Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Are we ready for KM?

We are considering implementing an online collaborative open source platform to replace the functions of some of our existing, more traditional platforms and systems over the next year or so. Effectively a knowledge management system (KMS).

We currently:
  • have a very customised LotusNotes database as our main project management tool
  • use e-mail to communicate with multiple project teams external to our organisation and internally
  • use e-mail and word documents to create, share and save documents, reports and forms
  • have a separate finance system and multiple excel spreadsheets in use across the organisation
  • have an internal SharePoint Intranet
  • and an EDRMS for records management
  • and an external facing website (of course)
We have information overload, duplication of information, inefficient and unlcear processes, work-arounds, poor version control and full inboxes.

Of course for knowledge management (and information management) this is a nightmare. It is also difficult and inefficient for users - our staff. They have to think about what information goes where, when does it become a record, should it be saved into LotusNotes or to the Intranet (or both)? Which version with tracked changes is the latest?

Technology is at the stage where it is fairly easy and relatively affordable to solve many of these issues and allow us to communicate and collaborate within teams, across silos, internally and with external partners. Our staff travel so they need access to information on portable devices, wherever they are. Being able to locate all they need in one place and communicate across multiple channels at the same time would be ideal.

Behind this business need and the main driver are deeper issues. We need to standardise and document our processes, promote transparency, provide accurate reporting and accountability and measure impacts. Of course we still have to consider copyright, privacy, accessibility, record keeping and other compliance, good governance and regulatory requirements. See my last post on KM v RM.

So what is stopping us? Fear of change, a fear of failing and an unhealthy attachment to personal inboxes and file structures. A culture built around personal relationships, sharing on a 'need to know' basis, individual ways of doing things, freedom of individuals to choose how to manage a project, internal silos, cultural differences and technological barriers (overseas partners), information technology illiteracy, 30 years of having done it a 'certain way' and a lack of resources.

We desperately need to change but have no appetite for it and no energy or time to learn new ways of working. Do we wait another 20 years for the next generation who will demand these changes or do we go for it? I'll let you know how we go :-)

A leader who does not allow himself time to think may turn into a thoughtless leader. Likewise, an organisation that does not allow itself time to think may turn into a thoughtless organisation.