Internet Security: Project Management:

The Chief Knowledge Officer as the Guardian of Knowledge

By Dr. Seamus Phan

In bad times, too many organizations seem to forget that knowledge truly is power. Instead, they seek what seems like the easiest way out ­ layoffs and facility closures. Or worse, they may even attempt to merge with others as a last resort to placate shareholders. Often, such marriages of convenience leave many casualties, including seasoned and experienced employees, and often turn away customers and shareholders through a loss of goodwill.

In more enlightened companies, it is refreshing to find the emergence of chief knowledge officers (CKOs) in the corporate structure. What then, defines the role of the CKO in an organization?

Size matters

First off, it is perhaps more practical to find full-time CKOs in larger organizations, especially organizations with thousands of employees. This is because the diverse knowledge found in these thousands of employees would require a full-time facilitator such as the CKO to manage and refine into a centralized knowledgebase. In smaller organizations, such as those with hundreds or tens of employees, the CKO is often a secondary role carried out by the likes of the human resource manager, or even the general manager.

CKOs should report directly to the highest responsible person within an organization, and often that means the CEO or the managing director. This is because the management of knowledge is important in propelling a company fast forward, and should not be hampered by inside politics among functional managers.

In organizations where the role of the CKO is not a full-time position, but held by a functional manager, it is important to note that the CKO should not hold leadership position over any other functional manager, but act as a mediator and facilitator. This will ensure that there is no power struggle of any kind which contravenes the very concept of knowledge management, as well as the harmony of an organization.

Finding the jewel

It is possible to search within if you intend to stay within your organization confines. Assuming that is the case, here are some guidelines.

If your candidate has credentials and learning (preferably graduate level) in organizational development (OD), human resource management or development (HRM/HRD), training and development, that would be ideal. Secondary learning can be in information technology and applied computer science.

While academic learning is important in building the foundation of knowledge in handling this role, it is important that the candidate has fielded more than 10 years of hands-on OD, HRD or training and curriculum development experience, and should have a conceptual knowledge of e-learning at the very least. Technical knowledge is not critical, since the CKO will work with technology wizards and experts to get the actual system in place.

Because the CKO has to take a mediation and facilitating role, rather than a command-and-control one, he or she should have strong skills in building corporate cultures, initiating change, communication and leadership. Because the CKO relies on mediation and facilitation, it has been shown that those with charisma and natural affinity with people tend to do better than those who are naturally reserved and eloquence-challenged. Do note however, that you do not want fast talking, glib or pushy candidates who can "win" verbal exchanges.

It is also expected that the CKO understands how best to impart knowledge through various delivery platforms working in tandem. For example, the Web environment may not necessarily be the be-all-end-all platform to deliver a particular program such as service quality improvement, but may be suited for the installation and repair of air-conditioning units.

Experience has shown that finding the CKO of this caliber is no small feat, and even the best headhunting firms have trouble finding them. Do not believe any headhunter who can promise you an easy find, since you may end up with nothing more than a glorified training or HR practitioner.

The big job

The three most important persons for the newly minted CKO to work with are the CEO (or managing director), chief information officer (CIO, or in smaller environments, the MIS manager), and the training director/manager.

These four individuals will design the knowledge management framework, catering to the flow of information, and transformation of information and raw data into usable knowledge, the process of gathering knowledge from discrete employees within the organization, and define the parameters of the IT infrastructure required to support this framework.

The input and output of information within an organization can be critical to how future knowledge can be harnessed. For example, customer preferences can surely be culled from online Web resources, but if and only if customers actually bother to fill in online forms. Likewise, customers cannot be expected to fill in long questionnaires just to satisfy the organizational needs to understand these customers. The details of customers, their preferences, technical requirements, and nuances, should be a consistent effort by customer service and sales representatives who relate to customers directly, to carefully input into the knowledge management system. It is understandably tedious, but any organization that does not give a hoot to customer needs has no reason to be around.

Conversely, the output of information to customers, to what level of detail, should be automated as much as possible. This is because the output of information is dependent on the input, and it is expected that the input, together with knowledge gained from those input, would have effected intelligent, meaningful and desirable information that the customer needs. Any decent KM system can take care of customizing to individual customer wants and needs, much as content management systems (CMS) can display real-time any form of display or information that online users demand.

Dr. Seamus Phan is a world-renowned authority on the technical security aspects of the Internet. Dr. Phan serves the BWW Society as Founder and Chairman of the Internet Security Committee, which is designed and conceived to gather and share information on the latest computer and Internet threats, to provide immediate information on technology’s newest developments in the prevention of Internet-related security problems, and to increase and enhance all forms of Internet Security.

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