Knowledge Management, One Step At A Time

The reactions I get to “knowledge management” as a buzzword (okay buzz two words) is mixed. But I am going to risk starting at the beginning and hope you don’t drift away.

The first step is “data”. When you have a lot of “data” you have a lot of clay to work with but really no result that adds value. The second step turns “data” into “information”. Information is formed when you have a lot of data that you have put in “context”, but really it is limited to only that context, so it adds little value without more human resources. For example records information is good for the records staff, but not so good if you are an attorney trying to figure out if a matter is active. You would need access and know how to locate the information in the records software. Not something the usual attorney is prepared to do without additional human resources. You have a lot of information in documents and spreadsheets, maybe in a few databases. But without specialized human resources you can’t get the information to “act” or “make a decision”. Too many firms have too many “information resources” which require too many man hours to mold into useable, business-level decision-making tools. If your “knowledge management” system (human and technical) ends with steps one and two, you need to hang in there with me for just one more step; it is worth the pay off.

Step three is making your information “active”. “Aggregation and Access” is where all the payoff from all that data and information collection occurs. A good rule of thumb to judge if your knowledge management system ends before the payoff is if there are Excel spreadsheets or human resources between you and your need being answered.

If the answer is yes, then you have only made it 95% of the way and have missed the payoff. Make the elimination of this constriction your goal, through “aggregation and access”. They say the last 5% of any job is the hardest to accomplish but it is in that last 5% that all the success is rewarded.

What does aggregation and access look like? I will try to explain using a scenario that illustrates what can result when your business has achieved an “aggregation and access” system (an “AA system”).

A Scenario

Alice has recently been made a Junior Partner of her law firm. The firm has 9 US offices in the U.S. and an office in London but Alice spends most of her time working in the Boston office. Alice is a litigator who enjoys the time she gets to practice on large complex IP litigations. It is Tuesday evening and on Wednesday morning, Alice will fly to Chicago for lunchtime meeting with the President of software giant, Blackhawk. Blackhawk is in a patent infringement case with its main rival over a product that has netted $80 million dollar in the last year.

Alice has been to the Chicago office only once, and although she knows several of the partners there from past joint work, she doesn’t know the staff organization and what facilities are available. But thanks to the firm's “AA system”, she will be able to schedule resources and access all her data at the Chicago office as if it were her home base, without ever having to pick up a phone. As this is a “lean” firm, Alice doesn’t have a personal assistant.

Before she leaves the Boston office on Tuesday, Alice tells the AA system that she will be in Chicago on the next day. Then, she reserves an office for herself at the Chicago office using the online office scheduler. Finally, she checks out the available conference rooms at the Chicago office and reserves one that seats 6 and has a view of the lake – the floor plan map on the AA system shows her that this conference room is just across the hall from the office she just reserved for herself. She also orders a computer projector and a light lunch to be delivered to the conference room at noon.

Checking the calendar of the Chicago office, she finds that Bob Hurley from the San Jose office will be in Chicago on Wednesday also. She fires off an email to him asking him whether he wants to have dinner with her. Then she goes home.

On Wednesday morning, sitting in the Admirals Club waiting for the departure of her flight, Alice uses the club’s wireless network to log into the AA system on her laptop computer. She finds a response from Bob confirming dinner for that evening. ERMA, the electronic risk manager within the AA system also presents her with several documents that her associates have checked in late the previous night and that she needs to approve. She downloads the PDF files to read during the flight.

Arriving at the Chicago office, Alice is greeted by the receptionist who has been told by the AA system of her arrival. She is shown to the office that she reserved the previous night. At the same time, lunch is arriving in the conference room across the hall. Alice signs into the AA system using the large-screen desktop installed in the office and she approves the documents she received earlier in the morning. She then logs on to the litigation support module and reviews the documents that arrived in the mail in the Boston office which the paralegals have scanned and coded into the litigation support module of the AA system.

Alice receives a phone call in her Chicago visitor’s office from Tom Peterson, an attorney in the San Francisco office. Tom has a prospective client on the phone. The matter in question is similar to cases Alice has distinguished herself with in the past and he would like to conference her in to land the client. Tom knew where to call because all of Alice's contact information in Chicago was automatically published in the “daily report” which is contained in the AA system. Alice quickly multi-tasks the introductions Tom is making while clicking through the “prospective client” database. This brings her up to speed as she reads the diary notes. This prospect has been in the firm's sights for three years and the guy on the phone is an avid rock climber. During a quick conference call, Alice displays confidence and personal knowledge to put the prospect at ease and is then off to the conference room and to that light lunch she is craving. The reception staff has already escorted the client into the conference room as they were expecting his arrival.

Blackhawk would like to co-counsel in the team of a small IP firm whose lawyers are also engineers. They feel that having them on the team would help educate the judge in this case. Alice lets Blackhawk know that she can give the IP firm access to all three million documents in the matter libraries with in the day, with a secured extranet connection, through the AA system. Alice reassures Blackhawk that they will only be able to see documents related to this particular matter and not the other matters she is handling for them.

After the meeting Alice heads back to her office to catch up an e-mail and enter her billable time. She checks the preferred vendor list on the AA system and finds the 800 number for the local cab company and the account number to bill it to. Soon thereafter, Alice is off the airport and back on her way home to Boston.

This scenario is just an example how “active” information can be aggregated and accessed to remove the obstacles of everyday life. Which is the payoff of a fully realized “knowledge management system”.