Managing Knowledge

Despite my reputation as the office technologist, I’m fundamentally skeptical about specific technologies; organizationally, we’ve a job to accomplish, and that task is not “change the technology.” The central office’s charge is, and always has been, putting information where folks can use it. We are getting better at framing the questions, methinks, and it’s fun to be in the middle of that effort.

Our operation depends on two multi-million-record data repositories (three if you expand the definition of “our operation” slightly), several client-server systems (built on nearly as many platforms), and dozens–maybe hundreds–of smaller data stores (in Access, in Excel, in Word, in notebooks). We have a central documentation section to support our field offices, a distributed operation for authoring web pages, an ad hoc intranet. There’s no central system for authoring procedures, or storing the specialized information clerical staff finds indispensible, so each unit writes its own, in a fashion which seems appropriate to the unit supervisor or section manager.

All this is tied together mainly by a core (corps?) of key staffers, each with decades of experience with our policies, our computing systems, and our customers.

My (self-inflicted) mission for the past few years has been “putting information at everyone’s fingertips.” I’ve always had support from high management, and I’ve allies in a few strategic places, but the official efforts have been under-funded, directed at specific problems, and not designed as coordinated activies. Much of our documentation is now readily available in “electronic form,” but that form is often PDFs, or shapeless collections of Word docs on shared network drives. This is progress, but it’s hardly “at your fingertips.”

We have new management these days, and the call center has a significant budget to upgrade their technologies. The project mission includes a serious KM effort. The Project Manager’s an old friend, and while the project’s an assignment for her, not a mission, she understands that I’m mission-driven and listens to my opinions. (And discounts them, when I get carried away.)

A couple footnotes:

This note was provoked by reading Jack Vinson’s note about Allan Bonner’s essay on the evolution of Knowledge Management.  Also by a memo I wrote for that project manager, which I quoted here the other day.

My self-imposed mission used to be “reducing keystrokes.” Also a noble cause, but less interesting.