KM: Difficult to define but here to stay

KM: Difficult to define but here to stay

For some people, knowledge management, or KM, may be just the latest, trendy management theory acronym.

Alex Bennet, Navy deputy CIO for enterprise integration and co-chair of the CIO Council's KM working group, disagrees.

'This is not some big, new fad,' Bennet said. 'It's a way of focusing on intellectual capital and how we apply that in this new world where everybody is connected and has access to everything, so there's an exponential increase in data and information. In this new virtual world, how are we going to handle the complexity of decision-making? That's what it's all about.'

Here's how Ramon Barquin, president of Barquin International Inc. of Washington, defines KM: 'Knowledge management is the process through which an enterprise uses its collective intelligence to accomplish its strategic objectives.' Fundamentally, KM is 'about letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing,' he said.

A white paper by the CIO Council's KM working group, 'Managing Knowledge @ Work,' is available at www.km.gov. Released last month, it says that KM has three components: people, processes and technology.

People promote the sharing of knowledge; processes find and create knowledge; and IT stores and disseminates knowledge, and 'allows people to work together without being together,' the paper said.

IT's role is intrinsic to the KM concept. The networks and stored data are essential.

Barquin, for example, said KM isn't possible without data warehousing and document management systems.

But KM insiders say that good technology isn't enough. 'Think of the data warehouse and the IT environment as the necessary and logical infrastructure that is going to enable people to use their collective intelligence to accomplish objectives,' Barquin said.

Technical systems don't replace people, said Jeanne Holm, manager of the KM program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 'What the systems do is give people the information and ammunition they need to make decisions.'

Tom Rossi, an Anteon Corp. executive and the senior member of the KM team at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said that overemphasizing technology impedes successful KM.

'You can have too much of it, and it turns into a trade show,' he said. 'You have to focus on people in knowledge management. The technology has to be a people enabler, not a stumbling block to people making good decisions.'

Said Ruth David, president and chief executive officer of ANSER Inc. of Arlington, Va.: 'There's still a desire to buy a knowledge management system when in fact a system without the associated processes is useless. In many cases, we're much better at writing the specs to buy something than we are at building the right framework around it to use it in practice.'

Integration needed

Most important, KM officials say, is that KM programs have to be integrated into an agency's core business processes.

'It has to be part of everything we do,' Bennet said. 'It's not just something you do, and then that's it. It's a new way of thinking, directly tied to an organization's mission.'

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