Knowldge Capital and Dark Matter in the Enterprise

So I was having a conversation
with a colleague the other day on managing knowledge capital in the enterprise,
and the rat’s nest of network folder structures that, inevitably, wind up on
the servers of corporate America.

 

His comments were something
like, “If it is anything like my experience, there are now tons of redundant,
outdated, and conflicting data on shared drives without a clearly understood
policing and maintenance function.

 

My overriding concern is this:
over time, organizations inevitably develop musty, decrepit labyrinths of
shared sub-directories and folders, where access and editing rights are not be
well-understood or controlled, and current and outdated data are inter-mixed.
In other words: FUBAR (you know the meaning?)”

 

So what do you do about it?

         
Well, In part,
develop an over-arching general document retention policy for managing risk and
retention of identified documents. There is quite a bit of case law on the
statute of limitations under the UCC, and precedent around suits filed where document
retention policies were inadequately defined
.

         
Also, the whole policy
thing needs to be enforceable, so finding the sweet spot of the policy is
tricky. Making a set of practices so legalistic prevents adequate adherence,
and makes enforcement next to impossible.

         
Finally, again this
is about education, end goals and not about technology (IMHO).

 

To use a simile, it’s a little
like my garage at home growing up (and probably a bit like my garage now)…

 

My dad had the tendency to keep
every copy of the National Geographic magazine we ever received… and stacked
them up in the corner of the garage, on the bet that, “there’s that article
I’ll want someday…”

 

Before you know it, 20 years
have gone by and there are National Geographic magazines stacked up taking an
entire wall of space.

 

With the inexpensive nature of
computer storage today, the issue is exacerbated.

 

It is cheaper to throw storage
at the problem then to fight with people to “clean out the garage…” Remember
what that was like when you were asked as a kid to clean out the garage/storage
shed/your room/whatever?

 

In addition, the issue is pervasive;
it runs as a thread, in many organizations.

 

I did some research on this in
graduate school, as part of document retention policies for information
assurance, organizational knowledge capital and IP management.

 

It seems to me that there is a
larger issue involved than the “I might want that article someday” information
gathering habits people have. There is a lot of research on knowledge capital
and its management in the enterprise.

 

The average tenure of an
employee has declined over the last 25 years and as we have moved from an
industrialized society to an information society, we see too, knowledge capital
move around more frequently. The problem is that (in our organization
especially) there is more tacit or esoteric knowledge than explicit knowledge.
So the question, in general, “how do we tap in to that knowledge that exists
within the enterprise so we can develop a competitive market advantage?”

 

We’re not the only ones asking
that question, many other organizations are as well. That question has created
business and research specializations in the fields of library and information
science.

 

The response from the
information and technology sciences has created several models for tapping in to
the organizational knowledge capital.

 

The whole internet “Google” as
the “Encyclopedia Galatica” is part of that.

 

The extension of these search
technologies in the enterprise makes use of tags (metadata) to categorize the
information in to logical constructs.

 

Crawlers and index engines
summarize the information in to searchable databases.

 

This gets the explicit knowledge
from the enterprise in to something that we have a hope of using in a
meaningful way.

 

The next step is to get the
tacit knowledge out of the heads of the “enlightened few,” and in to the hands
of the other organizational knowledge workers. So with tenure decreasing, implying higher turnover, think about what happens every time that esoteric
knowledge walks out the door? What does that do to the continuity of not
information, but knowledge capital?

 

A great deal of research has
been done (mine included) on the use of social computing models (think
facebook, linkedin) to extend reach of the enterprise to its market channels,
and internally, to perform knowledge transfer between workers.

 

Look at Sharepoint as an example
of how organizations are doing some of this now.

 

More research in this area needs
to be done, and my intuition is that the companies that tap in to this “dark
matter of organizational knowledge,” as I called it in one conversation, are
the some of the ones that will have a competitive advantage in the recovery.

 

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