‘Introduction to Knowledge Management (IKM)*’ is an important book for oil and gas knowledge workers for two reasons; books on KM are rare and this one has special relevance to oil and gas with an in-depth analysis of Statoil’s Faros KM experiment.
IKM was written for students in Norway’s NTNU research institute and the text-book bravely attempts to define concepts, along with many references to various KM gurus. Unfortunately, the nebulous nature of KM shines through the contradictory definitions. Taken as a whole IKM has a kind of ‘fractal’ self-similarity. Read almost any paragraph, and the asides and qualifiers provide a resume of the whole.
What is KM?
The ‘what is KM?’ question is kind of answered in five or so pages. The answer is vague and in part, tautological ‘KM is the conceptualizing of an organization as an integrated knowledge system.’ KM is later categorized as being ‘concerned with effectively connecting those who know with those who need to know’, and by ‘converting personal knowledge into organizational knowledge’. That’s a bit easier to grasp. Things get even better on page 17 where we are encouraged to ‘capture content and bring knowledge to teams and communities’. But only a few pages later, we are told categorically that ‘knowledge cannot be captured!’
The book ranges idiosyncratically around its subject. The chapter covering infra-structure is some 50 pages long, but provides few hard technological facts. Lotus Notes (the granddaddy of KM infrastructure) receives no mention in the skimpy index, and gets short shrift in the text, ‘there are better alternatives-such as the web, as a basis for a collaborative environment.’ 20 pages of the technology section are devoted to neural networks, genetic algorithms and case-based reasoning.
Such apparent digressions are really at the heart of the authors’ subject, a soft-sell of the Corporum KM product from CognIT. Corporum (with five mentions in the index!) is an Autonomy-like tool for extracting and classifying textual information. Two IKM authors are officers of CognIT.
Statoil’s Faros project leveraged KM in a decision support system for the ill-fated Asgard field development (see Oil ITJ Vol. 4 N° 12). IKM provides a substantial amount of information on Faros along with some insightful lessons learned. These include the necessity to regard KM as a continuum of technology, content and people; to build user-friendly systems with minimal clicks between query and results; to start small; to store information at unique locations-while providing multiple, redundant paths to documents and finally to ensure that the KM system offers a learning capacity.
The last chapters, on measuring KM performance and the future of KM dissolve into a kind of ‘bluffers guide’ to KM and MBA jargon. One’s heart goes out to the NTNU students who have to learn this stuff! On balance though, oil and gas K-Managers should probably spend a few days plowing their way through IKM because there are no doubt some experiential gems hidden away in the verbiage.
* Introduction to Knowledge Management. Wang, Hjelmervik and Bremdal. Tapir Academic Press. ISBN 82-519-1660-7.
This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2002 Issue # 7.
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