Tag Archives: knowledge management

Are we destined to always forget what we already know?

Author – Steve Dale, BIR Editorial Board

I wonder what next in the Windrush saga that has been played out in the media these past few weeks? Have we reached the final page of the last chapter now that Amber Rudd has resigned and the new broom in the form of Sajid Javid takes up the reigns as our next Home Secretary? He clearly sees a need for change, having warned the Home Office to expect an overhaul as he ditches the policy of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants and seeks to break free from Theresa May’s legacy.

But before I lose some readers who may be thinking they’ve stumbled across an editorial in the Guardian, rest assured that I don’t intend to write a political commentary on Windrush. My background is in knowledge and information management, and I think it is worth a closer look at what has played out in the Windrush saga through that particular lense.

The Home Office has long had a reputation as a “political graveyard” for ministers, and though one might argue that Mrs Rudd did not have had full control of her department, there is some evidence of basic failings in the Home Office’s administrative capabilities.

Tony Smith, a former director general of the UK Border Force has been quoted as saying:

”What has gone wrong is that a lot of the corporate memory and experience has been lost with the abolition of the immigration service and the UK Border Agency in the 2000s. Now ten years on there are quite junior caseworkers taking decisions who probably have not got much experience of the broader immigration system. They have little discretion to use their nous and common sense when faced with people without documentation”. [1]

This appears to be borne out by the ‘tick-box culture’ that pervades many government departments, where rules and instructions replace discretion and experience. It’s also a solution to lack of training and inadequate (or non-existent) knowledge transfer procedures, which are particularly important in an aging workforce or where there is a high turnover of staff.  Continuity of knowledge and experience, supported by effective and resilient information management systems are the essential components of maintaining a good corporate memory.

But what do we mean by ‘corporate memory’?

Corporate memory is the ability of an organisation to retain information to improve strategy, decision making, problem solving, operations and design. An organisation with low corporate memory is doomed to repeat the same mistakes and reinvent things repeatedly in a costly loop. The following are the basic components of corporate memory:-

  • The abilities and knowledge of employees. Knowledge that isn’t transferred or retained, such as tacit knowledge and situational knowledge, can be lost when people leave the organisation.
  • Data designed to be consumed by people. For example, a policy document or a training video. It is common for knowledge workers to produce copious amounts of documentation that is archived in a tool such as a knowledge management platform. It is also common for such information to go to waste or for similar documentation efforts to be repeated many times.
  • Information designed to be consumed by machine. Automation and decision support based on databases is a type of corporate memory that survives employee turnover. In some cases, replacing systems and changing processes results in data ‘going dark’.
  • Organisational Culture.The norms, habits and expectations of an organisation. As with the culture of a nation, this is rooted in history and serves as a stabilising force that doesn’t easily change.

It is probable that the Home Office is no worse (or better) than any other government department in maintaining an accurate corporate memory, but the Windrush scandal has briefly shone the spotlight in their direction, exposing some cultural and administrative issues. Readers of this post can no doubt think of many other examples, in government or their own organisations where mistakes have been repeated and lessons have not been learnt. But before we cast the shadow of blame on individual workers, it is worth reflecting on whether the underlying culture and values of the organisation have recognised the importance of corporate memory, and have invested in the policies, procedures and resources that will maintain corporate memory for future generations.

If not, we are indeed destined to forget what we already know!

Footnote

Background to Wind-rush

The arrival records of tens of thousands of Windrush generation immigrants, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.  A person’s arrival date is crucial to citizenship application because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain. After the destruction of the archive, when an individual requested confirmation of an arrival date, Home Office staff advised there was no record of it.Immigration lawyers have repeatedly criticised the Home Office’s insistence that it is up to individuals to provide copious evidence proving their right to be in the UK. They have argued that If UK officials had kept a record of everyone granted indefinite leave to remain, the problem would never have arisen.

“Business archives are an essential part of our national story. Used wisely, the corporate memory can inspire, inform and innovate in today’s business.” Natalie Ceeney, ex-Chief Executive, The National Archives.

[1]The Times, Saturday 21stApril 2018.

First issue of 2018 now out online

Our March issue contains a number of papers with the general theme of looking at the effects of technology on information and knowledge management. Hal Kirkwood returns to look at how artificial intelligence (AI) is affecting information professionals and their job roles. Delphine Phillips and Mark West from Integreon look at the future of Business Information Services (BIS) within the financial services sector and the effects of technology and other internal and external environmental factors in that area. We also see a contribution from Gabriela Labres Mallmann, a PhD student at the School of Management, UFRGS, considering the influences of Shadow IT on knowledge sharing. Here is a short overview of each of the papers in this issue.

  • The Current State of Artificial Intelligence and the Information Profession: Or Do Librarian Droids Dream of Electric Books? – Prof Hal P Kirkwood, Purdue University.

Hal begins by observing that while there has been an increasing interest in AI in the last 12 months, there has been 100% increase in the use of the terms AI and librarians. AI as a technology is fast moving from science fiction to reality with the rising popularity of voice-activated tools such as Siri to the developing use of self-driving cars and even a self-operating grocery store! His article, unlike others, is not a review of the good and bad sides of using AI, but about considering how the technology is developed and its psychological impacts. A lot goes into the development of the technology, it is not created as ‘all knowing’. It requires a lot of human interaction and consideration to develop the algorithms, providing ‘good’ and ‘relevant’ information and data to the AI tool in order for it to provide an effective service. It still also requires ‘policing’ to ensure that information it provides is accurate and relevant which still requires human interaction. His article also reviews what is being done around the world to consider the impact of AI and ensuring that it is used for the greater good rather than creating a negative impact on people and society at large.

  • Exploring the Future of Business Information Services in the Financial Sector – Delphine Phillips, Knowledge Solutions Manager, Integreon, and Mark West, Operations Director, Knowledge and BIS, Integreon.

Delphine and Mark have conducted a highly interesting research study on the role of BIS within financial services and its future in light of changing internal and external environmental factors. Their research is gathered from global investment banks and equity houses and considers the role technology is playing in the development of the BIS of the future. They review different operating models, how these are affected by internal and external changes and look at future drivers and future scope developments. They also consider the influence of knowledge management services on BIS, how they link and interact.

  • The Influence of Shadow IT Usage on Knowledge Sharing: An Exploratory Study with IT Users – Gabriela Labres Mallmann, PhD student at the School of Management, UFRGS.

Gabriela presents a new look at knowledge sharing from the point of view of ‘Shadow IT’ (software and hardware not authorized by IT departments) and its effects on knowledge sharing. The research is gathered from a series of interviews with IT users looking at how they share knowledge and information, why they share it in this way and considerations for managing risk for the future.

  • Knowledge Management Process Arrangements and Their Impact on Innovation – Eduardo Kunzel Teixeira and Mirian Oliveira of PUCRS, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Carla Maria Marques Curado of ISEG-UL, Lisboa, Portugal.

Moving away from technology and focusing more on process, this paper discusses the impact knowledge management process (KMP) has on facilitating innovation. The authors look at how different processes and different combinations of processes can affect innovation. Their conclusions, overviews in the abstract, provide a good taster of the paper itself –

1) it was identified that in general the companies apply balanced KMP arrangements;

2) that the same innovation results can be achieved using different KMP compositions; and

3) that KMP investments tend to reach a maximum effect, beyond which innovation decelerates.

  • Out of the Box – Virtual Realities in the Business World

Luke Tredinnick reviews the emergence and current uses of virtual reality technology and considers how it can impact our world. Will it become just another passing fad like 3D television or is it set to be one of the next disruptive technologies on the horizon?

  • Perspectives

Martin White returns with a review of the latest papers across Sage which could be of interest to you. Highlighted is a paper on the importance of being allowed to make mistakes in order to develop knowledge and innovate. Martin draws from his own background to illustrate the importance of this in the work environment.

Other subjects covered include the use of language and the ability to analyse and use it to consider cultural fit within an organization; considerations for HR and prepping the workplace as the amount of knowledge-led work increases with the working environment becoming more and more complex; AI and human interaction and the development of shared mental models to facilitate future developments; a discussion on the impact of libraries’ ISO standard; and the importance of user interfaces and display of search results in a meaningful way to improve findability. Luke Tredinnick and Claire Laybats

See more online here http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0266382118762967