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Leveraging Existing Organizational Resources for New Knowledge Management Solutions

1 September 2010
Sagit Salmon

Organizations frequently decide to upgrade their knowledge management systems. The natural context for system upgrades is replacing it with a newer one: more advanced, improved capabilities prevalent in other organizations. Such a system needs to be purchased: invest money and time in specification and vendor selection, and results are not immediate. However, replacing the system is not necessarily the key to success. The breakthrough may come from within the existing system, either by implementing a new capability, reorganizing information, or through implementation.

When an organization's existing knowledge management system is in place, it doesn't have to be the most advanced, expensive, or widespread among organizations. Its success may lie in optimally addressing existing and emerging needs.

When I guide knowledge management projects in organizations, I often tell the client that they are responsible for presenting the need, and I am responsible for proposing the solution.

A good familiarity with the existing system and an optimal understanding of the raised need can lead to creative solutions within the existing system. Even if the system doesn't provide an exact solution to the raised need, there's an optimal solution at hand. You can think of two alternatives and let the client choose between them. The solution still doesn't adequately meet the need. You can pay and develop a solution on the existing system. Try to make the development broad enough to address future needs as well. Study the solution well so you can utilize it in the future, too.

What, then, are the advantages of an existing system?

  • Acquisition costs? None

  • Time investment for learning to work with the system? This is only for new "students." Those already working on the system don't need to invest time learning and familiarizing themselves with a new system.

  • Implementation among end users? Users don't need an adjustment period for a new system, but an implementation plan is required for unfamiliar applications or capabilities.

  • Need a solution for a need not well addressed in the existing system? Invest time and development costs only in this solution.

Here are two ideas for leveraging existing resources:

Want to upgrade the organizational portal? Prepare a list of the "most burning" needs - the most common or those whose solution will constitute a "breakthrough" in the organization. Meet with the vendor and check how these needs can be addressed. Minimal investment of time and money might yield the desired solution.

Want to establish a knowledge management unit? Check if the organizational portal can serve as a suitable enough tool for knowledge management, even if it's not known as such. You might be surprised.

And if you have still decided to purchase a new tool

  • Try to collaborate with other units in the organization - perhaps a shared list of needs can be defined and addressed in one tool. You might benefit from a significant cost reduction and higher commitment from the vendor.

  • Choose a system that can display information from other systems in the organization. Even if such capability isn't required initially, it might be needed later. It's essential to know the implications of such development in the future.

  • Consider the future - what benefit could you or other organizational units derive from the system? To what extent can it serve as an additional knowledge management solution in the organization?

In conclusion, the innovation presented here (and perhaps for some of you, it's not innovation at all, but it's obvious) is the innovation of maximizing existing resources in the organization for new solutions. You might find around the corner what you were looking for beyond the horizon.

Good luck!

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