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March 29, 2006


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Jozef Imrich

Hi Bill,

Might be of interest, as registration is required I copied the whole lot ...


It's what you know and how you use it
The Age, Beverley Head, 14 March 2006.

The role of IT in knowledge management has been redefined, writes Beverley Head.
KNOWLEDGE management "is not about sucking the brains out of people and putting them into a database; it's about bringing people together", says Kim Sbarcea, director of knowledge networks at the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

In the early days of knowledge management, technology played a central role. Companies built huge databases, filled them with information, and no one used them. Over the past 10 years, organisations have recognised that knowledge sharing requires more human-to-human interaction than human-to-computer links.

Yet technology seems now on the brink of a renaissance as far as its knowledge management role is concerned. Ms Sbarcea, who is also chairwoman of the Standards Australia knowledge management committee and director of knowledge management consulting firm ThinkingShift, says blogs (chronological internet-based bulletin boards) and wikis (collaborative websites) could prove important for future knowledge management.

ASIC runs a pilot internal blog to share knowledge among the members of one of its 11 communities of interest, and Ms Sbarcea expects more will follow. She sees the collaborative aspects of wikis in particular as potentially very supportive in the process of making tacit knowledge explicit and accessible, and hence valuable. "Blogs and wikis are a form of social software that encourage the DNA of the social network to be developed. (Knowledge management) is a good opportunity for blogs and wikis to move out to the corporate environment. There will be issues in terms of their management, and I don't think this will happen rapidly because there is still a lot to be done in terms of the fundamentals - such as companies completing knowledge audits - but I think wikis particularly can be useful in building the body of knowledge. They are great for knowledge brokering and sharing."

A former teacher with a combined teaching/librarianship qualification, Ms Sbarcea came to the then fledgling arena of knowledge management in the 1980s, when she was hired as law firm Allens' librarian and precedents manager. By the mid-1990s it was becoming clear that "knowledge management was bread and butter to a law firm", and in 1997 she joined Phillips Fox as its first knowledge manager.

At that time, she says, she took "an IT-led approach to knowledge management", which she says was the way most first-generation knowledge management systems were built.

"By the second and third generation of knowledge management we came to recognise that knowledge was more about people. We were building fancy systems but people were not using them. We found that knowledge management was all about how tacit knowledge flows - that's hard to capture through IT alone. Knowledge is about people, and so technology took a back seat."

Ms Sbarcea says that the Australian Standard on knowledge management, launched last October, is a descriptive rather than prescriptive standard, and says knowledge management as an effective balance between people, process, technology and content.

Armed with that understanding, and after three years as Ernst & Young's chief knowledge officer, Ms Sbarcea joined ASIC in 2002 as its first director of knowledge networks. Although the organisation relies on technology to back its knowledge management efforts (through a Lotus Notes-enabled intranet) it has scaled down its initial efforts to create a full-blown computer-based knowledge repository. When ASIC first established its communities-of-interest networks, the knowledge management team would try and capture the content of meetings held by those communities in a bid to make the tacit knowledge explicit by typing up comprehensive reports and putting them on the net.

"We were originally interested in using it as a prime repository," says Ms Sbarcea, "but as the communities matured and expanded those conversations, relationships and social capital is what is proving important."

Ms Sbarcea says: "If you rely on technology only and automate everything then you're leaving out the people factor." Now ASIC recognises IT is an enabler, not a solution, and loads on its knowledge intranet just the key points from meetings, a directory of staff whom employees can turn to for expert advice, and a calendar of events for the communities of interest.

Each of these communities (for example, superannuation, insurance, managed investments) has a sponsor identified as an expert in their area.

"I meet with them to identify the learning agenda for the coming three to six months, and select topics for the community to focus on and discuss," Ms Sbarcea says. A typical hour-long monthly meeting attracts 30-50 participants either in Sydney, or connected, generally via video-conferencing, from ASIC's other offices.

And while technology plays a supporting rather than lead role in knowledge management, it is also providing ASIC with a method of measuring the effect of its knowledge management initiatives. Ms Sbarcea has implemented an open source social network analysis system which "visualises in a map the connections and pathways between people".

Over time, she says, it will be possible to map the connections between communities of interest, and also identify which individuals are most highly connected - and therefore to be prized as sources of corporate knowledge.

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