The IT Service Management Series - Part 1: Knowledge Management – Recognizing your most valuable free asset
Taking stock of your knowledge isn’t always a proactive exercise, it may occur after the sudden loss of a key employee or a steady decline in business know-how. Few corporate assets are more complex or difficult to maintain than internal knowledge. At CloudWave, we employ some of the best technical and business minds in healthcare IT, but we are not immune to aging processes, changing environments or departing employees. More than half of today’s IT companies invest in some form of knowledge management,  however, as vendor solutions for knowledge multiply, are organizations treating their ailments or just the symptoms?
THE DUAL DILEMMA
Knowledge has many disparate definitions, but business researchers largely acknowledge two universal vulnerabilities:
- Knowledge is time-sensitive.
- Knowledge may lose relevance as environments change.
These traits are further complicated by today’s rapid demand for information and decision making – and the result is two-fold:
- Employees are now empowered to independently act on time-sensitive knowledge.
- The traditional top-down model is disrupted as leaders cannot determine what knowledge is valuable to their employees because the environment changes too quickly. 
Revisiting the Knowledge Management System
At its core, a Knowledge Management System (KMS) should support the creation, transfer and application of an organization’s knowledge. This function comes in many flavors- knowledge base, content management, learning management, collaborative tools, SKMS (ITIL), etc. These organized practices are increasingly necessary as technology transforms healthcare. However, without looking inward to identify what your organization needs and how it uses knowledge, these applications may operate more like “bolt on” processes, rather than solutions.
CloudWave is reflecting on its knowledge program as we speak. We have a content management system doubling as a collaborative tool, we are developing processes to categorize our information and we have a resource dedicated to knowledge management. These are positive steps, but our organization, and many others, may benefit from a deeper understanding of the role knowledge plays in business.
SIMPLIFYING THE KMS
Assume your KMS is in order, maintaining your KMS is pretty straightforward- there are generally three techniques for creating new and managing existing knowledge:
- Best practice transfer- organizing and sharing internal best practices (through training, mentoring, documenting, etc.).
- Knowledge audits- evaluating a person, organization, system, process, product or project to determine its level of knowledge efficiency (NOTE: you must first have a knowledge baseline).
- Employee development- a joint agreement between the employee and organization to improve or increase the employee’s skills and knowledge.
PERSONALIZING THE KMS
The key to developing your KMS is understanding how your organization uses knowledge. Your IT responsibilities probably span multiple user types but recognizing the purpose and flow of your knowledge may help narrow your KMS needs.
- Research and discovery- expand access to outside knowledge to apply toward organization needs.
- Uniformity or conformity- instill confidence and compliance in organization policies, processes and procedures.
- Access to information- facilitate access to and retrieval of relevant information.
- Process and expertise- link the flow and transfer of knowledge to create a wider understanding and depth of knowledge and experience.
- Support decision making- interpret information to develop competency in organizational and individual decision making.
(Paraphrased from: Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. (2001). Review: Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Systems: Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues. MIS Quarterly, 25(1), 107-136. doi:10.2307/3250961)
CALIBRATING THE KMS
Let’s complete our reverse-analysis of the KMS by considering the ecosystem of the organization and the knowledge level of everyone in it.
- Capture a knowledge baseline- Many IT organizations adopted the collaborative team model. This solution offers quick access to multiple perspectives and experience, but it lowers the organization’s shared knowledge. (How much common knowledge exists across your organization)?
- Identify knowledge targets- First, determine what your KMS should help you do at the 10,000-foot level. (i.e., deliver IT services to clinicians). Next, identify how your organization will climb 10,000 feet. (How will you provide clinicians mobile access to a patient’s EHR)?
- Recognize where context is needed- Knowledge exchange occurs when Person A understands a message from Person B. The exchange is possible because both people have an overlap of knowledge. Organizations with a high-level of shared knowledge need less context for collaboration and decision making, where organizations with little shared knowledge require more context for these functions. (Can your IT engineers and help desk teams accurately describe one another’s duties...when a technical challenge is discovered, do they speak the same language)?
Recap and Ideal State
Business knowledge can be difficult to appreciate because it’s intangible and assumed intact. CloudWave is investing in our own KMS by analyzing the relationship between our business needs and the knowledge our organization creates and consumes. However, you don’t need to invest in an IT tool to capture and manage your knowledge- at least not yet. You can mature into a knowledge-driven organization by recognizing knowledge as a fleeting asset and committing to a methodical response. You begin by doing some reflection:
Calibrate your organization’s knowledge
- Capture a knowledge baseline to understand what everyone knows and believes.
- Identify knowledge targets to give your team a clear view of how they should work together.
- Observe where context is needed so key participants develop a common understanding.
Make your KMS personal
- Recognize how knowledge flows to create and manage your services.
- Design your processes and KMS to mirror your knowledge use (identify your user type).
Simply commit to knowledge maintenance
- Organize your knowledge and facilitate best practice transfer to your team.
- Audit your knowledge to determine the efficiency of your people, processes and assets.
- Encourage employees to develop their skills and become stakeholders in best practice transfer.
The knowledge management journey is unique. Some organizations may seek robust solutions for Meaningful Use while others need cost-effective solutions to simplify reporting. However, the ideal state of a knowledge-driven organization is a culture that understands and accepts knowledge as fundamental to success.
When your KMS and processes perform the following, your organization is getting there.
- Make your knowledge visible and show its role in organizational success.
- Develop a knowledge intensive culture that rewards teams for sharing knowledge.
- Build a knowledge infrastructure to facilitate interaction between employees.