It’s been fun watching the computing world mature, from the days when mainframe computers occupied an entire operations-intensive room to the power of applications on our mobile phones. Have we finally awoken to the reality that mobile communications has caught-up with the Dick Tracy comic character and his 2-way wrist watch phone? Technology has been (as predicted!) evolving so quickly, that even professional prognosticators are merely guessing where we will be in another 10-20 years; Science Fiction has rapidly become Science Fact.
Technology & Lifestyle Morphing
Today, data intensity is enveloping our business and social worlds – from airwaves, to telephone circuits, computer cables, and mobile devices we are growing into data junkies relying on our next data fix to help us make the smallest of decisions! Our lifestyle and habits are changing radically with our dependence on technology to support our daily existence. In this new digital-centric way of life businesses that provide services and products supported by digital highways and mountains of data must pay close attention to the operation and performance of their technology infrastructure. On the other hand, consumers need to develop reasonable expectations on the value and use of the data retrieved and used. For example, do we rely completely on sourced data or attempt to balance with our lifetime of experiences and insights contained in our sensory, short and long memories?
Information is King. That was true a thousand years ago, and it is true today. It was also true that gathering information, for the purpose of making informed decisions, was and will always be the most critical success factor in almost any undertaking. Leveraging the digital environment: What has changed immeasurably today over a thousand years is the ability to find and access data. If you can access the internet from your handheld, you can access more than a thousand years’ of human learning almost instantly.
But, what do you do with it? Furthermore, how do you handle structured versus unstructured information? Can you aggregate the information as you need it? Probably not, there’s too much there. What about a web application though? There things get more interesting, because you may be able to interface with the data you want, already organized in a useful manner in a database. In effective decision making the big challenge is making sure that the data is being aggregated into actionable information and subsequently used to generate new tacit knowledge accurate, complete, and appropriate.
The astonishing acceleration of data growth and the heterogeneous character of the data mean that organizations whose IT infrastructures transport, store, secure, and replicate large amounts of data, have little choice but to employ ever more sophisticated approaches, techniques, and tools for information management, security, search, storage and database management. Add mobile into the mix and data management presents a new level of complexity for ensuring total accuracy, high level of performance and successful rendering of data and information with the different technical environments. Effective data and database management empowers business and technology executives to use current information as the basic building block of high-quality decisions.
Enterprise Data Challenges
That said, let’s talk about your corporate database and remote access. Some of your data and information is customer facing, some of it is internal-eyes only. You probably have some information that you simply don’t want accessible from a web application without VPN protection. What happens then when you have an off-site conference, sales event, or activity? And what happens when you are missing either the VPN or the internet access?
You need to give your off-site workers access to critical data in order to facilitate their decision-making processes. The ability to get the right information to the right mobile devices and mobile workers has gone from a “nice to have” to “mission critical.” We are in a whole new work environment — much different than in our grandparents’ days when the work day was 9-5 and they left work to enjoy the remainder of the day with their family. Contrast that with today’s typical executives or workers who are expected to respond quickly to after-hours calls and emails on their hand-held devices and be in a position to instantly make decisions and collaborate with colleagues!
A Typical Data Story
At a recent event on a cruise ship, it was observed that the sales staff struggling to get sales desk set up because they did not have the information they needed at hand. Customer information was missing; inventory information was missing; and the ability to connect past sales with present sales (essential for a variety of reasons) was not there. Their helplessness to process transactions on a timely basis and without correct information cost them over 6 figures in sales for the event. This is not isolated to cruise ships; outdoor events in remote locations have the same issue, no cell tower, and no internet access. Even some higher-end hotel locations may not have disabled VPN connections through their own pipelines.
There are two potential solutions to data helplessness: first, you can create the custom database access application (to your remote data) for the remote (handheld) device; second, you can put critical, selected components of the data directly on the remote device. Both cases are probably meat for a couple of additional blog entries.
Your “feet on the street” need access to the right data, right now, for two reasons: first, it maximizes sales and improves customer service and loyalty; second, if you don’t do it, your competitor will! The simple truth is that data needs to be proactively managed and accessible 24/7 if we are to reap the significant benefits from leveraging and exploiting our valuable corporate data.
In conclusion we leave all with a topical Albert Einstein quote – “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. ”
Authored by Jeffrey Garbus, President of Soaring Eagle Consultants Inc. (http://www.soaringeagle.biz/) and,
Kevin M. O’Sullivan. President of The Knowledge Compass, Inc. (http://www.knowledgecompass.com )
In the current business environment one of the foremost challenges facing executives is loss of mission-critical knowledge in both explicit and tacit forms! Generally, this condition is an outcome of anticipated and unanticipated employee termination, resignation, retirement, and transfer. With a significant proportion of business executives in agreement with the truism that ‘knowledge is a key differentiator’ it is noteworthy that a large percentage of the corporate world has not yet adopting formal strategies to arrest knowledge loss.
When employees move on, they remove their (tacit) knowledge with them. As a consequence, important discoveries and insights vanish, and the organization’s ability to act quickly and intelligently is encumbered. As knowledge losses mount, corporate learning typically stalls, and organizational forgetting begins! With high turnover, an enterprise may know less today than it did yesterday!
The key questions at the heart of the knowledge loss discussion include:
- What constitutes mission-critical knowledge that should be preserved?
- Where is the targeted mission-critical knowledge and is accessible and transferable?
- What decisions and action are required to stem the loss of valuable and in many cases irreplaceable knowledge?
- How can the organization successfully obtain, transfer, and stockpile the lessons learned and best practices from their most experienced and valuable workers to a knowledge-centric database and application before employees depart or retire?
Knowledge Management & Knowledge Continuity
Where Knowledge Management embraces capturing and sharing know-how within the enterprise’s business activities and processes, Knowledge Continuity focuses on successfully harvesting and transferring knowledge from departing employees to their successors for ongoing use and enrichment.
The goal of knowledge continuity is to preserve the vital knowledge that sustains the business and that would otherwise be lost with departing employees. Ultimately, a knowledge continuity program becomes a vital component of the organization’s strategic framework and a critical success factor for attaining or maintaining leadership within its targeted markets.
Borrowing & Continuity
Knowledge, for all of its value, is an anomalous asset. It is highly perishable, increases with transfer and sharing, and is cumulative. Most importantly, tacit knowledge is borrowed temporarily from employees during their employment years and returned to the organization on departure. Certainly, explicit knowledge remains within the organization but that knowledge is valueless if employees do not have a tacit understanding of its context and intended use and application.
Knowledge Compass Approach
The Knowledge Compass Knowledge Continuity Program approach is outlined below:
1. Conduct an assessment and SWOT analysis of the organization’s current knowledge handling environment, including:
- Corporate business, technology and continuity strategies and plans.
- Explicit and tacit knowledge required to sustain employee roles and their associated responsibilities.
- Current techniques, methods, and solutions to support knowledge harvesting and transfer. (formal and informal)
2. Conduct a Gap Analysis of current knowledge continuity situation with a best practice knowledge continuity program
3. Develop Knowledge Continuity Strategy, (in alignment with corporate business and technology strategies) including:
- Techniques to harvest knowledge from incumbent employees on a non-invasive basis.
- Methods to transfer knowledge to successor employees.
- Technology solution(s) to facilitate the knowledge continuity process
4. Create Executive Report highlighting: knowledge continuity strategy and key decisions and actions required to successfully implement a formal Knowledge Continuity Program.
The Bottom Line
A Knowledge Continuity Program creates a powerful advantage for organizations who seek a competitor advantage. Key benefits include:
- Safeguards corporate mission-critical knowledge from loss
- Provides a structured framework and system to store, update, access, enrich, and transfer to employees to support their work activities
- Speeds ramp-up of new hires, moving them rapidly up their learning curves and making them more productive sooner
- Enables new hires to better understand their roles, responsibilities and knowledge-centric requirements from the wisdom of predecessors and current co-workers
A critical challenge of Knowledge Management (KM), from its introduction into the business lexicon, has been the dilemma of how to successfully capture, leverage and exploit tacit knowledge represented by human experience and insights. Tacit knowledge is generally defined as “know-how” — versus “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science), or “know-who” (social).
An essential value of codifying tacit knowledge is that it can be quickly disseminated to support real-time transactions, events and decision-making. A by-product of this dissemination is active collaboration by stakeholders with expertise in particular domains to discuss, debate, assess, and update the new knowledge, thereby stimulating incremental knowledge and enrichment of current knowledge assets in the most effective and efficient manner.
Over the years, KM practitioners have experienced moderate to low success in attempting to harness and manage the power of tacit knowledge with information technology. We have been witnesses to many system approaches and attempts from AI / Expert Systems to yellow pages, social software, and various specialized capture and search solutions that failed to be recognized as a sustaining tacit knowledge enabler.
The era of tacit knowledge success may be a reality with the introduction of cognitive type knowledge frameworks and systems. The cognitive-centric approach in summary can be systematized with the aid of digital sensors (spread across an organization or environment) that can: analyze complex situations, activities, and events; adapt quickly to evolving and differing conditions; serve as enablers to solve real business and technical problems; and generate timely decision suggestions. A cognitive system can generally reason about causality, belief, knowledge, insights, risk, and uncertainty and are able to make decisions with incomplete data and information. By cross-referencing prior operating observations and conclusions with current activities, a cognitive system can discover and produce real time alerts on unusual and unfathomable patterns and then quickly take action on particular conditions based on predefined rules. The rules to support the rule base are typically based on specific tacit knowledge acquired from domain subject matter experts.
Cognitive systems have the capability to generate intelligent agents and dynamically deploy them over a network. Agents fuse disparate streaming data including text, video, and graphics to provide a uniform and structured basis for problem analysis and decision-making.
The cognitive approach provides for three key human touch points for infusion of tact knowledge by domain experts:
- Populate a rules engine with predefined rules applied to incoming events that trigger detection of patterns or trends of significance in real time.
- Update rules engine with new knowledge as it becomes available so as to tweak the system, augment the rules and increase the likelihood of achieving predefined goals.
- Interact with the system on an ongoing basis and test system-generated alerts and suggestions with human experience and insights.
The cause of the recent Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed workers and poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico has yet to be determined. But considering the fact that offshore oil rigs are comprised of an array of complex integrated subsystems and that their use are controlled by many software applications and technical environments, is it possible a software failure could have contributed to this tragedy? Is it also possible that the tacit knowledge touch points (as outlined above) were either not a consideration, not implemented, or not observed as a monitoring tool as required by current standards to ensure correct and timely alerts and decision-making for system failures?
The Gulf disaster underscores the fact that sometimes complex environmental events happen too fast for appropriate system discovery, analysis and reporting. It also shows that human decision-making based on sensed data often isn’t rational and may underestimate associated risks. Is inclusion of a final fail safe review activity by a domain expert required when a complex event factor enters a predefined danger red zone?
In conclusion, I believe an appropriate quote to frame this article is one of my favorite Deming quotes as shown below.
“Best efforts will not substitute for knowledge.” Dr. W. Edward Deming