The topic of knowledge management has grown in importance in recent years. It has become evident that retaining knowledge has a direct impact on staying competitive in the market. Acquisitions, mergers, employee turn-over and outsourcing all contribute to the challenge of retaining critical knowledge within an organization. This has introduced a host of new technologies to help in retaining corporate knowledge, assist in exchanging knowledge, and developing new knowledge. These technologies and processes are implemented and applied on a business need basis and therefore lack an overall corporate knowledge management strategy, significantly limiting their usefulness. The fundamental question is: what does knowledge management in the context of a corporation actually mean ? ISO 30401:2018 simply states that knowledge management is maintaining knowledge but does not clearly define the how, the what and the why for it.
It can be seen that knowledge management comprises processes and technology, and involves people that either consume this knowledge or contribute knowledge to this system. But it’s not only people: enterprise systems also play a significant role in consuming knowledge as well as generating new knowledge. The computationally generated and consumed knowledge is gaining more and more in importance given the developments in artificial intelligence and business analytics.
Considering these developments, the perfect discipline in an organization to provide leadership and direction in developing a knowledge management strategy is enterprise architecture. From focusing on individual technologies and their fit for use, EAs need to step back and take a holistic approach in developing a knowledge management architecture. A shift to a knowledge management architecture will help in refocusing on essentials and ensure that a higher degree of knowledge integration is achieved. The following questions should be examined:
What are the core knowledge areas that need to be preserved?
Implementing a knowledge management architecture is not a trivial undertaking. It will require significant human, financial and other resources in order to be successful. Given the vast scope it can be overwhelming to determine what should be included in the purview. A clear definition of the core competency of an organisation is required, which will then determine what core knowledge should be captured first.
What degree of information granularity needs to be captured and retained?
This question will follow in sequence from the previous one. What information granularity are we interested in retaining? Is every email pertaining to a certain knowledge area important? Or do several functional descriptions suffice? Determining and maintaining the right granularity of information is a complex balancing act since too much information on a competency will often prevent finding the critical one, and too little information will tend to miss critical components. Therefore, finding the right balance of granularity in information storage will drive the right level of knowledge management.
Managing lessons learned
At the end of every project, work sessions are conducted on lessons learned. Everything is properly documented and stored in the project folders. These lessons learned need to have a transformation process attached that will result in improved business processes’ design and execution. This will ensure that benefits derived from identifying areas of improvement will be directly implemented and not vanish from corporate sites and become lost.
What governance rules and principles need to be developed and implemented?
Developing a knowledge management architecture requires the definition of principles that will support the overall development process. Issues pertaining to change management and information update principles, as well as alignment to the overall corporate strategy need to be part of this definition . This initiative is closely linked to the final technology portfolio that will be chosen to facilitate knowledge management in updating, logging and publishing knowledge throughout the organization by developing standards and processes.
What technologies will be suitable to support knowledge management?
A proper portfolio of technologies needs to be established to support knowledge management. This can include :
- Corporate social networks, blogs and wikis
- Collaboration software
- Document management systems
- Various databases containing product, customer, supplier and material information, etc.
- Enterprise search systems
- Various artificial intelligence applications
How can in-flight initiatives be incorporated into the developed knowledge management architecture?
Anytime an enterprise architecture is changed, the challenge is how to integrate or migrate initiatives that are in-flight or completed. A migration path needs to be developed that will ensure that these new solutions contribute to the overall knowledge management activities. One approach could be to identify certain “hooks” or entry points where these in-flight solutions can connect to the new knowledge management architectures without creating a costly major redevelopment. Again, benefits need to be evaluated over cost and effort to determine the right integration path.
Launching a corporate knowledge management endeavour provides significant challenges and requires a new architecture design to be able to take advantage of the implementation of enterprise ontologies, knowledge graphs, knowledge modeling and various knowledge management applications. These new architectures require a significant level of agility to be able to change and adapt to ever new challenges that businesses are facing today.