Workplace Strategies

Knowledge as Power:
Managing Knowledge in Your Organization

By Teri Noonan

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2002 issue of the San Diego Signature, the newsletter of the San Diego chapter of the STC.

For those of us faced with the daily challenge of identifying and mapping information, we tap into the business practice of knowledge management (KM). Various books deal with the issue of content management and delivery, such as Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery by Joann T. Hackos. Because of an increasing need to share knowledge within organizations, more technical communication professionals are applying the science of knowledge management to their discipline.

Since its inception and growth in management science at MIT and Stanford University, KM has provided the framework for technologies such as artificial intelligence, computer translation, and other systems. The strategies for aiding human cognition, usability, and in managing tacit knowledge are emerging technologies for technical communication professionals.

A best-practices guideline, knowledge management assists companies in preserving their intellectual capital. Hypertext and the application of XML technology are examples of available and easily useable knowledge that your company may already use, including tools to store and retrieve data, online resources, including Help desk technology, and Web-based training.

Patrick Morrissey, Director of Knowledge Management for Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDC), a privately owned company in Carlsbad, California, implemented KM to meet the increasing demands of IDC's client base. Morrissey currently oversees the management of all technical documentation, training materials, and shared access to knowledge across various departments. He says the function of technical communicator as gatekeeper fits into KM like a well-sized glove.

"Fifty percent of your company's knowledge goes home every night," Morrissey says. "What are you going to do when it doesn't come back in the morning?" He points to a statement by the Gartner Group. He says "according to a September 2002 Gartner Group report, a major component of many companies' competitive strategy is managing their intellectual capital. According to the report, those companies that successfully harness their knowledge assets are the ones that are expected to thrive in today's new information market."

As an example, Morrissey practices what he preaches; he implements knowledge base technology and holds activities that foster good communication and leverages knowledge both within and outside the organization. Morrissey says the technology must be balanced with the content delivery. A database by itself, for example, may not be useful. But by applying the concept of "communities of practice," groups and individuals can work together toward successful KM. Validating information is a critical part of the KM process, Morrissey says.

Information must be leveraged in practical ways. Morrissey cites Liam Fahey, an adjunct professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. Fahey asserts in ComputerWorld, "Just moving data around may or may not add value to anyone in the enterprise. Until you've affected someone's understanding of their current or future world, it's not knowledge."

Johanna Ambrosio, in her article "Knowledge Management Mistakes," emphasizes that as technical communication professionals, one mistake is to assume that someone else will lead the charge. "They won't. Change needs a champion, and you're it," she says.

For more information about KM, the Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council provides a compendium of Knowledge Management resources at http://www.fgipc.org/. More resources on KM are also available at the Knowledge Management Resource Center, located at http://www.kmresource.com/exp_professnlorgs.htm.

Teri Noonan, a knowledge engineer, can be reached at .