Enclosed is a two-part blog post about a recent conference I participated in. The conference was about Knowledge Management for Bio-Pharmaceutical and Medical Device companies. This post is part 1.
Those who never heard the term “Knowledge Management” might think that it was constructed by the magnetic poetry kit consultants keep on their fridge. Both words are recognizable, but when put together – the term is unintuitive, arguably meaningless. Knowledge Management is a field of management that has been around for about 20 years (a number subject to debate – which itself indicates something). Many say KM is dead, perhaps replaced by Enterprise 2.0. Some say Enterprise 2.0 is KM; and is doomed to fail, or is vital for any knowledge-based organization. Confused?
Compare: When you manage cost or time you seek to prevent spending too much of it. When you manage quality or talent, you seek to create and promote it. What is managing knowledge? Do you seek to proliferate and leverage knowledge by sharing? Or are you containing it, or preventing if from being shared by enforcing copyright or IP protections? Is knowledge a manageable asset? When we say “knowledge” do we really mean something else? It seems like weather management – it’s not like we can prevent a winter storm, but we can shovel some snow. In which case Knowledge Management is just a fancy name.
I delivered the keynote speaker at a Knowledge Management conference last week. My message to these KM professionals: The abundance of available information, near-zero cost of storage, ubiquity of computing devices, and that KM has 20 years of maturity implies it should be a well-understood and successful discipline. Yet the reality is hardly so. Most corporate intranets or knowledge databases fail dismally (I provided data explaining what I meant). Managing knowledge is like herding cats – easy if the cats are dead. When knowledge dies, it can be “managed” (a euphemism for storing, indexing, and potentially retrieving document).
But KM is not document management or library services (I said) – its value is only realized when applied to current and future needs. Data and documents describe what was. Insight is needed to understand what is. Wisdom helps us prepare for what will be. Knowledge thrives in the interpretation of facts and signals, not just in its collection. I suggested KM programs will gain by leveraging successes in the Enterprise 2.0 field. KM professionals need to learn how social computing can help them leverage vibrant socially mediated conversations to improve the effectiveness of their KM initiatives. I gave examples during the keynote and during the subsequent discussions how the E2.0 mindset would help them make breakthrough transformations in their programs.
When the day ended I felt mixed about the status of KM’s success in this group. Some of the speakers and participants were expanding their practice to meet new challenges. But some were stuck in regressive, doomed mindsets, known to fail. For example: One speaker suggested that the key to KM was to create matrix-managed teams that would be created based on the data from a static corporate expertise database. (See my recent post on this topic.) Another suggested that a customized SharePoint solution was the key to the KM program at her last company. But then told us that the use of her customized SharePoint KM solution ended when she left that company. Well, maybe that means SharePoint was helpful, but not enough for KM to thrive.
There were highlights too – one was related to managing Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) response decks. MSLs serve a delicate role of sharing scientific information to their customers (e.g. doctors). MSLs are not allowed to behave as salespeople, promoting products. But they are employed by their company to provide factual (balanced and approved) information as a service to their customers. MSL communications are highly regulated – for good reason. Lives are at stake. Doctors need to have accurate data about the drugs, and the pharma companies have lots of that data. MSLs are not allowed to share some information, and must share certain information in a pre-approved sequence or packets. PowerPoint is the lifeblood of many MSLs. They extract the charts and tables from research reports and present them in a logical package. But how do you manage all the PowerPoint decks for your field operations (many MSLs)? You need to know what was presented, and to ensure that the information presented is compliant to all the rules. And you need to be responsive, quickly and accurately (as these doctors usually need answers ASAP).
I heard from one company who uses an application from Exploria to access their library of individual, approved PowerPoint slides and create compliant decks for the field. The application allows the director to specify packets of slides, so that for example – every deck must have these three slides in this order, and must have those 4 slides – but in any order, as long as they are presented together. Then it could have any of these 20 slides (as needed), etc. In other words – it balances the looseness of an “anything goes” slide deck with the inflexibility of locked decks. It gives the field a way to create customized responses to specific questions while adhering to an auditable and pre-approves process. It’s quite cool – and it begins to explain what KM could be. It’s managing a process of sharing knowledge that achieves a manageable balance of needs that is auditable and capable of change when needed.
See part 2 of this series for more.