Knowledge management's 'worst'

When it comes to using knowledge management effectively, the federal government "sucks," French Caldwell told an audience heavily populated with government knowledge management specialists April 23.

A survey by the research organization Gartner Inc., shows that government "is the worst group by far" at employing knowledge management, said Caldwell, a Gartner research director.

The organizations that make the best use of knowledge management scored as high as 78 percent on Gartner's survey scale, but most scored much lower. Financial services companies averaged 15 percent and manufacturers averaged 10 percent, Caldwell said.

Government rated only 2 percent. "Pretty bad," he told members of a knowledge management conference.

Much of the problems seems to be that government workers don't understand what knowledge management is. "Knowledge management is a business process that has to be approached with discipline," Caldwell said. "It is not a technology. You can't buy it in a box."

Effective knowledge management requires extensive information sharing and collaboration. But government agencies and their employees are better known for guarding their knowledge and defending their turf than for sharing and cooperating.

But there are signs that agencies are being forced to change. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks illustrated the perils of failing to share information. Multiple agencies had information about the terrorists, but not enough separately to trigger alarms.

The government needs "a Manhattan Project-level" initiative to develop effective knowledge management for homeland security, Caldwell said. The Manhattan Project was a top-secret, top-priority federal effort during World War II that developed the atomic bomb.

A key goal for knowledge management is to erase the boundaries that exist between agencies, he said. Legislation probably will be required to eliminate some of the barriers, he said.

"Building a collaborative government is the issue," particularly in response to the threat of terrorism. The government must be able to "bounce back immediately after an attack." That is possible if government agencies are physically dispersed but electronically integrated and staffed by "knowledge workers" who are informed enough and authorized to make decisions in their fields of expertise, he said.

Caldwell calls the entity he envisions "a resilient virtual organization."

If homeland security does not impel the bureaucracy to make better use of knowledge management, the "connected citizen" eventually will, Caldwell said.

Over the next five years, increased use of wireless computing devices, broadband and cell phones will produce a growing number of citizens who expect the government to be responsive around the clock, Caldwell predicted.

By 2010, some of them will spend more time in the e-world than in the real world, and government will have to provide services to them. To do so, greater collaboration and information sharing — and knowledge management — among agencies will be essential, he said.


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