How do we capture corporate knowledge & keep a record of the reasons behind decisions?
All businesses have access to an extensive pool of knowledge - whether this is their understanding of customers' needs and the business environment or the skills and experience of staff.
The way a business gathers, shares and exploits its knowledge can be central to its ability to develop successfully and to continue trading. This applies to organisations of all sizes.
Useful and important knowledge already exists in your business. It can be found in:
- the experience of your employees
- the designs and processes for your products and services
- your files of documents (whether held digitally, on paper or both)
- your plans for future activities, such as ideas for new products or services.
The challenge is harnessing this knowledge in a coherent and productive way.
One of the most important things you must do is to create and maintain organisational memory - be careful not to lose the skills or experience your business has built up. You need to find formal ways of accesing and sharing your employees' knowledge about the best ways of doing things; and recording when decisions are made. This needs to be kept as simple as possible to encourage contribution and quality of information, and it should be curated by a Knowledge Director, with appropriate tooling. There are many sources of knowledge across the business.
Build and maintain a culture in which knowledge is valued across your business.
Why capturing knowledge is important
Historical context. In any company initiative there is normally a reason to look at, or search for, an historic happening to inform current practice. For example, take the case of moving a legacy application onto Cloud infrastructure. This sounds simple. Whilst it is relatively straightforward to build out the new infrastructure on the Cloud provider of choice, if the reason for change is that the application sits on systems software that is about to go out of support, but has not otherwise needed any functional change in several years, you may have to chase down people who know something, anything, about the legacy application - what it does, its business owner and the end customers, the IT developer, the existence of a test harness etc.
What made sense some years ago... You may also have to evaluate the legal, compliance and security implication of what business function it was built for, and take into account the way matters were handled then. Whilst OK when built, the decisions which seemed reasonable to our colleagues back then are no longer considered to be well-architected, legal, compliant or secure.
Business context. Matters would be helped greatly if it was possible to go to a central knowledge bank which recorded why the application existed, and to understand if it was approved for reasons of revenue generation, regulatory adherence or reputational advancement.
Value contribution. It would also be helpful to know the actual £ revenue it has regularly generated, the other systems it integrates with, the names of the customers who use it, the nature of their use as set out in a legal contract, etc etc.
Insight into decisioning. For every design or operating choice, a decision would have had to have been made. This information, if stored, would give an insight into how things came to be, which could greatly facilitate its future amendment and operation. All the more so if those people who were involved back in the day have now moved on.
Commonality of explanation. Similarly, take the example of sales collateral. How many times has a salesman had to make a pitch and has had to create a bespoke slide deck to present to a client. And how often has that slide deck contained a fact that has not been verified? And how often is a record kept of the date that the slide deck was presented, and to whom? Quite apart from the time wasted having to create bespoke slides, there is a big question as the ability of the author to capture the essence of the product in a concise manner, especially if they are not the architect or creator of the product. Before you know it, the product is undersold, or, worse, oversold.
Imagine if a corporate knowledge bank existed that contained a master copy of each sales slide and a number of variations to suit different scenarios. And, when each was checked out, a record is kept of which document it goes into, and when that document is shared further, the record is updated. When the base slide is updated, all users of the slide may be informed that a later version is available.
Captured knowledge is the basis of business
Further, consider the filing cabinet full of contracts for service between the company and its customers, and the company and its suppliers. Each will contain a list of agreed obligations and agreed restrictions, familiar to the Legal team. But to someone in Product, to someone in Architecture, to someone in Engineering?
When a customer invokes its right to audit the systems and processes behind the company's service to it, how can the company be sure that the same right has flowed down to all suppliers contracted to the company to provide part of its overall service?
When a board review or external auditor asks the extent of uncapped liability, how quickly may an answer be given.
When a regulator permits the retention of personal data in one country and not in another, and that is enshrined in the contract, but the regulator then revokes that permission, how do we know many data sources are affected and how many systems use those data sources?
Continuing the theme, wouldn't it be helpful to have a clear view of the data retention laws in different countries, and to know which datasets contain what data for which country. And to know how many records, by age. Wouldn't it be helpful to know which clients' data is stored in which country. And which clients have a clause in their contract with us that their customers' data is kept completely separate from that of any of our other clients' customers' data.
You get the picture. So much time could be saved, but more importantly, it's practically impossible to meet contractual and regulatory obligations without a strong corporate knowledge management capability.
Once upon a time, best intentions was sufficient, now, non-compliance is likely to result in a hefty fine.
Next: Social Knowledge Management
Knowledge must flow freely in an organization to get the best value from people. If the Corporate Memory is how Exec management wants key information to be captured, then Social Knowledge Management is how your workforce share information as peers.