Knowledge technologies in context
Knowledge technologies in context

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Knowledge technologies in context

3.5 Organisational memory systems continued

3.5.1 Planning a group memory system: a framework

Nothing can be stored in a computer-supported organisational memory unless it is encoded in some form. Who is going to invest the effort to encode information within an organisation?

Creating a dedicated team of information librarians and knowledge managers is certainly one route, perhaps necessary for long-term maintenance of a large repository, just as librarians are needed to manage traditional libraries. But such a team cannot be experts in all aspects of the organisation's activities, and the people who really need to be managing knowledge are the people who are continually creating and using it in dynamic business environments.

If we consider the scenario of a team that wishes to capture or construct a project memory, numerous issues must be considered. A comparison of two very different group memory systems, deployed in the same organisation, has been reported by Zimmerman and Selvin (1997). Although their focus was software design teams, the issues that emerge are relevant to many other teams. A framework for assessing group memory systems was developed to assist project teams in designing and selecting group memory technologies to suit their needs. First, the concept of a group profile was developed (see Table 3.1) to clarify the important characteristics of the community to be supported. This was then compared with the ‘assumptions/requirements’ row of the framework in Table 3.2.

Table 3.1 Building a group profile when considering a group memory system

NeedsWhat information does the group need to capture and retrieve?
SizeNumber of stakeholders; number of subgroups
TypeWhat type of project is it?
ExternalWhat external groups does this group communicate with?
PhaseWhat phase is the project in?
ScheduleDoes this group have time to learn a new tool/ language?
BudgetCan this group purchase equipment or hire personnel?
PersonnelDoes this group have technical writers, developers, leaders, etc.?
CommunicationWhat mechanisms is this group currently using to share their knowledge?
LocationIs this group co-located or geographically distributed?
SkillsDoes this group have group memory-related knowledge and skills, such as prior experience with a group memory system?
MotivationWhat is team members’ motivation to use a group memory system?
StabilityWhat is likely to be the duration and stability of the team over time?
(Source: based on Zimmerman and Selvin, 1997, p. 420)

Discussing the framework and building a group profile as a team should help to clarify what assumptions are being made and what their needs are. The team is then in a better position to ask what technologies are required.

Activity 3.2

What would be the costs and benefits of introducing a group memory system into a team of which you are a member or which you manage? Reflect on your group's characteristics and the kind of information they would be seeking to capture and share.


Table 3.1 provides a checklist for building a group profile, but you may need to include other factors in order to identify your group's characteristics and information requirements. For example, is the group homogeneous or does it comprise widely different specialists? What is the pace of change in the project domain?

Questions that will help to identify costs and benefits are shown in Table 3.2. One problem is that most of the benefits, and indeed some of the costs, are difficult to identify before a system is introduced. However, all costs and benefits must be evaluated against the costs and benefits of not having such a system. The case study on AT&T Bell Labs (Box 3.3) showed that some of these costs and benefits can be identified.


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