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Knowledge Management > Book Reviews > "Knowledge Management: Enabling Business Growth" >

"Knowledge Management: Enabling Business Growth"

by Ganesh Natarajan and Sandhya Shekhar

2000 Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New Delhi

236 pages

Review by Madanmohan Rao

Outline

This book is a comprehensive volume on KM technologies, tools and practices. 10 chapters and several annexures cover a wide range of topics including KM models, document and search technologies, organizational structuring, e-learning, KM toolboxes, and human resource strategies.

The authors of this KM handbook are Ganesh Natarajan, former CEO of India-headquartered IT company Aptech, and Sandhya Shekhar, CTO of Aptech's B2B subsidiary BconnectB.com and former head of KM research at Aptech.

The authors show how KM can help provide a wide range of benefits, such as quality management, learning management, anecdote management, building institutional memory of best practices, performance support systems, and supply chain integration. KM ties together historical data of an organization, and can be used to generate lessons as well as analyse "what-if" scenarios.

The authors advise KM managers to clearly identify KM objectives for their companies, such as improve and speed up employee training, improve customer satisfaction, and tightly integrate business partner activities. It applies to skilling, reskilling and knowledge empowerment for both repetitive and crucial activities, and will set apart the winners from the also-rans in the coming corporate order.

KM diffusion in an organization is a function of the IT maturity, culture of sharing, investments in KM initiatives, and support from the top management. KM strategy must take into account the unique knowledge typology in the organizational domain and the knowledge maps best suited to the organizational culture.

The authors define a KM roadmap, identifying phases like knowledge needs analysis, knowledge capture (via knowledge maps), knowledge administration, refinement, and dissemination. Many KM initiatives tend to get stuck in "pilot project" stages with unclear focus or inadequate measures of progress, and managers tend to underestimate the complexities of technology integration and workforce cultural changes involved.

For KM to succeed, it must be interwoven into an organisation's mainstream activities and mainstream functions, the authors urge. Quantifiable milestones and timelines must be identified, and KM must be linked to and synchronized with business strategy and planning.

Activities which will need strong support are content population and organization (metadata structures, checkin/checkout procedures), and knowledge classification and cataloguing. Incentives for employees to create and use knowledge must be nurtured; there is nothing like peer recognition to nurture and encourage knowledge sharing, according to the authors.

One chapter moves the focus beyond the organizational context, to educational institutions and government agencies. Effective KM can truly transform traditional educational practices and even the process of governance, the authors conclude.

Analysis

The book has a strong technology focus while also staying away from commitment to one single set of vendor solutions -- in contrast to other books like Jerry Honeycutt's "Knowledge Management Strategies" (2000 Prentice Hall/Microsoft Press), which strongly advocates the use of Microsoft solutions.

The authors effectively illustrate that while KM is certainly much more than manipulation of technology, the possibility of effectively harnessing knowledge energies for better management has received a significant boost thanks to the rapid evolution in information, computation, and communication technologies. In Internet time and space, the speed of knowledge acquisition, transformation and utilisation have become critical for survival.

The material also offers a wealth of success stories of effective KM practices, such as Chase Manhattan Bank's comprehensive customer activity profiles, Chevron's best practices conferencing mechanisms, Dow Chemicals' intellectual asset management system, Amazon's customer preference profiles, American Airlines' SABRE reservation system which has become an industry standard, PriceWaterhouse Coopers' AI-based tools for searching filings of public companies, Boston Consulting Group's Idea Creation Centre, Netscape's early mover advantage based on its understanding of Net-centric software dissemination, and Glaxo's internal benchmarking mechanisms. More in-depth analysis can, however, be found in books like Nancy Dixon's "Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know" (2000 Harvard Business School Press).

KM should not be treated as merely the latest in a long list of often over-hyped acronyms like BPR, ERP, SCM, CRM, and MRP, the authors caution. KM is most valuable when tied to enterprise-wide strategy, encompassing workflow, collaborative problem resolution, and a system of red alerts to tackle exceptional situations. KM roadmap and implementation issues are better dealt with, however, in other books like Melissie Clemmons Rumizen's "Complete Idiot's Guide to Knowledge Management" (2002 Alpha Books).

The book reflects a deep understanding of various vendor offerings in KM-space, and shows how numerous IT sectors blend into KM: document management, Intranets, data warehousing and mining, expert systems, information retrieval, electronic publishing, search, fuzzy matching, collaboration, simulation, and groupware.

There are over 200 available tools, differing in technology, functionality (such as ERP connectivity, natural language querying, clustering, personalization, system security) and price. The authors enumerate some of the players in this space, such as SAS Warehouse, Business Objects, Brio Enterprise, Cognis, Verity, Excalibur, FileNet, Intraspect, Open Text, Documentum, IBM, Lotus, Microsoft, Oracle, Microstrategy, and Sybase.

The authors identify standardization players like the Institute of Knowledge Management at IBM and the Knowledge Management Consortium. The XML family of technologies (via XSL, XLL, RDF and DOM) is creating foundations of metadata structures and standards that will ensure that multiple KM objects and KM initiatives are interfaceable at any point in time.

One chapter which CLOs will find particularly useful focuses on e-learning systems perspectives in KM. Leading players in setting standards here include Educom's Instructional Management System. Components of a Web-based training system must include content creation, content delivery and tracking, learner assessment, and administration. There are over 500 tools available in this space, such as Web Mentor, Docent, Top Class, Asymetrix, Learning Space, and CourseInfo.

Readership

The primary audience for the book is CKOs and CIOs; it may also be useful as an additional KM reading text for CEOs, CLOs, business heads, HR managers, CTOs, and educationists.

CIOs, CLOs, and CTOs will be particularly interested in some of the principles for assessing various vendor products, and how some of the functionality of the basic vendor offerings can be extended to other KM aspects.

Verdict

The book is strongly recommended for knowledge managers and CKOs, and the vendor-neutral framework will also be useful for CIOs and CLOs interested in assessing how various IT-centric products and platforms can offer support infrastructure for KM initiatives.

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