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KM Practices and Technologies: Navigating Peaks, Troughs and Slopes
Madanmohan Rao reports from the Gartner Asia-Pacific Summit
KM practices and technologies, like many other management paradigms and fads, go through successive phases before they mature. They tend to be sparked off by a technology trigger, reach a peak of inflated expectations, then hit a trough of disillusionment.
A slope of enlightenment then emerges, followed by a plateau of productivity, according to Kristian Steenstrup, research director at Gartner Asia-Pacific, who spoke at the recent Gartner Summit in Bombay. The focus of the conference included KM evolution, emerging wireless technologies, and business strategy.
While those in the IT industry may be familiar with Gartner's "hype cycle" model, it is now being applied to KM as well. KM practices and technologies that have reached the "plateau of productivity" stage include document management and best practice programs. Auto-indexing and knowledge bases are in the "slope of enlightenment" phase, while content management and knowledge mapping are slowly emerging from the "trough of disillusionment."
Communities of practice, collaboration, expert location and enterprise portals are at the "peak of expectations" phase, while recent technology triggers have sparked off personal KM systems, advanced e-learning, and inter-enterprise KM.
There are five major lenses of KM, according to Steenstrup: information management and access (codification, content management, knowledge mapping), knowledge workplace (communities, expert location), intellectual capital management (asset management, idea management), process knowledge (best practices), and e-business (K-CRM, inter-enterprise KM). Each of these can be a KM program target.
Intangible assets account for a huge portion of the market capitalisation of companies like GE, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Sony and SAP, says Steenstrup. Numerous accounting procedures are being applied to assess intellectual property (brand equity valuation), intellectual assets (benchmarking, balanced scorecards) and intellectual capital (market-to-book value, calculated intangible value).
KM approaches like codification focus on efficiency and effectiveness of operationally focused value chains, while collaborative strategies focus on reinvention and advancement in innovation-focused value chains.
"We are witnessing the rise of explicit process management techniques, where best-of-breed processes are captured in a shared, explicit, viewable and executable format," observes Steenstrup. Performance, consistency, and macro-process monitoring are becoming important considerations in KM.
Coupled with content and community strategies, capacity building via e-learning is also being integrated with KM systems. The market for e-learning products and services will grow from US$4.2 billion this year to US$33.6 billion by 2005, according to Gartner research.
As with the KM lifecyle, the components of e-learning are also going through the phases of technology trigger (mobile delivery), peak of expectations (learning portals), trough of disillusionment (skills management), slope of enlightenment (learning management systems) and plateau of productivity (self-paced courseware, higher education e-learning).
E-learning vendors are offering a number of solutions for one-time events as well as continuous learning infrastructure, at the employee and business partner level. Leading vendors include Docent, THINQ, Saba, Pathlore, WBT Sytems, and Saba. Other notable players include IBM, KnowledgePlanet, SmartForce, and KnowledgeNet.
It is important for companies to evaluate vendors based on specific business objectives -- there is no "KM in a box," advises Steenstrup.
"Understand the economic value added by knowledge workers and anticipate the effects of the knowledge workplace. In extended value chains, know what intellectual assets to share, exchange and protect," he adds.
A wide array of portable wireless devices is emerging on the LAN, WAN and PAN fronts, and these can plug in to productivity workflows and boost knowledge mobilisation and realtime expert location as well.
How to outfit the frontline and manage applications across multiple client platforms will be a key strategy and operational focus area for CKOs and CIOs in the coming years.
Handheld devices, if properly harnessed, can help improve business processes, create new ones, and even spur new business models, says Ian Bertram, VP hardware platforms for Gartner Asia-Pacific. On the enterprise front, wireless deployment will evolve from horizontal applications and continuous connectivity to vertical applications and managed services.
Employees, purchase managers and technical support staff need to weigh the tradeoffs between mobile versus "sit down" computing devices, along parameters like convenience, functionality, security and pricing. "There are numerous emerging security challenges for CIOs," says Bertram, such as defense of wireless VPNs, file stealing from WLANs, theft of PDAs, and bandwidth theft in Bluetooth.
Smart phones, tablet PCs, voice interfaces, and ultraportable laptops will experience major growth in the near future. Enterprises must plan for a huge proliferation of non-PC devices and "promiscuous networking" among employees. They should set PDA and phone standards, but plan for poor adherence to policy, according to Bertram.
Ultimately, the choice of device will be driven by an interaction between business need (eg. bridging supply chain gaps, mobilising knowledge, supporting m-commerce), social trends (lifestyle accessories), technology (3G, location sensing), interface (handwriting recognition, speech recognition), personal usage (computing, storage), and economics (airtime cost).
At the human resource level, workforce challenges will emerge in the wireless age in dealing with issues of privacy, accessibility, stress, legal liability, performance measurement, behavioural changes, and device ownership, according to Bertrand Bidaud, VP telecom of Gartner Asia Pacific. Management structures should brace for significant challenges along these dimensions, he cautions.
Madanmohan Rao is the author of "The Asia Pacific Internet Handbook" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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