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Articles: information management

The Technology Trap
Author: Jerry Ash

Knowledge networking requires more than new bells and whistles.

The story is told that the steam engine was first used to drive the water wheel.

True or not, the story is used as a metaphor by those who warn that hooking modern information technology to an old process is as foolish as using a new power source to drive an old one. The modern day parallel is an organization investing heavily in exciting new computing hardware and networking software, only to do business as usual. It's easy to get caught up in this technology trap.

We are all aware of the challenges brought on by the Knowledge Age and we are awed by the wonder and power of the new technology. But associations will have to do more than install new bells and whistles or go online if they are to remain relevant and competitive in a knowledge-driven society. Technology alone will not bring your organization into the Knowledge Age.

Technology will play a vital supporting role in the knowledge-based organization, but success will depend much more heavily on understanding that knowledge is not information. Knowledge is information that has been processed, analyzed, distilled and packaged by human minds. It is the value-added that failed to meet the expectations of the Information Age.

It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of what an organization "knows" is locked in the heads of its employees, its constituents, its allies, even its competitors. It isn't owned, the way we own our other assets; it isn't locked safely away in a file cabinet or a data base; it isn't protected as organizational property.

Networking will be a central tool in managing the new knowledge asset, but not just electronic networking. Building knowledge networks will have more to do with grassroots organizing than installing network software, designing a website or going online.

Management consultancies learned that early. Before they began selling knowledge management products, consultancies tried to practice it. International electronic networks were established on intranets and consultants were expected to voluntarily share their own problem-solving experiences with other consultants whose clients had similar problems. They didn't.

The cultural barrier became clear. Consultants, after all, are in the business of selling their own knowledge; so, why share it, even with one's own colleagues? And besides, they reasoned, they were far too busy working with their own clients to take time out to help others help theirs.

Though they were parts of large international organizations, they were lone rangers. It was clear; a passive electronic network will not by itself form communities of knowledge. The problem was solved by adding a specially trained human being, a knowledge coordinator, to the initiative.

The coordinator's job was to be online, by the phone and fax, all the time; monitoring knowledge needs, building a library of problems solved and best practices, making friends with colleagues and experts, bringing them together in both real and virtual venues, facilitating specialized forums, and being the eyes and ears as new developments occurred in the field.

The intranet, therefore, became vital to the daily routine of those who knew and those who needed to know. Changing the culture will be the most difficult step in creating a knowledge-based association. You can begin by establishing (or re-establishing) an environment of trust and mutual benefit and an aggressive program for the systematic sharing of knowledge and ideas. It will require an active campaign by a dynamic leader who is dedicated to making a network work.

Technology? Absolutely. But avoid the technology trap by designating a knowledge champion for your organization, a coordinator who understands the knowledge asset and who has the combined ability of a leader, a grassroots organizer and match-maker to begin developing the people link on the knowledge highway.

Jerry Ash is Senior Counsellor, The Forbes Group and
Chief Executive, Association of Knowledgework
Article used with permission