Friday, 15 May 2009


Knowledge Management and Central heating



A spot by the radiator
Originally uploaded by eob
This is an analogy I have use a couple of times, to describe why Knowledge Management needs to be implemented as an integrated system.

There is a tendency for people to pick up on one component of KM (Intranets, say, or search engines, or communities, or Lessons Capture), to implement it, and to find that nothing changes as a result. That's because Km is an integrated system, of people, process and technology, involving connecting and collecting, including the business units and the central functions. Knowledge passes through several hands, and the "pipes" need to be in place to allow it to flow, and the "stores" need to be in place to provide a stock of knowledge.

It's like putting in place a central heating system. If all you put in is the boiler, then in the basement you have a lovely tank of hot water, but it doesn't get put into the house where it's needed. If all you put in is the radiators, then you can snuggle by them all you want, but they won't get warm. And if you put in the boiler and the radiators but no pump, you have a house with some warm areas, and some freezing cold areas.

The boiler is your central coordination of knowledge, by the SMEs and the community leaders, plus the central stores of knowledge in the Intranet, the Wikis, the communities. The pipes and radiators are the means by which this knowledge reaches the business, adds value, and returns from the business; the peer assists, the after action reviews, the community forums, the KM planning sessions. The pump is the governance framework of leadership expectation and resource support.

And what happens if you don't monitor and maintain this integrated KM system? The same thing that happens if you don't maintain your central heating system. The boiler fails, the pipes fur up, the radiators leak, the valves stick, the pump runs dry, and the house becomes damp and cold and uninhabitable.

It's our job as KM professionals to install the system, with all its components, and to keep it maintained and operational. If you need to talk through what a complete KM system might look like for your organisation, give us a call.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent analogy. In Kuwait, it might be more appropriate to talk about a cooling system :)

    I think that in certain situations, you cannot afford to install a “central” heating/cooling system for the whole home. In a KM-immature organization, the KM professional might be faced with a situation where the organization is not ready to “buy-in” and install (support) an integrated system. We have a saying in the Middle East: “If you cannot take it all, do not leave it all”! So the KM professional might be forced to settle for buying a small portable heater, and use it to heat one of the rooms, until he/she can convince the top management that such an integrated KM system really exist, and that it has been working well (in heating-up) other organizations :)

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  2. Excellent addition to the analogy Adel, I had not thought of that! Thank you. Your point is key - it is a mini version of the whole system (a small portable heater). This is far better than the mistake you often see, which is to implement one component of the whole system - often an IT component - which will not work on its own. That would be the equivalent of laying the pipes and radiators, but having no boiler and no pump.

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