How Important Is Technology For Knowledge Management?

For the first time in my life, I delivered one hour talk without the aid of a Power Point presentation. No, I did not use any other software to make the slides. Did the projection system break down? No! Did the computer crash? No!

It was a talk delivered to K-Community, a group of IT professional in Bangalore interested in KM.  I took the brave decision of talking for an hour without any presentation aid to support my main thesis of the talk – “Technology is not the key for Knowledge Management, we already have enough of it. The key is to build connections among people.”

Till few years back I was a strong believer in use of technology in KM. I sincerely thought that once you have the right technology in place all the KM problems will be solved. However, since then several things happened which forced me to change my conviction. Just go through following points and check if you have encountered similar situations.

  1. Though you have set up a knowledge repository, you still find that people mostly search the web to get answers to their queries.
  2. You have set up a wiki but you are having difficulty in getting it populated with useful content. As a result the usage is very low.
  3. A project team maintains all their project related documents in their VSS (or any other SCM system they are using) and are not interested in adding them in the company knowledge repository.
  4. You have a mechanism of informing people of what is available in the knowledge repository but people still send email asking for specific documents.
  5. You are looking for some information and you are not sure where to search, so you ask a colleague for the information.
  6. You need a specific piece of information about a project executed in the past. You would rather locate any key member of the team ask that person than hunt through the project archive or search the company knowledge repository.

I have done an informal checked many IT professionals and I have not found anybody who strongly disagrees with these points. It may not be their official position because it may be politically incorrect.

So, the moral of the story is that …

… it is much more effective to ask the right person for the information than to search for the information

… in most situation the web is a better source for specific technical information than internal knowledge repository

I am reminded of a lecture by Aaron Tan Dani, who was the the Chairman for IASA – APAC where he made the following interesting points.

  • It does not matter whom you know – you know Bill Gates … so what … does he know you
  • What is important is who knows you
  • It is even more important who trusts you

It is all about building network — and that is the essence of Web2.0!

Technology is secondary. Use it to make it simple to build links among people.

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Consumer Centric Thinking

Are you planning to jump into the web2.0 bandwagon? Why?

  • To be perceived as cool brand?
  • To catch the eyeball? … To advertise?
  • To be where the consumers are?
  • Or simply not to be left behind?

I do not think these are valid reasons. However, I am also not saying that web2.0 is just hype, this phase will pass and no actions need to be taken. The essence of web2.0 is the connection it establishes among users of the web and between enterprises and consumers. As a result of this, the relation between consumers and enterprises is changing and changing very fast.

Fact 1 – Advertisement do not work as well as it used to – feedback of other consumers carry more weight

  • Consumers do research on the web before making any purchasing decision
  • Consumers rely more on own experience and independent feedback rather than company promotion material

Any bad interaction can not only damage the brand perception for one consumer, it can also have a cascading effect through social network and blogosphere. Multiple such reactions on the web can create an avalanche. Biggest problem is that even if the company rectifies the cause of the bad interaction, the postings remain forever.

Implication 1 – Each and every consumer interaction matters – more than ever

Such interaction can happen either through the medium of a company representative or through an automated system. When such interaction happens through an individual, the quality of the interaction not only depends on the skill and knowledge of the individual but also on the accuracy of information available.

  1. Systems designed to take care of normal situation can be from excellent to bad
  2. Systems designed to take care of abnormal situation is in most cases inadequate to awful

Human with good interaction skill can smoothen out the rough edges of the system. With automated systems this luxury is not available.

Fact 2 – Due to cost pressure organizations want to automate more and more of consumer interactions

There are so many examples. Just two of them are listed below. I am sure you can think of many more.

  • Introduction of IVRS system instead on call center operator and
  • “Fast Travel” initiative of IATA which wants to make all process in the airport as self service

Personally, I do not mind this shift and sometimes even prefer to interact with a well designed automated system. It works well as long as I am within the scope of the system. The problem starts when …

  1. … the system is designed keeping the company process in mind, where no attention is paid on how I will perceive the system

Implication 2 – Viewing the whole process from the perspective of the consumer is critical … and this is consumer-centric thinking

  1. … my problem falls outside of what has been envisaged by the organization

Such experience can really be frustrating and leads to a sense of helplessness. From my perspective, I would like to interact with an organization that has a method of listening to my “Voice of Frustration” and take action on it. I am more comfortable if I get the impression that they have a method of improving the system based on these feedbacks.

Implication 3 – Adaptable and responsive system is required

Before the web2.0 days, such information was not easily available. Fortunately it is much easier to find out this voice if the company cares to do it. Social networks, blogosphere and many other popular sites are full of such feedbacks. What is required is the will to trace them and take action specifically and systemically.

Fact 3 – Number and types of channels and touch points of consumer interaction has increased significantly

Today there are many more different methods and devices for such interactions. They range from face to face interaction and interaction over phone with a real person to automated interaction through web, kiosk, mobile etc. The email interaction is another channel and it falls in between. What has complicated matter is that the web no longer a single channel. The way of managing the interaction through company web site is quite different from managing the aggregators, social networking applications and even micro blogging.

Implication 4 – Ensuring consistent and logical response across so many channels becomes much bigger challenge

This is a good time to be a consumer. We have unprecedented choice in products and services. Also there is some indication that organizations have started taking consumers seriously and trying to become more consumer-centric.

However, providing uniform and logical consumer experience across multiple channels is not easy. How well an organization is geared up to handle this challenge depends on the answer to following questions:

  1. Is there a process in place which will ensure cross-channel uniformity?
  2. Is there anybody in the organization who is responsible from ensuring cross-channel uniformity?

I suspect that for most organizations the answer to both the questions will be NO.

Web2.0 may not be directly related to consumer-centric thinking but it can act as a catalyst.