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Designing Sustainable Knowledge Management Programs

I will be giving an invited presentation at the 2010 Talent Management Conference in Portland, Oregon (September 8-10). My presentation will highlight strategic, tactical, and operational mechanisms for building sustainable knowledge management programs.

About the Presentation

As an organization prepares for the departure of valuable staff, a key challenge is how to capture, store, and transfer knowledge. Managing knowledge and ensuring its transfer will increase productivity. This session will provide useful tools and processes for selecting the best strategy to fit your organization’s culture. Participants will explore the use of technology as well as best practice approaches and tools to preserve and transmit institutional memory.

Topics include:

  • Understanding the value proposition of investing in knowledge transfer mechanisms
  • Creating appropriate knowledge creation and transfer strategies for various organizational contexts
  • Measuring the impact of knowledge transfer on organizational outcomes (e.g. innovation, cost reduction, etc.)
  • Deploying technological solutions to enable knowledge transfer
  • Deploying social solutions to enable knowledge transfer
  • Understanding the changing dynamics of knowledge transfer with social networking sites
  • Leveraging knowledge transfer processes for sustainable competitive advantages

Questioning: A Lost Capability among Executives

This blog post is not meant for those who are content to let their $110,000 MBA diploma hang on the wall as an indication of a job well done.  Nor is it designed for those persons who feel that now that their education is complete, they have all the necessary tools for success.  I encourage managers and executives to read and participate in this posting if they feel that there is a next step in the educational process...one that is more critical to success than showing off that graduation tie!

We are bombarded with information at a near constant rate. Managers face information overload challenges at their organizations.  They have to contend with information that is emitted from a wide assortment of agents and objects, and this information might arrive through various information channels and devices. Consequently, it is impossible to inspect and process all the information one receives. Some information nuggets receive attention and are carefully considered, while other nuggets might get lost (or are even purposely ignored), and yet others, might be acted on without enough consideration.

What is troubling to me is how frequently managers assume that information that stems from the external world is right or appropriate for their organizations. Often this gets exhibited as follows: a manager gets his recent issue of Harvard Business Review and skims through it during a business trip (of course, only after the manager has exhausted the batteries on the laptop). The manager reads a few articles, finds one or more them to be interesting, and then without much questioning begins to think about how to duplicate practices or approaches described in their own organization. Most managers take a lazy approach when it comes to evaluation of information from external sources. Consider the last time that you really took the time to evaluate information coming from an external source (e.g. a consultant or a recently released business book that touts the next buzzword) with the same amount of care as information that comes from your direct reports. Much of this lazy approach, in my opinion, can be linked to the MBA mills. During MBA programs, degree candidates are rushed through the fundamentals of accounting and finance, given tours of the latest practices in human resource management and information systems, and spend their time working through team and trust building exercises. These are all nice, but do not teach managers the art and science of questioning. Moreover, in some course and management approaches, questioning, especially, the questioning of authorities and authoritative sources is frowned upon. This is common in disciplines such as accounting and finance, where students are made to drink from the fire hose in terms of the terminology and techniques. Student learn to marvel at external information, especially information published in the so-called authoritative sources, rather than to critically evaluate it.

Most managers with whom I speak admit that they have a long way to go in terms of harnessing their questioning capabilities. Key aspects of a questioning capability include:

1.      Knowing how to develop questions for a given context

2.      Knowing when to ask questions

3.      Knowing how to evaluate and process answers to questions

4.      Knowing how to develop an effective, and efficient, questioning process that is refined, and optimized, on a regular basis

Being busy, or overworked, or just being fearful of consequences, are not legitimate reasons for questioning. To retain the human and intelligent aspects of organizations, one must question. Questioning prompts us to seek clarification, act intelligently and mindfully, and promotes constructive discourse.

I would like to hear your thoughts on questioning. Do you ask difficult questions of external information? What are some reasons why you are less critical of information that come from external versus internal sources? What challenges do you face in terms of asking difficult questions? Do you think questioning is a lost capability within current enterprises?

Consulting and Advisory Services

I have updated the Consulting page on my website. Consulting engagements I offer range in scope from single-day senior executive briefings to small-term strategic project assignments. Here are some of the most common offerings:

Executive Strategic Planning Retreats: Working closely with the client, Kevin scopes out a keynote presentation followed by a workshop. The day begins with the keynote and a thought provoking discussion. The workshop can be used to facilitate corporate strategic planning and design, forecasting and planning for future trends that impact the business, or brainstorming and consensus building. Past retreats have focused on strategic innovation, designing collaborative alliances for organizational resiliency, and building crisis detection and response programs.

Strategic Advising and Consulting: These short-term engagements allow Kevin to work intimately with the client on focused areas of strategic opportunities and challenges. Advising and consulting projects range from strategizing knowledge management and innovation endeavors to technology management projects and competitive intelligence assignments. Past engagements have included advising a major engineering firm on designing a knowledge management program, reviewing business plans and specifications for products of a major technology organization, and serving as a senior adviser for market and customer intelligence projects.

Ideation and Commercialization: This unique offering by Kevin is centered on helping entities leverage their ideas. Kevin works with entities ranging from individual executives in leading organizations, to technology start-up firms, to independent thinkers (e.g., scientists, bloggers, and product designers). The focus is to help entities manage their ideas optimally for goal attainment. Past engagements include working with senior executives to publish their ideas in mainstream journals or books and helping technology start-ups formulate key strategic alliances.

Building the Business Case for Knowledge Management and Innovation Programs

Resources are needed in order to invest in knowledge management and innovation programs. Whether it is discretionary resources to acquire a new system for knowledge discovery or cash to buy gift cards to be used as incentives to promote knowledge sharing among employees, it is important to remember that resources can make, or break, a knowledge management effort. Not all resources are of a monetary nature. Many times, the most valuable resource required is attention. Employee attention to the knowledge management effort (e.g., a new method for codifying knowledge) is also salient for success. To get employee attention, in most cases, you need the attention of senior executives, who give their attention to the projects in which they invest significant resources. So, there is no getting around the fact that securing resources for knowledge management is a critical issue.

Unfortunately, few managers know how to write business cases that attract the necessary resources for their knowledge management and innovation programs.Business cases are strategic artifacts aimed to sell internal and/or external stakeholders on the merits of a project. Upon reading a business case, one should come away with a clear strategic understanding of the project and its value proposition, confidence in the project team, assurance that the budget for the project is reasonable, and awareness that the high-level project plan is sound. Based on my experience, I would suspect that out of every 20 business cases for a knowledge management related effort, about one is funded at the level requested, up to three are funded at 30% or below of what was requested, and the rest are not funded at all!

First, the scarcity problem means that organizations do not have unlimited resources (e.g., capital, or even more intangible resources, like managerial attention), meaning all needs are not going to be met. Recognizing the criticality of the scarcity problem means that when an organization considers a case for investing in knowledge management, it is going to be evaluated against every other case that is asking for resources. Too often, knowledge management business cases do not understand or account for this reality, and go by the wayside.

The second thing to understand is that knowledge management efforts need to show payoffs. In an organizational context, payoffs are compared across projects that are candidates for investments. Business cases that are able to demonstrate payoffs that are worthy of the effort (time, cost, personnel, etc) of the investment, and present convincing arguments on why the payoff will better the organization towards its future objectives, stand a high chance of being funded. Simply claiming a high payoff is not sufficient. The business case presented must be sufficiently evidenced to show that achieving the payoff is reasonable.

From the outset, one must realize that making the case for a knowledge management effort and calculating payoffs is not easy, when compared to making the business case for a new piece of manufacturing equipment, such as new welding machine or a color photocopier. Investing in a piece of new machinery can be directly tied to increases in product quality and/or quantity through multiple metrics (e.g., lower defect rates, finished products per hour, etc). Calculating the payoffs for investments in knowledge management efforts is not as easy, nor is it as direct, and first-order effects are difficult, if not impossible to measure. Knowledge management efforts lead to changes in behaviors, approaches, and methods that, on their own may not have direct bottom-line impacts. However, when these are mapped and traced to organizational processes, the impacts can be measured and articulated. Needless to say, this is often a more time consuming and creative effort than simply measuring direct impacts as in the case of outcomes from a new piece of manufacturing equipment.  Equally important is that there is a lag time between when one invests in a knowledge management effort and when one witnesses outcomes that result in payoffs. Accounting for this lag time is not easy, yet it is essential to building an adequate business case.

The third, critical realization that we need to appreciate is the fact that investing in knowledge management is akin to a group as a whole investing in a common effort. Consider the case of investing in initiatives such as the promotion of fair trade practices. Most people agree that increasing the adoption of fair trade practices benefits society. The challenge arises when we ask who wants to take responsibility for investing in these efforts. If taxes were raised to support these efforts, would you be happy? Rational individuals often want others to bear the cost of these common efforts and gladly enjoy the benefits, yet hesitate to initiate responsibility. A similar predicament faces knowledge management efforts. Departments within an organization want their peers’ units to invest in a common effort. Each department might see knowledge management as an effort someone else should put up resources for and hence defers spending its own resources. In some organizations, knowledge management efforts might be viewed as a tax levied on a department’s resources. This tax, is something every department either does not want to pay or wants to pay the lowest possible amount; yet any outcomes from the tax, such as infrastructure (e.g. a new intranet) is of interest to all. Moreover, the departments may get upset if they see the common effort they invest in does not perform up to par. This is akin to how one feels when one drives down a poorly maintained road, knowing that one has paid taxes for its upkeep. Knowledge management is seldom viewed as a profit center in an organization. It is important to remember that building a business case for a knowledge management effort is often similar to trying to build a case for increasing investment in an effort common to the whole organization.

The above three challenges, while severe, are not insurmountable. To learn more about how to build a good business case for knowledge management and innovation programs, please send me an email and stay tuned for my forthcoming article in Business Information Review.

Without a good business case, knowledge management will remain a theoretical, and even an impractical, concept in organizations. Good business cases give individuals a chance to put theory into practice, by providing resources for implementing knowledge management programs, processes, and technologies. Writing good business cases requires time, effort, and practice. Seldom is one born with the ability to write good business cases.

Keynote Address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference: From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design

I will be giving a keynote address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference (CSSS). CSSS 2010 is hosted by the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems at. For more information on the conference, please click here [LINK].

From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design: Leveraging Information through Simulation

Constructing public policy, whether at the national or local level, is a complex undertaking. Complexity arises from the number of stakeholders involved, varying agendas and incentives, resource constraints, a multitude of interacting variables, multiple time horizons, and even political climates. Due to these complexities, we too often categorize political and social problems as ‘wicked’ and unanalyzable. The default option is to take a haphazard approach to policy design, most often the outcome of the ego-based debates and negotiations of the decision-makers. In this keynote address, I will argue for a move from hunches (or intuition) to evidence driven policy construction. Today, due to the advancement of computational power and modeling techniques, we can simulate complex scenarios. Simulation gives us an ability to move policy construction from an activity primarily driven by historic case analysis and intuitions, to more of an applied science, where we can actually predict and control phenomenon. Through simulation we can, with reasonable certainty, ascertain the cost, benefit, risk, impact, and value proposition of a given policy. Using examples from simulation projects, such as a project that examined strategic options for dismantling terrorist networks, I will demonstrate how we can move policy design from being an ‘art’ to more of a ‘science.’

Information Systems ‘Backsourcing’: Knowledge Re-integration Challenges

Akshay Bhagwatwar (University of Washington), Ray Hackney (Brunel University), and I have authored a paper that examines the knowledge integration challenges faced by organizations as they try to recover from backsourcing endeavors. The paper will appear in a future issue of Information Systems Management.

Abstract
Backsourcing is motivated by opportunities arising from changes in the business situation, redefinition of the character of outsourced service declining in quality or due to the discovery of flaws in the contract. The situation of backsourcing clearly has major implications for an organization in terms of monetary investments, IS infrastructure and changes in employee requirements during and after the process. The research in this paper consequently acknowledges a serious challenge involving the management of systems within organizations following backsourcing events. This paper considers a detailed analysis of two case studies of backsourcing: JP Morgan Chase (USA) and Sainsbury (UK). A major contribution of the paper is to identify important strategies to be followed in backsourcing projects to ensure efficient knowledge re-integration. In this respect, it is believed the paper is unique in identifying emergent suggestions for strategic backsourcing decision making through a series of insightful observations.

Bhagwatwar, A., Hackney, R., and Desouza, K.C. “Considerations for Information Systems ‘Backsourcing’: A Framework for Knowledge Re-integration,” Information Systems Management, Forthcoming.

Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation: Threat Identification, Policy Formulation and Decision Making, June 3-5, 2010

I will be speaking at the Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation hosted by the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London in June. Kristen Lau and I have authored a paper that examines how information management failures led to an inability to adequately assess and detect nuclear threats in recent times. Lack of adequate information management capabilities have led to numerous international crises surrounding nuclear non-proliferation. For example, the inability to predict nuclear tests by India in 1998, the colossal failures surrounding assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities in early 2000, and today, the challenge of addressing Iran and North Korea.

Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel?
Intelligence is a critical component of all counter-proliferation activities. It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. When informed with an accurate assessment of the situation, policy makers are better suited to counter the proliferation threat. However, success and failure hinge upon how well information is managed during the intelligence process. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state’s capabilities or intentions. As was seen with the case of Iraq in 2003, western intelligence services grossly overestimated the capabilities of Saddam’s regime. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India, Pakistan and Iran. Drawing from the analysis, the authors examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy.

To read prior papers published on this topic, please see:
• Desouza, K.C., and Lau, K.A.* “Managing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Information Management Perspective,” International Journal of Public Administration, 31 (13), 2008, 1457–1512. [LINK]
• Desouza, K.C. “Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community,” International Journal of Public Administration, 32 (14), 2009, 1219–1267. [LINK]

Cyberprotest in Contemporary Russia forthcoming in Technology Forecasting and Social Change

Volodymyr V. Lysenko and I have authored paper that explores the possibilities of the Internet as a tool for supplying information necessary for the organization and mobilization of successful opposition movements, especially under non-democratic regimes. Examples of the roles the Internet plays in the political processes in Russia are discussed in detail. In particular, the recent cyberprotest cases of the Ingushetiya.ru website and the movement to release political prisoner Svetlana Bakhmina are investigated. Besides showing the Internet’s significant role in organizing modern protests, these cases also demonstrate that in environments where practically all traditional mass-media are under the authorities’ control, the Internet becomes the major source of alternative information. Our paper offers a look at how deploying technologies can bring about social change, even in some of the most difficult political environments.

The paper will appear in Technology Forecasting and Social Change. Volodymyr and I will present the paper at the Harriman Institute for the Etiology and Ecology of Post-Soviet Media Conference at Columbia University on May 7-9, 2010.

Speaking at Microsoft: Intranets for Collaborative Innovation: From Failed Promises to Emerging Potential: April 29, 2010

I will be giving a talk to Microsoft’s Enterprise Content Management team on the role of Intranets in fostering collaborative innovation. Since their initial debut, Intranets have been touted as a platform to promote collaboration within an organization. Most organizations have invested serious resources in developing viable Intranets. Despite the significant investments, only a handful of organizations will claim that their Intranets are anything more than glorified document repositories. In this talk, I highlight key reasons that Intranets have failed to deliver on their original promises. I will also point out how users have had to build work-a-rounds to avoid interacting with Intranets when engaging in collaborative work. My talk will conclude with key recommendations for designers of next generation Intranets that can support collaborative innovation.