IT managers have a plethora of choices to make in regards to how their organization collaborates and shares content. This is true of any organization, public or private, military or civilian. Each organization has many elements to prioritize and consider. The marketplace for Knowledge Management (KM) tools offers plenty of options to choose from and review. Software solutions such as Huddle, SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Documentum, Hummingbird DM, Alfresco, WordPress, and WiX, among many others, all strive to meet the need for organizations to collaborate effectively. Each KM tool strives to provide both features and solutions to meet these needs. However, choosing the right solution isn't always easy. There are, however, processes organizations can adopt to make it easier to select the optimal KM tool. An understanding of Knowledge Management and the skillsets it helps to provide to an organization drives many of these processes.
Departments and teams within organizations often are the primary identifiers of a need for change in how a business or business unit collaborates or shares content. Many of these needs come from first-hand experience, some of it good, some of it bad. Regardless of the root cause for the need to change a practice, this need must be reported up the chain of command to those who have influence to change how the business works. Having such channels and a way for this communication to be a two-way street are crucial to understanding the needs of the workforce balanced by how management can help provide frameworks for effective collaboration and sharing.
As a part of the drive to change, there has to be a realistic and holistic pinpointing of where the described problems lie. Managers may need to ask themselves: Is it a training issue? Is it a timing issue? Are old habits permeating the business unit or organization? Is there a disconnect between management and teams? Are these problems measurable? Are the issues unique to this organization or is this issue seen elsewhere in our market? If a problem is identified, what are the options for implementing a lasting, cost-effective solution? Should we insource this solution or outsource it? Do we need to manage our data or are there secure providers available? Are there best practices being used in identifying and solving this problem? Once an organization has clear answers to these questions, it can help then identify goals to completing a solution.
This may be an obvious point to make, but it is an important aspect any manager needs to balance against goals and requirements. Many Knowledge Management tools involve software, varied interfaces, different inputs, plus training and learning curves. All of this needs to be taken into account against current-state systems and how the workforce interacts with such systems. If management is not already receiving analytics from IT about what systems are utilized and how long it takes to complete tasks, this sort of monitoring should be a part of the goals/requirements. It is important within an organization to also identify employees who are known to be curious or provide an alternative point of view about how to efficiently and effectively complete tasks. Within the curiosity range, the average age of the workforce, the distribution of the workforce across the world, the size of teams or business units, employee retention rates within the organization and individual business units, are all crucial elements to understanding how your workforce works.
Every organization should have its goals prioritized and listed among all stakeholders to better understand how any changes may affect an organization. Employees of all levels should take part in these discussions. The discussions should be topic-specific and focus on the goals at hand. In these discussions, it may become clear that some priorities vary and various business units may even conflict in how they value certain needs. Management needs to weigh against these goals and should set the tone in which everyone walks away from the table with at least some of their primary need met. This can help eliminate serious pushback or political stalemate within any organization against acceptance of new processes or tools.
KM tools often promise the moon and stars. Managers need to be aware and approach such sales pitches with a great degree of circumspect and be quite sure that the moon and stars really meet the needs of the organization. It is crucial to derive the primary purpose of this tool and what it is supposed to specifically solve when completing the goals/requirements process. Any “would be nice to have” discussion needs to be eliminated as this can lead to wandering eyes and escalating costs to the organization.
As mentioned above, it is crucial to identify technology-centric members of the organization as these will be the early adopters. Where early adopters are in an organization can vary significantly. Once found, these people can provide a crucial understanding to how a new KM tool deployment can affect the rest of the workforce. The most crucial aspect these early adopters can provide is initial feedback, which can help steer the KM solution to better meet the needs of the whole organization.
With any new solution there will be costs to the organization. Understanding these costs -- monetary, employee gain/loss, and time --can greatly weigh on the decision to implement a new solution. It is important for an organization and its management to measure the changes against the costs over time and see, if beyond marginal improvement, such a change is really worthwhile.
One way to do this is the compare the organization to other organizations of similar size or mission that have undergone similar changes. If the organization is the first of any known organization to attempt such changes from market place solutions, then it is crucial for management to be hands on and goal-oriented while understanding that the potential risks and costs may be higher than initially calculated.
Rarely is there one software solution that will meet every single one of an organization’s needs. It is important to understand the nuance between feature and solution. Features are actions or offerings that may look nice on paper, but can be dangerous for an organization to focus on; management can easily be caught up in the prospect of what employees do versus what actually happens day to day. This can lead to wasted effort and increased costs. Solutions, on the other hand, directly solve a known problem with measureable results and clear responses from the workforce. Solutions can come from surprising actions or abilities within a KM tool, but it is clear in the minds of management that such a solution solves one of the known requirements defined in the initial goals phase. Once management feels comfortable with understanding such trade-offs, it will become apparent to the organization which KM tool is the best fit for the organization.
Today there are a plethora of KM tools on the market because organizational needs vary widely. Management’s understanding of the true needs of their organization can help eliminate much of the uncertainty around a new implementation. The process can also spur new conversations and new ways for the organization to think and act. By developing a framework for choosing a KM solution, organizations will not only be able to identify their specific needs, they should find effective solutions for meeting these needs.