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Empowering Users: The Coming Transformation of Knowledge Management Environments

Originally published June 30, 2005

The day is long gone when an enterprise could afford the disconnectedness, incompatibility and non-interoperability that were characteristic of its information systems in recent decades. Whether in the marketplace, the battlefield, the public services or their support environments, every single knowledge worker—and we are all knowledge workers—must pull in the same direction so that an organization moves forward in close alignment towards the fulfillment of its mission and achievement of its objectives. The key to this lies in a flexible and powerful knowledge management environment operating seamlessly within a robust enterprise IT architecture. That means an environment where business intelligence is extracted easily and purposefully from bits and bytes. Moreover, this vision must be shared and championed by the enterprise’s leadership, enabled by its architects and ultimately adopted and supported by its users.

Ultimately, we must provide a knowledge management environment consisting of:

  • A set of tools and processes;
  • Used by knowledge workers;
  • In an architected environment;
  • Created through an enterprise initiative;
  • To obtain maximum returns; and
  • In extracting knowledge from bits and bytes. 

In launching an initiative to provide the enterprise with a robust knowledge management environment one has to note that this includes more than just the hardware and the software; it covers the technological, social and cultural setting and the physical surroundings that allow knowledge to be created, accessed and shared effectively throughout the enterprise. Intelligence must be extracted from the zeros and ones and it must be fed to anyone that needs it, whenever they need it.

There are many ways to construct such an environment, but ultimately it must provide users with the capability to perform whatever tasks they need to do in order to function efficiently and effectively in a world increasingly characterized by complexity, uncertainty and change. There are at least a dozen types of activities that this environment must enable. Collectively, they catalyze the organization into the creation of a robust knowledge management environment where maximum sharing and flow can take place. This is crucial, because at its core lies the capacity of that environment to help someone with a question connect it to a corresponding answer. 

The user must be able to easily and effectively:

  • Access knowledge about his or her job, including captured tacit knowledge from previous workers and lessons learned from past experiences;
  • Connect and collaborate with other members of his or her communities of practice;
  • Find and disseminate best practices;
  • Locate desired experts and expertise;
  • Access and apply, openly or transparently, taxonomies for major knowledge domains;
  • Use enterprise portals as gateways to knowledge spaces;
  • Search all sources of unstructured data and facilitate its collection and navigation;
  • Access and exploit business intelligence from structured data through data warehousing and data mining;
  • Facilitate customer service through personalization and better information;
  • Harness narratives and success stories as a springboard to action; and
  • Take advantage of learning and e-learning opportunities.

But the linchpin behind the transformation is the concept of the “knowledge space.”

A knowledge space is a collection of documents—accessible content—that comprise the working environment. This is the mine that a miner must work in order to extract its embedded value. It will surely include documents from internal and external sources, in multiple media, comprised of both structured and unstructured data. There will be both real and virtual aspects of this knowledge space. In it should be all the documents that might help us in getting an answer to anything we might ever want to know about a particular knowledge domain.  We can pick a broad domain such as healthcare, or warfare or law enforcement and create corresponding knowledge spaces. But these can become somewhat large and unwieldy. More than likely, our interest will be in more focused knowledge domains that will surely lead us to develop narrower knowledge spaces on, say, pancreatic cancer, dialysis processes or Ebola virus outbreaks instead of healthcare; infantry training, guerrilla tactics or ordnance disposal instead of warfare; and riot control, criminal investigation or interrogation tactics instead of law enforcement.  

Ultimately the knowledge space should be created as a starting point for the knowledge worker. As the needs require it, that knowledge space will grow and expand to encompass whatever might be needed to answer questions and connect the dotted lines.

Then we will need a workbench of tools to navigate, explore and operate on the content in the knowledge space. We will provide much more detail on the workbench in our next column.

In conclusion, we have introduced the important thesis that there is a transformation coming to the world of analytics, hence to business intelligence, and that at the heart of said transformation is the concept of a knowledge space and the workbench of tools that will allow us to navigate and explore these knowledge spaces. 

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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