Originally published August 11, 2014
All organizations can benefit from their people sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating and learning. Here is a list of 15 benefits that can result from knowledge management (KM) and enterprise social networks (ESNs). What would you add to this list?
1. Enabling better and faster decision making
By delivering relevant information at the time of need through structure, search, subscription, syndication, and support, a knowledge management environment can provide the basis for making good decisions. Collaboration brings the power of large numbers, diverse opinions, and varied experience to bear when decisions need to be made. The reuse of knowledge in repositories allows decisions to be based on actual experience, large sample sizes, and practical lessons learned.
2. Making it easy to find relevant information and resources
When faced with a need to respond to a customer, solve a problem, analyze trends, assess markets, benchmark against peers, understand competition, create new offerings, plan strategy, and to think critically, you typically look for information and resources to support these activities. If it is easy and fast to find what you need when you need it, you can perform all of these tasks efficiently.
3. Reusing ideas, documents, and expertise
Once you have developed an effective process, you want to ensure that others use the process each time a similar requirement arises. If someone has written a document or created a presentation that addresses a recurring need, it should be used in all future similar situations. When members of your organization have figured out how to solve a common problem, know how to deliver a recurring service, or have invented a new product, you want that same solution, service, and product to be replicated as much as possible. Just as the recycling of materials is good for the environment, reuse is good for organizations because it minimizes rework, prevents problems, saves time, and accelerates progress.
4. Avoiding redundant effort
No one likes to spend time doing something over again. But they do so all the time for a variety of reasons. Avoiding duplication of effort saves time and money, keeps employee morale up, and streamlines work. By not spending time reinventing the wheel, you can have more time to invent something new.
5. Avoiding making the same mistakes twice
George Santayana said, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we will experience them over and over again. Knowledge management allows us to share lessons learned, not only about successes, but also about failures. In order to do so, we must have a culture of trust, openness, and reward for willingness to talk about what we have done wrong. The potential benefits are enormous. If NASA learns why a space shuttle exploded, it can prevent recurrences and save lives. If FEMA learns what went wrong in responding to Hurricane Katrina, it can reduce the losses caused by future disasters. If engineers learn why highways and buildings collapsed during a previous earthquake, they can design new ones to better withstand future earthquakes. If you learn that your last bid or estimate was underestimated by 50%, you can make the next one more accurate and thus earn a healthy profit instead of incurring a large loss.
6. Taking advantage of existing expertise and experience
Teams benefit from the individual skills and knowledge of each member. The more complementary the expertise of the team members, the greater the power of the team. In large organizations, there are people with widely-varying capabilities and backgrounds, and there should be a benefit from this. But as the number of people increases, it becomes more difficult for each individual to know about everyone else. So even though there are people with knowledge who could help other people, they don’t know about each other. The late Lew Platt, former CEO of HP, is widely quoted as saying “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.” Knowing what others know can be very helpful at a time of need, since you learn from their experience and apply it to your current requirements.
7. Communicating important information widely and quickly
Almost everyone today is an information worker, either completely or partially. We all need information to do our jobs effectively, but we also suffer from information overload from an increasing variety of sources. How can we get information that is targeted, useful, and timely without drowning in a sea of email, having to visit hundreds of web sites, or reading through tons of printed material? Knowledge management helps address this problem through personalized portals, targeted subscriptions, RSS feeds, tagging, and enterprise search engines.
8. Promoting standard, repeatable processes and procedures
If standard processes and procedures have been defined, they should always be followed. This allows employees to learn how things are done, leads to predictable and high-quality results, and enables large organizations to be consistent in how work is performed. By providing a process for creating, storing, communicating, and using standard processes and procedures, employees will be able to use them routinely.
9. Providing methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples
Methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples are the building blocks supporting repeatable processes and procedures. Using these consistently streamlines work, improves quality, and ensures compatibility across the organization.
10. Making scarce expertise widely available
If there is a resource who is in great demand due to having a skill that is in short supply, knowledge management can help make that resource available to the entire organization. Ways of doing so include community discussion forums, training events, ask the expert systems, recorded presentations, white papers, blogs, podcasts and videos.
11. Showing customers how knowledge is used for their benefit
In competitive situations, it is important to be able to differentiate yourself from other firms. Demonstrating to potential and current customers that you have widespread expertise and have ways of bringing it to bear for their benefit can help convince them to start or continue doing business with you. Conversely, failure to do so could leave you vulnerable to competitors who can demonstrate their knowledge management capabilities and benefits.
12. Accelerating delivery to customers
Speed of execution is another important differentiator among competitors. All other things being equal, the company that can deliver sooner will win. Knowledge sharing, reuse and innovation can significantly reduce time to deliver a proposal, product, or service to a customer. And that translates into increased win rates, add-on business, and new customers.
13. Enabling the organization to leverage its size
As an organization grows, the increasing size is only a benefit if it can use the knowledge of all of its employees. Through the use of tools such as communities, expertise locators, and repositories, the full power of a large enterprise can be exploited.
14. Making the organization’s best problem-solving experiences reusable
Consistently applying proven practices, also known as best practices or good practices, can significantly improve the results of any firm. For example, if a manufacturing plant in one part of the world has figured out how to prevent the need for product rework, and all other plants around the world adopt this practice, savings will flow directly to the bottom line. By establishing a process for defining, communicating, and replicating proven practices, an enterprise takes advantage of what it learns about solving problems.
15. Stimulating innovation and growth
Most businesses want to increase their revenues, but it becomes increasingly difficult as industries mature and competition increases. Creating new knowledge through effective knowledge sharing, collaboration, and information delivery can stimulate innovation. If you achieve this and many of the other 14 benefits enabled by knowledge management, you should be able to achieve growth.