Pinpointing payback still tough

Although many people are convinced of the value of knowledge management, putting a dollar figure on it is not easy. Normal cost justifications are not yet available. One way might be to build on the much longer experience people have had in applying the Capability Maturity Model to continuous software process improvement, said Ron Raborg, software process improvement director at the Social Security Administration. From industry's use of CMM, you can fairly accurately place a particular ratio of dollars returned for every dollar invested in applying the model. But knowledge management is a much younger field, and has only been used as a formal practice within the government for a few years. The intangible benefits of the knowledge management process are obvious, Raborg said. Because SSA's PRIDE (Project Resource Guide) Web site provides a comprehensive set of best practices online, software developers don't have to invest time speaking to other people to derive that knowledge, and that saves in "work years" of effort by developers, he said.

But codifying that into the kind of numbers that drive budgets and appropriations is something else.

"We can show similar values for knowledge management [to the CMM process], but there are no hard-number ways of doing that," Raborg said. "It's something the knowledge management subcommittee of the [federal] CIO Council is wrestling with now."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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