Many enlightened organisations have recognised for some time that business information is their lifeblood and a key asset to be preserved. They have come to the realisation that the more quality information you have in your possession, the better the quality of decisions made and the better the results achieved (increased competitive advantage, improved customer service, increased ability to generate new sources of revenue, improved efficiency etc). In other words, these companies have managed to unlock long-term competitive advantage through knowledge management.
So how can your organisation make real progress in turning information into knowledge?
• Recognise that information is an asset: The days of focusing only on physical assets (tangibles) to drive business growth are long gone. Discerning organisations are now realising the importance of intellectual assets (intangibles) such as the know-how of their employees and their relationships with customers as drivers of long-term growth. By clearly identifying your information needs, the sources of the information, reliability of the sources and looking at the whole process in its wider context, you will be able to recognise the value that sharing this information across the company would have for your business.
You also need to establish what is driving you to manage information. Is it because you desire to improve business performance or is it because of strict regulations?
• Recognise that information management is a multi-disciplinary approach: In some organisations there is still tension on who manages the information flow. The finance, IT and marketing departments are always at each others throat with each function claiming sole responsibility. The antidote to this conflict is building structures that promote collaboration and smooth flow of information around the business.
There is also the need to ensure that there is a ‘common’ definition of information understood by everyone across the business. For example, because of their grounding in accounts and numbers, the finance department often views such information as vital and may ignore information that relates to company policies and procedures which might be vital depending on another department’s perspective. The way forward is recognising that information management is far too important to be left to the information department only.
• Build a knowledge-driven organisation: Good information management is the essential foundation to good knowledge management. Information management is not all about collecting information and storing it all in databases. You need to create knowledge centres with skills and the ability to identify, process and make information available to strategic decision makers. Instead of focusing heavily on deploying information management systems, management need to recognise that skilled and knowledgeable people are required to operate these systems.
Remember that information resides in databases and knowledge resides in people’s heads. You therefore need to use the knowledge of your best employees to capture all the relevant information for strategic decision making. Managers need to find better ways of getting this knowledge across the organisation.
• Regularly review your information policy: Information management is often regarded a back-office function which doesn’t qualify for too much of the board’s time and attention. It is not one of the key issues on their monthly agendas. You need to review your information policy the same way you review your financial performance. If you get it wrong, you could completely bankrupt your business.