Knowledge Management (KM) spans business organization and IT but while many of the speakers related successful application of new technologies, the consensus was that KM is a people problem before all else. The basic issues are fairly simple - how does an organization capture and share the knowledge that it builds up over the years through it's employees' experience? Sounds straightforward enough, but as we all know, it isn't. As Jack Carter Upstream Planning Manager of Mobil asked "Why is the Soft Stuff so hard?" One reason KM is difficult is that it is hard to identify what people know, as opposed to data or information which can be digitized or quantified. KM is an applied management technique that involves institutionalizing knowledge sharing, communicating, getting over the obstacle of culture change, and learning.
Knowledge is power!
The old paradigm of knowledge as power needs to be replaced with the idea that shared knowledge is power. While some IT solutions such as Knowledge Banks exist, the main IT innovation - and perhaps the reason for such renewed interest in KM - is the use of Internet and Intranet technologies for knowledge sharing. The KM revival also follows on the heels of widespread downsizing causing the inevitable loss of corporate knowledge. Another factor has been the realization that the current IT focus means that technical people may have lost sight of business objectives. KM can thus be categorized as an attempt to realign the whole of a company's objectives so that everyone is working towards the same goal (and know that they are doing it).
Dave Cowen (Texaco) pointed out that each individual has an unique perception of one facet of Geoscience. While data standards help, the real competitive edge comes from interpretation - in other words from the individual. Working from this, Cowen defines the desired outcome of the KM initiative as growing a culture which allows an individual to talk and use knowledge but warned that "KM can mean knowledge minefield. You need a framework to come through either alive or with less limbs damaged". Texaco use Microsoft Exchange as the project repository and techniques such as structured interviews, workbooks and workshops. Marcus Speh, Senior Corporate IT Adviser with Shell International described the group's Knowledge Management Map which he described as "an infrastructure to capture knowledge".
Such techniques are necessary because "Data is unstructured, Knowledge very rarely bubbles to the surface. What is important is to find it, and to build on it". One way this was achieved was by creating a global address book (which sounds trivial but is very important) and to provide different channels for learning, common desktop, mobile office, and a virtual team support. On the IT front, a superior search engine & seamless global IT service are considered key. Problems reported by Shell include the difficulties of website management with a chaotic process of web page creation by all-comers. Another difficulty was info-glut - with too much indigestible content. This problem was compounded by senior managers rarely having the time to get an understanding of what IT can do. Technologies deployed in KW include Lotus Notes and Domino, Netscape, Live Link & OpenText.
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