Knowledge Management as a Service?

One idea I’d like to discuss/research further is the possibility of starting out a KM project as an internal service. Much like you would hire an external consulting company to come in and provide you or your company a service. Is it possible to treat Knowledge Management as such? The main difference is that there is a certain group in your company that provides the KM consulting services instead of an external consulting organization.

One of the many problems with getting KM started in any company is that it is very difficult to properly quantify the the success of the KM staff and their contribution to the overall health of the company. I think that KM as a service could help to solve that problem.

By providing specific services to an internal group, with a defined scope, explicit responsibilities, and tangible KM deliverables it may be possible to begin to understand how much it costs a company to deliver those knowledge assets. Like any other professional service, you could track KM staff utilization, the mix of services that are offered vs what are ‘bought’, and the needed areas of expertise in knowledge for your specific company.

You could argue that such a model would not work on a large scale for an entire company. Afterall isn’t KM for everyone at the company. However, I think if you are now starting out on a KM path for your company it would help if you focus on a certain subset of the company, make it work there, quantify the costs associated, then attempt it for other groups, all the while trying to reduce costs to your customers, improve service and keeping your eye on the big picture of KM strategy at your company. So that all these smaller projects eventually fit into a larger strategy.

Some offerings an internal KM Service group could provide include:

  • Best Practice Capture – Here the KM group would work with a specific part of the organization to capture best practices from its SMEs. As part of the agreement/contract/SOW the SMEs would be identified, the area of focused defined, the duration set and the output of the content agreed upon.
  • Community Building – The KM team provides a service that helps to nurture a new Community of Practice. By providing the framework and necessary people to run the community for a limited period of time. The ‘customer’ would then assume ownership of the community at the end of the contract, or let the community end if it was only needed for a short period.
  • Taxonomy Definition – The KM team would work with the customer to help them define and develop their taxonomy of knowledge assets. By doing this on a group by group basis, the KM team eventually has the whole company’s taxonomy.
  • Knowledge Repository Definition – Capturing the needs that the knowledge repository must have to support the customer’s business processes. Helping to define, structure and rank those needs in the platform definition.
  • Knowledge Repository Implementation – Once the definition is complete, providing the necessary oversight to implement the knowledge repository, using new or existing infrastructure.
  • Training – Work with identified SMEs on developing specific training to the customer. Providing training on the tools and processes for knowledge capture and sharing within the customer group.
  • Level Up Capture – Working with the internal group and their customers to understand the gaps of current internal group services. Capturing information as part of regular internal project reviews to feedback into the design process to fill those gaps and move up in the service chain.

The associated costs for the KM team could be charged back to the internal groups or just tracked as part of the KM evolution at the company.

Why not just get external consultants? Why have an internal KM group at all? I think that if KM is integral to the company’s success it has to be owned within the company. Parts of the KM process can be out-sourced, external consulting can be used to build the KM team and execute its go to market strategy. But someone must have responsibility for it, and focused on KM at all times. Otherwise it will get lost in the day-to-day of the business. IMHO.

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7 Responses to Knowledge Management as a Service?

  1. Hi Gian,
    Absolutely yes – you could set up an internal KM service (we did that in BP in the late 90’s, with a similar set of service offerings). However, I think it’s worth stepping back a bit and considering the implications of an internal consultancy over the longer term.
    Is your vision to embed knowledge management practices and behaviours in your organisation? if it is, then over time, the presence of a central team might prevent that happening; people might see KM as something that the central team “do”, rather than part of their everyday work.

    I would suggest that an internal KM team (which works like a consultancy) should really plan on working themselves out of a job over 3 years. by then, if they’ve been successful, there will be demand from thr business to become KM-competent, so the emphasis of any central resource can shift towards maintaining competence, training and keeping an eye on emergent practices and technologies externally.

    When we wrote “Learning to Fly”, we used the metaphor of a fledgling in a nest. Sooner or later, the mother bird needs to stop feeding them, and give them the nudge so that they start flying. I think it’s true in organisations too – or they can end up with one very well-fed bird (or internal consultancy!), but no real capability in the organisation.
    All the best,
    Chris

  2. nkilkenny says:

    You’re blog has some well-thought out posts on KM. If you haven’t already, I suggest you take a look at “Beyond E-Learning” by Marc J. Rosenberg. He notes some of the biggest KM Traps including one common mistake with KM systems which is assuming that KM projects must be huge. I saw this assumption bite us when we tried to apply KM a few years ago. Your list here of KM offerings is pretty comprehensive and mirrors Rosenberg’s KM Learning/performance system model.

  3. Bernadette Boas says:

    Gian,
    I found the KM Services article very interesting, as well as other articles you are posting – good work here. I have even shared them with team and mgnt members for their own reference and use.
    As far as the specific article on KM Services go, this is exactly how we have positioned the Knowledge Practice Owners (KPO’s) that are on my team. They are responsible for embedding knowledge creation, sharing and reuse practices into the business; getting field associates to work as effectively and productively as possible. There is a set of Services that the KPO’s provide field teams, based on need and priority in the business.
    And as Chris says, our objective for doing this is to leverage these services as transition training to field associates to adopt the practices and strategies themselves, and therefore the KPO’s role as is today would no longer be needed.
    And it has been successful – we have had region VP’s and Managers planning with their KPO the set of services and accounts that they will work with to embed these practices – and we are expecting to see improvements to the business as a result.

    Again, great job on this site, and thanks for sharing
    Bernadette

  4. Hi Gian.. I’m in the process of defining a somewhat similar set of services.

    But let me toss a little something into the discussion. First off, on the information side of your offering, think more at the enterprise level than at the individual team level. Having an individual, team, community involved in building a core set of information standards (taxonomies, controlled vocabularies, faceted classification etc.) as a foundation, with a folksonomic (social tagging) capability is a very powerful combination to improve the findability of quality information in support of effective knowledge exchange.

    On the exchange side, in addition to what you have there, read some of Chris’ work on peer assists, after action reviews in his book or in InsideKnowledge magazine. Then also have a look at Norm Kerth’s book Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews. I think services that help individuals and teams learning before, during and after are very powerful.

    And from one perspective, I diagree with Chris about working out of a job. Something that all organizations lack is a critical mass of facilitation skills. Facilitation is the very root / core the people side of knowledge management, and dare I say effective leadership in a knowledge-based economy. Unless the world changes radically over the next 20 years or so, and it may, I think there will continue to be a real need for an internal group of people with facilitaiton skills to manage group prcess and effectiveness, in terms of both knowledge sharing and action, to achieved shared outcomes.

    And how will we know when the world has “moved on?” When the norm becomes receiving invitations to meetings that contain clear objectives, agendas, instructions & information for preparation, and a clear articluation of expected roles and contributions by individual participants. And from what I’ve seen and heard, most organizations are far, far away from that point now.

  5. Gian.. I forgot to mention.. there was a discussion on Knowledgeboard.com about the “exact role of the knowledge manager” with some interesting ideas and positions.. might be worth a review..

    http://www.knowledgeboard.com/cgi-bin/discuss.cgi?thread_id=121&page=index&more=1

  6. gjagai says:

    Thanks Chris, Natalie, Bernadette and Dale for the excellent insights. I’ll have to add a couple more books to my shelf. It does seem as though the KM as a Service is not only possible but a good mechanism to develop KM skills as a company.

  7. […] how PWC is using an internal managed service to deliver KM services to PWC business units. I’ve written about this before and it was great to see that others had similar ideas and have been able to successfully implement […]

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