How Marketers Can Capture and Leverage the Collective Knowledge Within Their Organizations03.03.2010
The Need for Knowledge Management
By not managing their own corporate brainpower,most companies fail to realize the gains that can be acquired from harnessing the collective knowledge of the marketing organization. Finding a way to make knowledge accessible to the company offers vast pay back to individual employees as well as the company itself.
The Net Benefit of Effective Knowledge Management
An effective knowledge management system is comprised of strategy, process and technology, and impacts the organization on a number of levels. When implemented successfully, knowledge management:
- fosters innovation
- improves customer service
- decreases the time it takes to build corporate proficiencies in new areas
- facilitates the process of bringing new employees up to speed
- empowers employees to share knowledge across functional areas
- enhances employee retention rates
- increases revenue through improved efficiency and higher productivity
- increases the organization’s ability to get products and services to market quickly
The Specific Gain for Marketing Organizations
While knowledge management has broad application across various business units, there is a specific gain to be had for marketing organizations—the ability to capture and apply actionable intelligence for the optimization of marketing efforts.
At Tocquigny, we spend a lot of our time on measurement. Our core focus is to provide global enterprises with integrated solutions that are fully measurable and focus on improving business performance. The “fully measurable” part of this promise involves data and information. Every campaign or interactive tool we create has tracking built in to provide measurement data. The “improving business performance” part of this promise takes measurement to the next level—using it to impact future ecisions and optimize campaigns.
Measurement is more than just tracking. It is the smart analysis of data and information that leads to actionable intelligence—or knowledge. Knowledge management enables marketing organizations to systematically capture the
insights gained from measurement and use that knowledge to become better marketers.
The Evolution of Knowledge Organizations
Companies like Tocquigny—and the marketing groups we serve—are knowledge organizations. They derive more value from their intellectual assets than they do from their physical assets. The value of these assets is difficult to quantify because they exist in the minds and collective experience of employees, yet the growth and management of these assets is crucial in such organizations. Even so, knowledge management is rarely accomplished to any degree of effectiveness in organizations today. The following developments have made effective knowledge management an increasingly difficult challenge.
In many cases, knowledge is scattered across an organization, existing on individual hard drives and in the minds of employees. In cases where there are “knowledge base” technology systems in place, they are generally underutilized, or they exist as disparate point solutions that do not take into account the entire knowledge landscape of the organization. If you dig down far enough in these organizations, you may find a great depth of existing knowledge. However, the problem today is that organizations don’t know what they know—and, more importantly, they don’t know what they don’t know. There may be large gaps in knowledge that no one is aware of because there is no way of evaluating collective knowledge or identifying areas that need focused attention.
The Changing Workforce
Changes in today’s workforce only add to the problem. If business professionals from the 1900s were to travel in time to the 1950s, they would notice incredible changes in the world around them—air travel, the ubiquity of automobiles, skyscrapers—all of which would leave them feeling drastically out of place. Eventually, though, they would adjust to these changes and begin to fit in with their new environment. But what if business professionals from 1950s traveled in time to today? They would not notice nearly as much change in the world outside the office—but they would see a corporate environment that is completely transformed. Gone is the notion of faithful employees devoting their entire careers to one company. Gone, too, are the pension plans and job security of the past. Employers have just as little loyalty to their employees as the employees have in return. A successful professional today might work for 5, 10 or 15 companies in the course of his or her career, and large corporate layoffs are everyday occurrences. These fundamental changes in the workplace would ultimately be more devastating to our time traveler than the physical changes that took place between 1900 and 1950.
New Employee/Employer Relationships
The rules that govern the employee/employer relationship have changed. Knowledge workers today view their work as an investment of their time, attention, passion and knowledge in the companies they work for. They expect a good return on this
investment. They expect to learn, grow, be challenged and ultimately come away from their time at a company with a greater level of knowledge and experience than they had when they went in. A knowledge organization has to learn how to create an environment that allows these employees to thrive. The organization must also learn how to capture the knowledge brought to the table by these individuals in the limited time it has with them. The emergence of this entirely new work environment makes knowledge management more important than perhaps any other discipline a knowledge organization can work towards. Employees are retiring, moving on to new jobs, or otherwise leaving the company at alarming rates—and holding exit interviews to try to make sure they tell you everything they know before they leave just isn’t enough.
Using Technology to Harness Knowledge
Technology is an incredibly powerful force in transforming the way businesses operate on every level of the knowledge hierarchy (see Figure 1). On the data and information levels, it provides tracking to gather raw data and systems for storage and
quick access to information. Unfortunately,many companies do not utilize technology beyond the information level. Knowledge, or the actionable intelligence that emerges from analyzing data and information, is often left to float outside of technology
systems as intangible assets in the minds and PowerPoints of employees. Knowledge Management technology can harness this knowledge.
The Role of Technology
Before exploring knowledge management technology, it is important to understand that there are many elements of knowledge management that must be enabled by technology rather than driven by it.
- Technology does not create knowledge.The entrepreneurial spirit is a human trait.Leadership and inspiration are required to maintain the culture of innovation and thought leadership that technology is designed to capture.
- Technology is not a substitute for clear and effective process. Technology can assist the implementation of process, but it is not process itself. Organizations must have clear guidelines and incentives to ensure that knowledge is identified and stored. Technology is simply there to capture the end result of this process.
Comparing Technology Solutions for Knowledge Management
There are many technology solutions that can be force fitted to the task of knowledge management. These solutions are often data/information oriented rather than knowledge oriented. The most effective knowledge
management solutions are designed specifically for knowledge. This chart compares the widespread ad hoc system of e-mail and shared drives with two of the more common technology solutions for knowledge management and a new
emerging technology solution (see Figure 2).
You can see from this comparison that collaborative knowledge management networks work very differently than other common technology solutions. The foundation for these networks is teamwork, collaboration and a flexible organizational structure, enabling a group of individuals to build one common repository of knowledge that represents the collective knowledge of the group. By combining the knowledge of all individuals into one unified system, it creates a sort of collective brain for knowledge organizations— representing more knowledge than any one individual possesses alone.
What Is a Collaborative Knowledge Management Network?
A collaborative knowledge management network is an interactive tool that allows users to work together to create, maintain and share content. This content is made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of individual pages, consisting of text, images and links. Each of these pages links to other pages within the network, creating a loose neural mesh of interconnected content that is organized somewhat organically. A page about North America might link to a page about Texas, which might link to a page about oil and gas, which might link to a page about Saudi Arabia.This allows users to browse and edit content in a way that is compatible with the way their minds work.
In addition to having organic connectionsbetween pages, collaborative knowledge management networks allow content to be classified into categories and sub-categories, creating a more formal content structure. There are several ways for users to locate and consume content. They can use the category structure to browse content systematically, follow the natural connections made through links between content pages, or use built-in search functionality to jump straight to the content they are looking for.
In short, collaborative knowledge management networks are the corporate version of public wikis, which allow the masses to create, maintain and share content over the Internet. A great example of a public wiki that has a huge base of users is the Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com). Because of the openness to an unlimited base of users, public wikis have run into problems of content accuracy in the past. These problems are virtually eliminated in collaborative knowledgemanagement network. That is because such a network consists of a closed loop of users working together towards a common goal. The closed loop also fosters greater accountability on the part of users.
Net Benefit for Organizations
A Platform for Sharing. The unique collaboration and organizational attributes of collaborative knowledge management networks provide the ideal technology platform for sharing ideas in organizations. Users can post best practices and compare and discuss alternative ways of accomplishing tasks. Users can add to and improve upon best practices posted by their co-workers. Best practices can be organized in any way that makes sense to users so they can even be re-organized at any time a user comes up with a better way to structure them.
A Platform for Training. As content is compiled in the system over time, it becomes a central, authoritative source of knowledge that can be invaluable for new employees joiningthe organization. Individuals can get up to speed on business, processes and best practices, and they have a living reference manual to help them get oriented to the organization. The collaborative knowledge management network is a great tool for crosstraining employees, allowing them to browse
knowledge across disciplines and learn from their co-workers.
An Integration-Driven Central Repository.The flexible structure of the system allows for linking to external files, tools and data systems. Collaborative knowledge management networks are ideal for storing knowledge, but relational
databases and other data systems still have their place in organizations for storing data and information. These systems can be integrated with the organization’s collaborative knowledge management network, allowing users to follow
links into other systems or, at the very least, reference the data stored in other systems so users are able to locate valuable resources outside of the collaborative knowledge management network. In this way, the tool can serve as an organization’s “card catalog” of data in addition to fulfilling its valuable knowledge storing function.
A Solution for Retaining Knowledge. By creating an effective repository of knowledge, the system allows organizations to manage the increased turnover brought on by the new workforce and thrive in spite of the flow of human knowledge in and out of the organization.
Factors Enabling Collaborative Knowledge Management
When collaborative knowledge management networks are implemented effectively, they are far more successful than other technology solutions. Content in organizations is better when it is created through teamwork. There are
a number of factors that contribute to the adoption and success of collaborative knowledge networks.
Ownership and Trust. Because the responsibility to create, update and organize content rests on the masses rather than a select few, users feel a sense of ownership and theaccountability that comes with that. Content collaboration does not release individuals from personal responsibility. Content areas can be flagged by individuals for monitoring changes. When anyone makes a change to content that has been flagged, the user who flagged it receives an e-mail letting them know what was changed. In sensitive areas, content could be flagged as tentative until approved by the content owner, or editing/viewing could be restricted to a limited user group. Additionally, content that has not been edited for some time can be flagged and the content owner can be made aware of it to act accordingly. In the most effective implementations, users police content themselves and enforce usage standards.
Collaboration. Users work together to create content that none of them might be able to create on their own. One user may start a page on a particular topic without much actual content. Subsequent users who view the page
will then add any relevant content that they are aware of to the page. Additionally, content is kept up to date because the first person to read content that has gone out of date has the ability to update the information. For example,if a product or service has been renamed, the first person to read a page of content on the collaborative knowledge management network that is still using the old name could update the content on the spot.
Ease of Use. Most alternatives for content management involve complex rules regarding who can view, create and edit content. If a particular piece of content is found to be out of date or missing, the person who discovered the problem must determine who has the ability to change that piece of content, contact that person and ask them to make the change, and then wait for it to be updated. In some cases, additional approval processes add even more layers of complexity to the system. By allowing anyone to edit content on the fly, collaborative knowledge management networks eliminate this complexity and make it incredibly easy and satisfying to contribute and update content.
Detailed Tracking. A common question is, “How can a user trust the accuracy ofinformation in the collaborative knowledge management network when anyone could potentially input false information?” In fact, the accountability that is built into the system allows users not only to view the content of each page, but also to examine who contributed it, what they contributed and when they contributed. The content is just as reliable as the person who entered it, and, with the ability to tell who entered what, users can contact the content author if they have questions. If content is blatantly wrong, any user has the ability to roll it back to any previous version—and actions can be taken against the author of the bad content if it was intentionally malicious.Additionally, discussion pages can be provided that parallel each content page with the specific purpose of providing an outlet for discussion regarding the accuracy, organization or other characteristics of content.
Accountability. If users’ actions were anonymous, there would be no accountability for actions and users could engage in content vandalism. But collaborative knowledge management networks should not be anonymous. Unlike public wikis, which are open to nearly unlimited users, corporate collaborative knowledge management networks have a finite user base. Because of this, validation can be required for any user to log into the system, and all actions can be tracked to a specific person. User log-ins can even be integrated with existing security --, so employees do not have to remember an additional log-in name and password.
Implementing a knowledge management solution will take time and hard work—but the long-term benefits of knowledge management are so strong that they can not be ignored. Organizations have recognized the benefits of utilizing technology on the data and information levels for decades. When organizations take the next step to begin utilizing technology for knowledge management, they can create a learning environment as well as establish a foundation for increased