Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage Through Knowledge Sharing Technology

Having a formal knowledge management system and strategy helps to foster continuous learning and group collaboration in order to tackle complex problems in an organization.

Alexandra Guadagno of HRIQ talks with Professor Eric Y.H. Tsui about how to outline these strategies, what your knowledge management strategy should look like, and the knowledge management technology options available to facilitate innovation in your company. Eric is a practitioner in Knowledge Management and Vice President at Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society.

1. What are some geographical workforce challenges when it comes to learning networks and knowledge sharing within a multinational company?

"In today’s highly globalized environment, many organizations have their staff located in various regional offices. Their staff is a multi-generational workforce, each person/group has its own norms, values and culture. People in different countries may speak different languages and possibly have time zone differences. On top of this, there are also people’s IT saviness in using computers as well as their eagerness to learn and willingness to share knowledge. To save costs, companies tend not to have all its training in a face to face environment. Considering all these, there are significant hurdles for fostering learning in a multinational company."

2. How should social learning be leveraged in a diverse, multigenerational environment?

"Encourage and facilitate the development of an environment for network building (intra and inter organizations as well as involving external people), fully utilize blended learning – a mix of F2F, online activities, location advantage, multimedia, promote groups with heterogeneous background to learn together, leverage on Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 tools whenever appropriate and possible."

3. Do businesses need to outline a formal "knowledge management strategy," and what might this look like?
"Especially for large organizations, yes-- a formal KM Strategy would help to properly plan to introduce and sustain KM, as well as provide governance. However, this is top down. Both top and bottom up knowledge sharing are needed: hence social learning, ad hoc collaboration, personal information and KM, blogging, etc. are very much needed in order to ensure there are healthy knowledge flows in all directions."

4. Cloud Computing has been getting very popular lately. Do you see any relevance or impact by cloud computing on KM and KS?

"Indeed-- very much so. Most people consider the cloud as some kind of backend storage resources or computational power, but imagine we consider it upside down – the cloud becomes the processing engine to help solve our problem. We can encode logic, just like business rules, in the cloud to enhance its intelligence. The result: the cloud can decompose hard problems and farm it out to other cloud clusters and human beings to solve; extensive data mining and knowledge discovery can be done; crowd sourcing and open innovation makes even more sense due to the extensive reach of the cloud. Potential is enormous and several startups are already capitalizing on these ideas.

The cloud can be considered as a huge array of computational machines to solve problems for us if we encode some kind of cloud logic (AKA business rules in enterprise applications). The cloud can also reach out to tens of millions of people and seek input from them if needed. This is very powerful – a combination of computer power and human problem solving."

5. What are some examples of companies successfully using cloud intelligence?

"A cloud can refactor a complex problem and farm it out to other clusters and human beings to help solve the problem, then piece together the final solution. Examples include Animoto, Livework, cloud based anti-virus software, and our own research on applying the cloud to enhance real time decision making in the financial services industry."

6. How is a knowledge-enabled environment structured? Who is responsible?

"A combination of personal information and KM technology tools, group collaboration tools, and enterprise applications with the ability of fusing and mapping relevant knowledge. There are also networks (both formal and ad hoc) established for communications, sharing, collaboration, decision making and learning among the participants.

This environment also includes a willingness-to-share knowledge culture, and well-defined knowledge processes with both physical and virtual meetings among the participants. There may be one or more KM units to help with governance, but ideally speaking everyone is responsible for the good and long term sustainability of the environment."

7. What options are available for an organization to implement a knowledge repository or a portal for group collaboration?

"In the past, organizations tend to use structured databases to develop a knowledge repository, then couple it with a powerful text-based search engine.

There are mixed successes with this approach. Firstly it is top down, and not everyone will contribute. Secondly, the "captured" knowledge to be superficial and lacks context hence it is often difficult to recall the real reason for a recorded decision. Thirdly, search engines typically return far too many results and rarely can the user afford time to go through each and every one of them. New approaches being used include development of a story databases to collect detailed information about incidents, Wikis to foster collaborative editing, social booking/tagging for collective labeling of a piece of information, and RSS to collect relevant information from outside sources on an ongoing basis.

All the above-- and more-- can be implemented in a portal environment which, through its centralized interface and a range of personalizable portlets, can help to enhance collaboration, easy access and support personal customizations."

8. Why is it important to view every employee as a knowledge worker? How do some of the tech advancements today support this very Peter Drucker school of thought?

"Organization is a 'living entity' and people are its most important asset. Imagine the potential and the opportunities for enabling/inspiring all workers to be competent knowledge professionals, i.e. good personal KM skills, use of appropriate tools, willingness to share and collaborate, etc. The organization will have steady stream of innovative ideas, knowledge flows will be enhanced, communications gaps will be reduced, productivity will be higher and there will be less 'reinventing of the wheel.' Besides, a learning environment is fostered both at the group and organizational levels. People reflect and learn constantly."

Interview conducted by Alexandra Guadagno, Editor for Human Resources IQ.