Four hundred years ago, British philosopher Francis Bacon declared that “Knowledge is Power.” And, until recently, many corporate leaders would have wholeheartedly agreed with this wise man of Elizabethan England.
But today, knowledge – and the way it’s managed in an organization – is all about adding customers, generating revenues and enhancing profits.
Indeed, companies of all sizes, and in all sectors, need to implement well-designed and well-executed documentation capture programs so that the best decisions can be made in an increasingly tumultuous and truly unforgiving global marketplace.
Smart knowledge management also helps define roles, responsibilities and accountability for people in an enterprise, at a time when many recession-battered companies are being forced to re-think and re-organize their human capital equations.
Finally, the right approach to documentation capture involves and benefits every department in a company – legal, finance, HR, product development, compliance / governance, and sales and marketing – and it provides a critical and connective digital glue that holds an organization’s people, processes, culture, systems and practices together.
Unfortunately, however, a number of companies under-estimate the value of knowledge management; and some even see it as a bothersome administrative chore.
From my perspective, this is a short sighted and potentially risky view. And, based on my experience, once people really understand why they are capturing information throughout an enterprise, they realize the considerable upside advantages of knowledge management.
Having said that, let’s look at five of the positives:
Compliance – Whether it’s health care, aerospace or insurance, industry after industry is riddled with new, complex and constantly changing regulations. In terms of effective and efficient governance practices, and in order to save money, it’s absolutely essential to fully document an organization’s global compliance efforts.
Product Development – Knowledge management provides a crucial innovation road map that helps move product development programs to the next level. If a “Widget 1.0” success is properly documented, then the team working on “Widget 2.0” (even if the people are new to the project or program) can determine exactly what worked, and how to more rapidly scale to meet the organization’s business goals and objectives going forward.
Sales and Marketing – If marketing messages are documented and captured well, they can help sales teams better understand the strategy and positioning behind a specific product or service. And this, in turn, makes it easier to articulate a sales rationale to consumers or end-users. In this sense, knowledge management has a definite relationship to top-line growth.
HR – When training knowledge is captured thoroughly, an HR department’s productivity increases, and its costs decline, because the time and expense of bringing new people on board, or moving them into new positions, is controlled.
Legal – The legal department should review all knowledge management documents affecting external audiences. This safeguard helps organizations avoid costly governmental penalties and fines, as well as profit-eroding lawsuits.
Reaping these significant across-the-board benefits means that companies must adhere to several core knowledge management principles. I’ve seen these fundamentals contribute to sustained growth on many occasions over the years, and they require organizational focus, discipline and commitment.
Here are the basics:
Capture Knowledge Early – Organizations must really be proactive here; and knowledge management cannot be an after-thought. If companies don’t understand the underlying information and document it up-front, they will, almost certainly, be forced to play costly catch-up down the road. And it’s much more expensive and time-consuming to go back and try to re-construct documentation after the fact.
Ongoing and Thorough Knowledge Capture – Knowledge accumulation and dissemination takes place 24 x 7 in most enterprises today; and that’s why it’s imperative to have people and systems in place to keep up with the unremitting flood of information as it courses through the organization. It’s also important not to capture knowledge in a piecemeal way; the technology, creative and business sides must be integrated seamlessly, particularly since the information may be coming from different parts of the world, often from people for whom English is a second language. Working with an experienced outside managed service that can tie all this together will help executives and the sales force make better decisions.
The Human Factor – Technology is a centerpiece of any good knowledge management program, but over-reliance on IT is a mistake. People who listen well and document correctly are also key success determinants. There is no substitute for accurate input.
Third Parties – Harnessing and blending the right human capital for any documentation capture effort is very important. But, in many cases, far-flung global companies simply can’t assemble a qualified team internally without sacrificing productivity. As a result, we often see a host of external third-party players integrated into the knowledge management mix. These “outsiders” can operate remotely, but they must know the organization’s products, services and personnel well; be able to ask the right questions of internal subject-matter experts; and bring a fresh and unbiased approach to the documentation process. Collaborating with an outside managed service that synchronizes and harmonizes each of these facets in a holistic manner often proves to be economical and effective.
Protect IP – Most organizational knowledge is proprietary and confidential, so, once it’s captured, it must be stored in a safe, secure and accessible place. This is especially true when Cloud technology is used. The bottom line is that a company’s knowledge management program must protect IP at all costs, and prevent this business-critical information from leaking out to competitors.
No Silos – The best knowledge management programs are a collection of super-valuable company-wide information assets. And these programs must cover, and loop in, all organizational departments, even if they are based in different parts of the world. Turf battles will be self-defeating; and transparency and content sharing must be the day-to-day watch-words in documentation capture.
Taken as a whole, knowledge management is a good enterprise investment that generates a solid and extended return throughout an organization. It protects a company’s vital interests; it bolsters and enriches financials; and it helps expand corporate franchises in even the toughest markets. In my opinion, serious and comprehensive documentation capture is well worth the time, energy and effort.