maintaining a robust system.
Point 2: One champion is not enough
To be successful, your project must have several champions within the organisation. These are individuals that believe in the project, enthusiastically advocate it and have the clout to “make things happen.” Projects that lack a champion generally don’t get off the ground. Those with only one champion are also at serious risk.
Losing your champion can spell disaster for your project. This is a real problem for knowledge management projects, due to their continuous duration. If the project champion transfers, retires or leaves the company, the project often loses its momentum and the project may falter as someone else takes it over.
What we like to see when we work with clients is a dual-sponsorship: one at the operational level and one at the executive level. So if an operations manager decides the company really needs knowledge management, that manager should find somebody on the executive staff who will agree to support the vision. By having that dual track of vision the project is more likely to succeed.
Point 3: Cultural change isn’t automatic
Buy-in is needed at all levels, and this may require cultural change. The people that are going to use the tools have to be part of the design unless you plan on strong-arming them (and that doesn’t work very well). Don’t make this management decision in a vacuum. Include some people from the various groups that would directly or indirectly use the system.
Sometimes there is a fear that knowledge management will be used to replace people. If your staff thinks that is what you are trying to do, then you really need to address that head-on. If that is not your intention, you should convince your team that current head count reduction is not the goal. Therefore, you need to look for and plan the motivation for each party. After all, you are asking people to shift from a system where being a tower of knowledge is rewarded, to a system where they share their expertise with everybody on the team.
Each party will have a unique motivation to embrace knowledge management. For example, in a technical support environment, a front line tech will have a different motivational schema than a 3rd level technician. The front line tech is not going to have to ask the 2nd line tech as many questions, and can resolve more problems faster. The 2nd level tech is not going to get as many of the common questions. Level 3 researchers won’t have to start at ground zero when handed a problem by level 2, because they know that all the intermediate steps have been covered.
Failing to see how knowledge management is going to fit into the rest of the organisation is a mistake. You must invest the time and energy to understand the culture, identify motivations and ensure change happens where needed.
Point 4: Create a change management plan
If your employees are not already sharing information, you will need a change management plan because you are asking people to do their jobs differently. The change management plan specifies how you will gain acceptance of knowledge management within the organisation. Let’s say you are a call center manager and you measure your employees’ performance by call handle time and number of cases closed. Now you are going to be asking them to use a knowledge base on every call or email interaction – thus asking them to change the way they perform their job on a daily basis. Also, if you don’t make changes to their performance reviews and compensation, there may be friction because you’re asking them to do one thing but you are judging them by another set of rules. As part of the overall change management plan you need to update job descriptions, feedback sessions and performance reviews to reflect the new workflow. Neglecting to make these changes may foster acceptance issues with your team members.
Point 5: Stay strategic
Knowledge management is a strategic endeavor, not just a project. I prefer to call it a strategic initiative as opposed to a project because a project implies a finite timeline. With KM you are never really done; you initiate it and you build it and then it is online and you maintain it.
In our practice we look for our clients to have a strategic goal for the project rather than a tactical goal. If you are looking to shorten handle time that’s a tactical motivation and you’re not as likely to be willing to go through the steps that a successful enterprise rollout would take. But if it is a strategic initiative, especially something that is top-down motivated (for instance improving customer service or improving employee satisfaction) then there is a better value statement involved and you are not relying on changing one metric. So you might see improvement in individual metrics like handle time and resolution rates but their value is limited compared to the return from becoming a collaborative knowledge sharing organisation.
To get going, decide what goals you are trying to accomplish and why. Then try to identify a solution and methodology that will help you attain those goals in your environment. Sometimes people within an organisation may say that a KM initiative is nice-to-have, but an economic downturn might slow the process down or defer it — thus, being counterproductive when resources are scarce. But I think it’s counterproductive to consider KM a nice-to-have because the rewards are equally beneficial during both a downturn and the inevitable upturn. If you wait until the upturn then you will be forced to play catch up as your call volumes increase and your email volume doubles; that’s not the time to introduce a knowledge-powered system or build a knowledge base. It’s not necessary to hire more employees if you have resources that are not 100% utilized or if you encourage your agents to contribute knowledge during their daily workflow.
Point 6: Pick a topic, go in-depth, and keep it current
We advise that you pick one area that needs improvement or has limited resources, and then build a robust knowledge base for that subject matter.
Point 7: Don’t get hung up on the limitations
Certain types of knowledge are very well suited to quickly harvesting into a knowledge base. Company processes or technical procedures are well suited for knowledge management. By populating a knowledge base with this type of information and making it available to employees and customers, an organisation can shorten or even avoid many calls. Organisations can also use a KM system to access existing unstructured sources of information that may already exist on a corporate network, intranet or within an existing call center or help desk system. It’s important to note that experienced agents can certainly benefit from access to both structured knowledge and unstructured information because they’re more likely to be able to pinpoint a solution within an unstructured document.
Point 8: Set expectations or risk extinction
A big pitfall is the failure of knowledge management proponents in helping executive management set appropriate expectations. Customers, employees and management alike must know what they are going to get out of knowledge management, what it will take to get those results and how success will be measured. Measurement is where most organisations fail because they are doing things that were not measured before. So a year from now, you’ve built this thing, it’s up and running and everyone loves it and your boss says “where’s my return?” If you don’t have a measurement system in place then you will have a hard time answering his or her question – especially for the new metrics that didn’t exist before. You probably measured handle time, abandon rates, and similar operational metrics. But you may not be measuring call avoidance or knowledge usage, which affects ultimately the ability to measure resolution rates.
In addition to setting management expectations you have to set customer and end-user expectations. For example, if you are going to provide customers with Web self-service for one specific product then you must include the known problems that they are going to encounter in the knowledge base. In that situation you are better off to set their expectations that the knowledge base covers only that product and no other. Customers pose the same extinction risk that your employees do. If they visit the site a few times and they can’t find an accurate or appropriate answer they will probably not return again.
Point 9: Integrate KM into existing systems
Typically, organisations that are implementing knowledge management already have an established data center, so they are not only building a knowledge base – they must also integrate it into their existing environment – their call tracking system, IVR system, email, remote diagnostics and other support systems.
Point 10: Educate your self-service users
You’ve created your KM plan, determined the critical knowledge to include, initiated a plan to garner cultural acceptance, trained your agents and pinpointed key sources of knowledge – finally you need to educate your self-service users on how to find and access support information online to ensure a satisfying experience.
There are many ways to “push” your self-service capabilities out to your end-user audience. Traditional marketing techniques should be employed to promote this valuable service, such as email, online newsletters or direct mail. Encourage users to visit your online support site by making it easy to find and access the knowledge base. Be sure to include the site URL and directions for obtaining a login, if needed, in your marketing communications.
Point 11: Become a knowledge-enabled organisation
We think it is inevitable that knowledge management will have a high adoption rate in the next few years. Over time to remain competitive it will be essential to be “knowledge-enabled.” Just a few years ago email was not a common method for seeking customer service; now customers demand the ability to contact you through channels other than the phone.