If you are in charge of managing strategic knowledge in your company, a serious challenges is to identify the best mechanism for ensuring the knowledge development/knowledge sharing (KM/KS) process. Knowledge services brings information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning under the authority of one strategic knowledge manager, but the many different “pieces” of the operation are not always in sync.
And a critically important issue has to do with: who-does-the-work? – that age-old conundrum in which I as the manager of the strategic knowledge function have to be something of a juggler or traffic cop.
It’s my job – and it’s not an easy job – to make sure all the connections are made, that all the clients of the knowledge services functional unit (when there is a distinctive, stand-alone knowledge services unit) are linked with the people (and/or other functional units) in the organization who have the information, knowledge, and the strategic learning content they require.
One of the classic principles of good management in the knowledge services arena is to make that connection, to apply the highest standards of knowledge services delivery to bring together the knowledge client and the strategic knowledge professional. How do we do it, when so much of our team’s focus has to be committed to operational duties, to keep the functional unit functioning (sorry)?
The quick solution is pretty obvious, isn’t it? We look for “extra” help, so to speak. We try to work with the client to identify the depth of the need, the “big-picture” scope of the process, and we try to come up with a solution that brings all the players to the table. There are a couple of useful choices we can make.
Back when SMR International was first getting involved with consulting in knowledge services, one of our earliest contributions was the “in-sourced” knowledge professional. Yes, that was the term we used (perhaps we thought we were being clever, since “outsourcing” was getting a pretty bad reputation at the time, a situation that has fortunately dissipated in today’s management arena – see below).
Today, we describe these in-sourced knowledge professionals as “embedded” information or knowledge specialists, but the structure is still pretty much the same, regardless of how you describe the knowledge workers. It’s the work that has to be done, and as the manager of the strategic knowledge function for the company, I might be asked, say, to supply knowledge services support for a program or development plan, and it’s my job to see that strategic knowledge is made available for the people who will be participating in project.
At SMR, we’ve seen this happen with a number of clients, and when given thought, the result can be very successful. Perhaps there’s a large research institution (such as one we dealt with in Washington not too many years ago) in which costly – and pretty important, from a societal point of view – research projects are brought before a governing body, to be discussed and, if agreed upon, chosen for a study. We found that much time and energy and money was being wasted because – in putting forth the proposals for the studies – program managers were not calculating in knowledge services costs. Required information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning content were all just “skipped over” until the project was well under way, by which time all sorts of compromises and difficult short-cuts had to be factored in.
Our solution? To in-source (or embed, if you like, since that term became so popular after the U.S. Army started “embedding” journalists reporting on the first Gulf War) a strategic knowledge professional from the get-go. In the situation described above, we simply recommended that the organization find someone in the knowledge services functional unit who understood the program being proposed and who could work with the concept team – as well as with the program itself if it became authorized – to serve as the program’s strategic knowledge “guru,” so to speak. With an in-sourced or embedded knowledge services professional as part of the team – from the inception of the program idea – the overall cost of the program is more realistically determined, with nasty financial surprises kept to a minimum.
In another scenario, we go to the other end of the spectrum: when there isn’t a knowledge services functional unit in the organization, or if that function does not have staff who can be in-sourced or embedded into a program or project, you outsource. As the knowledge service manager, you work with the program concept team – again, in the earliest concept stages – to make sure team members understand what the strategic knowledge requirements are going to be, and you make sure they build the costs into their program proposals (early in the discussion – can’t emphasize that strongly enough!). Once the program or project is approved, whether it is a product development group or a re-working of a program or service that needs some level of refurbishment or (in some cases) simply a review, the knowledge services manager positions himself or herself to find a qualified strategic knowledge professional from outside the company to be the strategic knowledge expert for the project.
Whether we are looking to in-source/embed or outsource, the end result is the same. The program or product development team is provided with the strategic knowledge expertise required for the project’s success, and the costs for that expertise are clearly stated upfront.