Sandra Ward, Beaworthy Consulting
Information Management (IM) has been the dominant component of my working life, joined by Knowledge Management (KM) in the early 1990s. My mission has been to demonstrate that effective harnessing of information and knowledge is essential to the success of the organisations I’ve worked with, and to come up with strategies to achieve this goal. For me IM and KM are prime foci for deploying the skills of information professionals and this area is an essential target for career development. Hence my delight at the formation of CILIP’s new K&IM SIG.
Why do IM and KM belong together?
Organisations often claim that people are their most important resource. By this they mean that the knowledge and experience of staff are critical to efficient operations, effective decision making, their capability to innovate, constructive collaboration (inside the organisation and with partners and customers), the ability to profit from experience, and their credibility and reputation. But people can’t work and organisations can’t operate without information. The classic goal of the information scientist – deliver access to ‘the right information in the right place and at the right time’ still applies, – although ensuring accessibility, quality and interoperability are now more appropriate than delivery in today’s complex working environments.
The most efficient working environments are those in which people are able to rely on an information engine that is fit for purpose and can play their personal role in feeding and using it. This means that the information flows needed to underpin work processes will have been analysed; that as data and information are created, these are captured or documented; then organised, structured, and stored for reuse. Today, information from customers, devices with externally published data and information must form part of the information environment as deployment of big data and analytics become critical success factors.
The most satisfying, stimulating and effective working environments are, however, ones in which, as well as good IM, people know that their ‘tacit’ knowledge (their skills, experience and insight) is recognised , valued, capitalised on and enhanced by the teams and communities in which they work – and where this contribution is recognised and demanded by their bosses. Employees today want work to be a place where learning, sharing expertise and collaboration flourish, so they don’t have to leave their knowhow and common sense at the door. Successful organisations provide environments where:
- People can connect to People in order to create, share and exploit knowledge more effectively
- People can connect to the Information they need to develop and apply their knowledge in new ways
- People can connected to the Tools they need to process information and knowledge
Knowledge Management and the Information Professional
Information management and governance are long standing roles for information professionals. Knowledge Management is newer, and I have been regularly irritated as librarians sought to claim that they were the knowledge managers of choice whilst being responsible for pretty traditional libraries. Luckily, those days are past, with CILIP’s professional skills and knowledge base distinguishing K and IM from collection management, and with exciting initiatives such as the Knowledge for Healthcare Development and Leadership Programmes highlighting how NHS libraries can foster the improvement of clinical practice.
KM definitions abound. Off the shelf ones may suit, but I think an organisation should define KM having identified the knowledge problems it most needs to solve. My preference is for active definitions – “Mobilising knowledge for success” – “Making our knowledge work better”. Organisations move into KM for different reasons. They may identify potential benefits; more frequently they are moving away from risk – having experienced knowledge- related problems and wanting to avoid their recurrence. At their most simplistic, organisations without KM approaches risk:
- Knowledge Loss: as employees leave or change roles can be catastrophic, if expertise is no longer available and problems arise; organisations can also fail to understand and deploy the knowledge of new staff effectively;
- Knowledge Waste: when organisations and staff are unable or unwilling to use or build on existing knowledge, waste of time and resources and bad decisions are frequent consequences as are missed opportunities to innovate and change – and low staff morale – they just don’t want to know!
- Failure to learn: organisations that don’t deliberately set out to learn from their own experience at all levels – personal, teams, projects, management etc. are characterised by repeated mistakes, reinvention of wheels, inconsistent responses to similar situations, and reputational issues as customers receive conflicting advice in their dealings with the organisation. Barriers to innovation and creativity also ensue;
- Failure to share leads to poor collaboration and partnership working. Cross- functional working is now common – experts from different teams working together. Networking of similar specialists is of proven benefit, and partnership working between different organisations is normal. All these mechanisms require willingness to share knowledge and the development of trust (as well as agreed IM processes).
In short, without KM, the organisation is guilty of wasting its knowledge assets.
Implementing K &IM: the blend
Technology suppliers often sell systems as the one stop solution to good K&IM. Just-in-time technologies, underpinned by well structured information architecture and standards are indeed critical. These tools underpin techniques to capture, create, structure, communicate and effectively exploit K&I. Other enablers are needed for a successful programme though: a culture where staff are expected to network and collaborate and where organisational learning and intelligence flourishes; business processes enabled by knowledge sharing and collaboration and underpinned by information flows; processes for utilising tacit knowledge which are integrated with tools and techniques for managing information which can be documented – the explicit information and data that lends itself to systematic organisation. Most importantly, K&IM activities must be positioned within an information and knowledge framework that is aligned with the organisation’s business drivers and objectives.
The K&IM below is a useful diagnostic for assessing an organisation’s preparedness and performance in KM and IM.
Ideally, organisations would always plan their IM and KM strategies to underpin their business strategies and objectives. This is possible for new start-ups, more difficult for established organisations where focusing on a segment of the business is more practical. So if you’re starting out you’ll need to find opportunities that matter.
What is your organisation’s strategy? Can you identify where activity is being impeded by knowledge and information deficiencies? What’s missing in your framework? Is it processes for the effective creation, dissemination and exploitation of knowledge or information? In the big data world, is it impossible to integrate key data sets because standards are lacking? Are project teams learning from their experience? Is this learning accessible to others starting similar projects? Can staff quickly tap into the knowledge of others and into the information they need with confidence that it’s the latest and most accurate? Is the good practice developed through trial and error accessible? And has a senior manager been assigned responsibility for knowledge and information matters?
Once you’ve identified the problems, a spread of techniques awaits to solve them. These belong to future issues of K&IM Refer
K&IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017