Monday, January 23, 2006

KM supplanted by community

Companies Struggle to Pass On Knowledge That Workers Acquire
Wall Street Journal (01/23/06) , P. B1; Thurm, Scott
Despite the transition of the work force to "knowledge workers," not many
organizations have proven themselves adept at sharing knowledge among
employees or pass it on when an employee leaves a post. There are many
solutions on offer from business gurus, most of them involving technology,
but there have not been many successes with them so far. Rather, it is
important to keep in mind the human aspect of knowledge
management--something discovered by London's water supplier in the early
1990s when it provided its inspectors with handheld computers eliminated the
central dispatch office. The problem with this is that the dispatch office
had filled an informal role as a place where inspectors could learn tips and
tricks from each other about doing their jobs, a resource so vital that
inspectors started meeting on their own at a restaurant and writing down
tips on a notebook stashed behind the counter. After Xerox heard similar
stories from copier technicians, who often learned more from each other than
from their manuals, and Xerox ended up providing technicians with radios so
they could confer with one another. Still, this sort of informal
knowledge-sharing is limited in scope and could be seen as somewhat
old-fashioned, which is why companies have been trying to collect tips in
central computer databases; the drawback with this is that it can be hard to
get together the critical mass to make this worthwhile. Xerox managed to
make this strategy a success through various means--including seeding the
database with headquarters engineers' tips, offering rewards for submitting
tips, and featuring the names of contributors so they could get recognition
from their peers--and today the Xerox "Eureka" system has about 70,000
suggestions and saves millions of dollars a year for the company. Other
companies are taking different approaches; for example, highly technically
knowledgeable employees of Raytheon's missile-systems unit are passing on
what they know with the assistance of a coach.

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