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June 2010
Managing Knowledge in an Era of Information Overload
By Rich Blank

The Starbucks Example

     Imagine for a moment you walked into a Starbucks and the barista didn’t know how to make a cappuccino or latte! It’s well documented that Starbucks spends more on the education of its employee partners than it does on marketing. And no doubt that education, that “management of coffee knowledge and expertise,” is shared through some type of explicit training classes and written material.

     There is also much time spent outside of the classroom, mentoring the barista hands-on and promoting a culture of sharing tacit knowledge and best practices of making a consistent and quality cup of coffee every time.

     Without their ability to manage and share knowledge and investment in people, Starbucks probably wouldn’t have been able to grow as fast, wouldn’t have been able to adapt to changing markets and customer needs, and wouldn’t have been able to earn billions in revenue. Starbucks provides a good example of the importance of knowledge management and impact that it can have on the bottom line.

 

Knowledge Management

     Knowledge Management (KM) has been one of those buzzwords that have been talked about for almost two decades, offering the promise of somehow capturing that explicit and tacit knowledge as a strategic asset to leverage to competitive advantage. Some of the drivers around KM efforts include:

• sharing valuable organizational insights

• avoiding redundancy of effort

• reducing on-boarding time and learning curves for new employees

• retaining intellectual capital due to turnover or aging work force

• adapting to changing customer demands, environments and markets

     Microsoft SharePoint is a valuable product to address these objectives. SharePoint is a fairly simple, highly reliable collaboration platform that connects and empowers people through online business communities, where they can collect and share important documents and keep track of project schedules. The consolidation of collaboration solutions onto SharePoint helps cut costs through lower training costs, increased IT productivity and cost-effective maintenance, all within a governable and compliant platform.

     Although Starbucks wasn’t able to take advantage of SharePoint (it didn’t exist back in the 1990s), it provides a good example for the need to manage knowledge as it evolves.

     E-mail is overused and overloaded as a primary tool for communicating, sharing information and documents, and making decisions. Information is all over the place and exists in multiple repositories. Companies don’t know what they know and don’t know. Knowledge workers expect a Google-like experience within their organizations but just can’t seem to find the information they’re looking for. Information continues to grow exponentially and end users continue to experience the daily glut of information overload. Ultimately, information gets filed irretrievably, deleted or lost.

     What can we learn from Starbucks’ success and their understanding that people and knowledge are indeed valuable corporate assets that rivals the way we think about raw financial or customer data?

     We can learn that the keys to a successful KM initiative and ultimately a successful enterprise deployment and adoption of Microsoft SharePoint lie in the strategy, the people, the process, and the execution. It is important to have a good partner for implementation of the platform, one that addresses these specific areas: strategy, change management, process excellence, systems integration, and delivery management. The balance and intersection of these domains is how organizations can maximize the ROI of enterprise 2.0 technologies like SharePoint.

     While collaboration has become one of the latest buzzwords, by itself collaboration is simply a process in which we connect, create, find, capture, share, and consume knowledge. And collaboration in the past and today continues to happen in the absence of SharePoint. However, in order to fully realize the potential of KM, it is essential to recognize and utilize the SharePoint technology as the collaboration platform, and then leverage it as a mechanism to manage and share knowledge.

     Fully utilized, SharePoint is not just a platform for collaboration, but an ecosystem for capturing and managing knowledge that can transform your organization and help you realize the promise of SharePoint as a true enterprise collaborative knowledge management platform and strategic organizational asset, allowing you to identify opportunities and act upon them in a timely manner by getting the right people the right information at the right time.

Managing Consultant, NouvEON
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