Everyone has heard the phrase, "one hand is not talking to the other." If you are like me, you may have felt that if you had just one more piece of information you could get a project completed. The question is how do you find that last elusive bit of information in your organization?
The answer lies in using knowledge management (KM). Lately, KM has become a catch phrase to solve all sorts of organizational problems, but to be an effective means of organizational change for the better, you must first find an applicable definition of KM and the right way to apply its concepts to your organization.
You will find tons of books about KM, and these books can provide some great insight. However, we have found that we benefited the most by actually applying some basic KM concepts and working outside the box to make KM work for us.
KM is not information management (IM), and it is not information technology (IT). These three areas are closely linked, but they are not one in the same. IT focuses on getting the bits and bytes to the customer or warfighter and the tools used to do this. IM is heavily focused on how these tools facilitate the information flow for the customer or warfighter. IM also involves the rules and tips, techniques and procedures for the tools.
But KM looks at people, their processes and tools, and ensures they are all in sync. KM also looks at the organizational structure to ensure it is aligned to facilitate the flow of knowledge through the organization.
I am going to explain KM from the perspective that we have been using at Standing Joint Force Headquarters-Pacific (SJFHQ-Pacific). I will tell you what we have learned and how we have applied it both in garrison at Pacific Command headquarters as well as in the Pacific area of responsibility with the many joint task forces that our unit supports.
What knowledge management is and is not
To understand KM, you first must understand the cognitive hierarchy which defines four different levels of meaning: data, information, knowledge and understanding. In this process, information is gathered and transformed by adding progressively greater meaning at each level of the cognitive hierarchy. The cognitive hierarchy process raises information from the lowest level, unstructured data, to the highest, understanding.
Data can be anything from maps to e-mail messages and everything in between, but when you apply context and the experiences of subject matter experts to information, it then becomes knowledge. Finally, once you synthesize and apply judgment to knowledge it becomes understanding. Armed with this understanding you can make accurate, well-informed decisions.
In short it should look like this:
DATA becomes INFORMATION becomes KNOWLEDGE becomes UNDERSTANDING, as shown in Figure 1.
I would argue that KM is the control of the transformation of data into understanding. KM is NOT a technical solution, although it may include technology. Too many people want to throw money at the problem when frankly a technical solution is not always the answer. Sometimes the answer could be as simple as providing your employees with a break area where it is easy for them to sit down and talk about the things they are working on.
In today's office environment we tend to build cubicle "farms" for efficiency, but these walls can be and often are the cause of inefficiency. That cubicle wall you are staring at could be what is stopping your left hand from talking to your right hand or keeping you away from that last bit of data.
Sometimes that wall could be a digital wall that separates different communications systems within an organization. But whatever the barrier may be, you will need to find a solution that allows the flow of knowledge in your organization.
In a military organization, your KM officer (KMO) does not need