Knowledge Management and the “White Space”
What do you know? More importantly, tell me what you don’t know.
How would you go about answering this question? In context of the business world, specifically management consulting, the answer to this question can mean the success or failure of future projects. If this question is unanswerable, the new question then becomes: If your team doesn’t have the answer to a certain question, how do you provide them the resources to confidently proceed?
Thus, the critical importance of knowledge management.
Management consulting firms like McKinsey and Booz & Company (formerly Katzenbach Partners) have acknowledged this “best practice” of the industry: as organizations grow in scale and scope of projects, firms must embrace both knowledge management systems and strategies to leverage the firm’s human capital. It’s important to note that strategy must be paired with system implementation; implementing a new system without the awareness or understanding of the reason for the new system can have very negative consequences (and more likely than not, the refusal of employees to adopt the new system). Once the strategy to consolidate and manage knowledge has been established, building the system to collect and redistribute the knowledge in a meaningful way is where the true business value appears. Not only do documents become easily accessible, the people of the firm now have the freedom to access information to help them answer questions they don’t immediately know the answer to. This system becomes the institutional knowledge center for the entire organization, regardless of multiple office locations, a large traveling consultant base, or the acquisition of new junior staff without any prior knowledge of the firm.
Knowledge management systems allow employees to tap into a Google-esque search algorithm that not only searches the firm’s internal database, but also shows the “white space” of knowledge within an organization. Being able to pinpoint search results that have no data to answer the searched question represents the potential for new knowledge creation, and thus more value add to the firm’s clients. Interestingly enough, even though accessible documentation of knowledge seems like the most critical piece of knowledge management, in actuality it becomes what the firm doesn’t have information on that is most valuable.
In a world where Web 2.0 is standard to people’s everyday interaction with the internet (Wikipedia, Google, Second Life, Blogs, etc.), it becomes no surprise that Enterprise 2.0 components would quickly become adopted in the corporate sphere. Building systems and strategies which promote, support and extend a community of practice (where learning, meaning and identity are shared and developed) is a critical source of competitive advantage for many firms.
As a side note, while the benefit of these systems can be reaped by the corporate world, so too can Education systems benefit. My question to the class, then, would be: How could Temple University or the Fox School of Business benefit from a knowledge management strategy and/or system? What would this system look like? Who would be the primary user of this system?