4.1.1 Mapping who knows what
One of the most widespread ways to represent what you know is to represent who knows what. This avoids the complications of codifying or storing the knowledge in great detail – you simply map the relevant people to a high-level taxonomy, leaving them to give contextualised answers when asked. Initiatives to provide corporate ‘yellow pages’ which map an organisation by what people know rather than by where they work, or alphabetically, have been reported to be extremely popular and successful. One problem with this approach is that individuals may be inundated with requests for help which they are required to address in addition to their ‘real work’. A solution which some organisations are now following is to make knowledge sharing a priority by recognising and rewarding ‘information gatekeepers’ for different areas.
The most basic form of knowledge map is a listing of resources, both people and documents, on paper (see Box 4.1) and/or delivered as web pages. Such ‘portal’ sites proliferate on the Web, compiled by enthusiasts, companies and search engines to point to key resources in one or more fields. Although technically simple to implement in its most basic form, such a resource requires a dedicated person or team to keep the taxonomy of categories and descriptions of people up to date. Some companies with dedicated knowledge managers, librarians or information services may distribute a standard set of intranet and internet ‘bookmarks’, which makes available to staff a coherently organised set of information sites directly from their desktop. Of course, this can also happen on an informal level as colleagues swap new discoveries.
Box 4.1 Natwest's Green Book
While working at NatWest Markets, a member of staff developed a compact booklet called the Green Book which listed staff under areas of expertise, rather than by name or location. The goal was to enable staff to locate a suitable subject expert by no more than two phone calls. The book had a very good reception and has spawned countless similar initiatives. Note that no computing technology was used in this case except to collect information and lay out the book.
Clearly, we can imagine the advantages of having a dynamically updated information system which would not need to wait for the following year's release before it could be modified. However, this needs to be weighed against the advantages of paper: it is portable, it never crashes, it is easily annotated, and so forth. Paper still wins over screens in many work environments.
Generating a knowledge map from an underlying database is a more manageable solution, and makes possible integration with other systems. The site can be augmented with staff photos and even video clips to help establish relationships between geographically distant staff who need to consult each other.
Davenport (1998) has written an informative article entitled ‘Ten principles of knowledge management and four case studies’. In the case studies he describes several initiatives at Hewlett-Packard. One example (Box 4.2) illustrates that knowledge sharing requires more than simply installing websites and discussion forums, and that even material rewards for contributing to such repositories had a limited impact.