Middle managers are key
- By Cathy Hirsh
- Aug 28, 2000
From the Federal Highway Administration to the Illinois Comptroller's Office,
government agencies are reinventing themselves by embracing new processes
and technologies to collect, manage and share information across their vertical
stovepipes. The mechanism that enables this is knowledge management (KM),
which allows agencies to redesign business processes and streamline information
sharing to maximize intellectual capital.
The research firm GartnerGroup Inc. expects the government to spend
$6.2 billion on information technology and e-commerce in the next five years.
Without well thought-out KM implementations, that money will not be well
KM projects require that top-level executives support the concept of
the project, and the employees on the front lines have to believe that
the change will empower them to work more effectively.
But KM initiatives will never prove successful unless middle managers
are involved in every part of the implementation. They are charged with
making things work, but they also have the most to lose when an organizationwide
KM solution blurs lines between geographic and functional departments.
Middle managers are rewarded for what happens within their particular
boxes and can feel threatened not just by the challenges of sharing knowledge
and expertise, but by the staff time that the new KM structure will require.
Middle managers can, however, embrace this new information-sharing culture
and ensure a successful KM implementation. First, they need to be involved
in the program design. A pilot program allows agencies to evaluate the impact
on operations and make informed changes in the way performance is measured
for middle management and staff.
Despite the cultural challenges, KM has made a difference at agencies
that have embraced e-government.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) delivers program and technical
knowledge to customers as a core component in fulfilling its mission. FHWA
recognizes, however, that critical knowledge resides not only inside FHWA
but outside in the state departments of transportation that actually build
The FHWA is implementing a KM solution that allows the agency to serve
both as a knowledge provider and a knowledge broker to the road-building
community. Their environmental-issues Web application(nepa.fhwa.dot.gov)
is an excellent example of how FHWA is building information-sharing communities.
The Illinois Comptroller's Office faced different challenges. It was
receiving 60,000 requests per year for information about state finances
and expenditures and responding to each one manually. Now, users can browse
and explore extensive data on revenues, expenditures, contracts, grants
and cash balances via one portal (comptroller.state.il.us).
Those two examples provide only a taste of what KM solutions can do
when information becomes more important than who "owns" it. For KM like
this to work, government has to adjust its performance measurement systems
to reward middle managers who are willing to embrace this new way of working.
Hirsh is vice president of the IT Consulting Practice at American Management