Friday, 21 September 2012
Prudent investments – Knowledge management and the CKO.
There have been multiple views on what the role of a Chief Information Officer in an organization ought to be. In a previous article I had shared some perspectives on how that role has panned out over the years and why it was critical to revisit the agenda and purpose of the CIO. While the focus of the CIO, and in turn the CIO organization, has to be around how the business boundaries can be expanded - a Contribution to Value Creation (CVC) view rather than the limited TCO view - it still revolves around innovation based upon the usage of technology to accomplish what was hitherto not possible within the information gathering, storage, analysis and deliverance domain. That is the information management ecosystem.
Like all other assets that sit on the balance sheet of an organization, data from its most raw form to the most refined one, is an asset that needs to be managed optimally to derive maximum returns from it. While the data pyramid and the nomenclature applied to different layers of it may vary from person to person and organization to organization, the essence of data refinement and the views to take on it are broadly defined by the value that comes out of its usage as an asset. I take a simplistic 4-layer view of the data pyramid through the rest of this article and this is not sacrosanct, everyone can have a different view and that may not be incorrect at all, but the essence of the takeaways that I focus on, would remain the same, whatever the view. I simply view the 4 layers as data, information, intelligence and knowledge.
The first 3 layers and the nomenclature and semantics thereof have been in use for a long time and have been extensively used. I believe that these layers of the pyramid warrant no further analysis to gain any deeper understanding than already exists and will be touched upon only to provide relative references. What interests me, therefore, is knowledge, and we will discover why.
It pains me no end to hear people talk of almost all the ‘knowledge’ in the world being available at their fingertips within the World Wide Web. Name the thing and you can learn about it by typing it into any of the decent search engines out there and the best part is that you don’t even need to know how to spell it correctly. What we do have access to, is a plethora of information, neatly stacked and delivered for our consumption, about almost anything in the world, real or virtual, with a thousand more views and opinions thrown in. It even has many how-to procedures and instructions to carry out almost any activity that one may need on day-to-day basis.
Well, here is the twist. There are so many books written on ‘how to become a millionaire in x easy steps’, ‘how to get rich in y steps’ et al. If one could follow those instructions and procedures and get to become millionaires and rich, why is everyone not rich yet? Loads of spiritual literature tells us the path to nirvana – reading them and getting there should be a piece of cake, right? There is all the literature in the world on how to build ships, cities, nuclear reactors, particle accelerators, jet aircrafts, social networks, recipes for the best spreads, smartphones, steel making, name the thing! If reading these could have helped someone create them and do so at optimal costs and find the right markets for them, the world would not be what it is today. Here is why…
Structured data is information. Information doled out meaningfully to help analysis and understanding of what the information is about, provides intelligence. Intelligence, in this sense, has the encapsulated knowledge of the person(s) who designed this pre-defined view of the information to make it meaningful in a given context. All of this could still be potentially available to anyone who buys that intelligence, since it has been built into a product that delivers that intelligence.
Knowledge is in the interpretation of the data, information and intelligence that can be put to useful ends. In a business context, it is that crucial element of understanding that helps trigger and enable concrete action to produce tangible and viable results. This needs people and their intellect at the core, and, perhaps a structured approach to how the analysis, hypothesis and resultant interpretation are arrived at. The approach can be likened to the purpose-hypothesis-experiment-observation-analysis-inference cycle in a laboratory experiment context, for instance. Knowledge management deals with the people, methodology, processes, frameworks et al that are required to drive that all-important interpretation-to-action cycle.
Often, the world has been so obsessed and mired with the information management ecosystem that it has blundered by mistaking it for the knowledge management ecosystem. When you see knowledge management frameworks in organizations, very mature ones in some cases, you actually see a framework for submission, storage, retrieval and sharing of information and some static intelligence (the how-to, procedures, work instructions et al in the best case scenario). The content of such knowledge management systems is hardly unique except for the name of the organization and could easily be found in similar forms (if not the same) in the public domain.
The knowledge that resides in an organization, and by virtue of which the organization differentiates itself in the marketplace, is (or rather ought to be) the total intellectual capital of the organization (not just the ones patented or copyrighted and not confined to the final product or service only!). It is the most valuable asset of an organization. Since it largely resides in people and the ability of the KM framework to facilitate structured interpretation to action cycles, it is a humongous challenge to precisely value this asset. So you do not see it in the balance sheet or any other financial statement for that matter. The importance and criticality of managing this asset is slowly gaining ground and organizations are investing in knowledge management teams and a Chief Knowledge Officer. There has never been a more compelling argument for the existence of any other role in the core group of an organization as this.
There are some businesses that might think that they aren’t much of a ‘knowledge’ organization and that the nature of their business does not need knowledge management in the elaborate way that is described above. The fact that an organization differentiates itself from other players in the same space and does business in an ecosystem of internal and external stakeholders through its own signature products and/or services inherently means that there is knowledge in the organization. It is upon organizations to acknowledge that and to appreciate the fact that the least tangible of their assets is the one that truly helps build the rest of the tangible ones.
You may also find some interesting perspectives on this and related themes in
Note: The views expressed here and in any of my posts are my personal views and not to be construed as being shared by any organization or group that I am or have been associated with presently or in the past.