Corporate Memory – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Throughout the world more and more businesses (regardless of type, or size) are creating initiatives, are planning the implementation of, are implementing, or have implemented corporate memory management and support systems. Some names relating to Corporate Memory Management and Support systems are knowledge base, knowledge sharing, knowledge capturing, lessons learned, collaboration centers, and so on and so forth.

Why?

The goal of these systems is simple: “Promote an environment that captures and shares the knowledge and experience gained by individuals, and collective groups to the organization as a whole in an organized manner so that everyone can benefit from the progress, work, and lessons learned generated on a daily basis.”

The benefits of something like that are obvious, novices can gain the insight and experience of veteran staff, new staff can find all the resources they need, the cost to manage, transfer knowledge, and train staff decreases while the capabilities of each staff member increases and as a result so will customer satisfaction.

How?

The most common answer I hear to this is “by applying technology”. While I wish it was this easy, I assure you there is a very large amount more than just technology involved in providing a good Corporate Memory solution for any company. The technology is often an important tool that can be used to improve a corporate memory solution, but the reality is that the actual corporate memory solution can always be done, with or without technology.

This isn’t a new concept, companies have been doing it for a very long time, and those who have done it well have become exceedingly successful as a result.

The best way to create a corporate memory solution for your organization is rather simple. Just follow the few steps I outline below and you will have a much greater chance than if you missed one of these crucial items.

1. Don’t rely on technology to solve your problems.

You see this happen all the time. People hear about a content management (or document management), and collaboration system and often believe that by implementing this system you will have the automatic collection and sharing of all corporate data.

The truth is that the business processes, data to be collected, the communication and training, and the overall user acceptance of the system all play a far greater role than the technology does in a corporate memory management solution. The technology just supports these other areas that must be clearly defined, planned, and implemented in order to have a good corporate memory solution.

2. Information requires context to become knowledge.

This is important. Information is not knowledge. Information alone is unusable as corporate memory without context. The context provides a way for everyone to relate the information to something they can use. It’s the relationships to business processes, and metadata (related information) such as purpose, and how it can be applied that makes the information become knowledge that is usable by the individual, or organization.


So to implement a corporate memory solution for your organization you have to figure out what all of those business processes, purposes, and metadata will be. Don’t worry you don’t need to know all of it, just everything around the first information expected in the system and a plan to ensure that as more information comes in you will be able to keep up with that information’s context to ensure it becomes knowledge, and doesn’t remain information and just ‘clutters the shelf’.

3. Knowledge requires maintenance.

Many people forget that knowledge requires maintenance. It has to be constantly evaluated to see if it is still relevant, to ensure that the relationships and metadata are still appropriate and that they still provide a purpose and application in the business. Knowledge that isn’t well maintained falls into disarray, it becomes outdated, it degrades belief in the corporate memory solution as a whole, and most importantly it becomes unusable to the individual and organization. Without maintenance it becomes information with a pretty dress (and unlike fashion these outdated clothes don’t come back into style – zing!).

So make certain you have a good maintenance plan, and not just the technology, I am talking about communication, training, and of course the constant evaluation and analysis of corporate memory.

4. Corporate memory is organic.

Some people often think of corporate memory as data. Which in many ways it is, but the key is that it is organic data, which grows and changes overtime. This is a wonderful beautiful thing. What it means is that while your business grows, evolves, and changes the knowledge contained in corporate memory will grow, evolve and change with it.

What this means is that your corporate memory solution must be able to grow, evolve and change along with the corporate memory and your business. Things like a good maintenance plan (that is constantly evaluated) and a good framework for managing information context are integral to the success of a corporate memory solution.

5. You do not harvest knowledge, mine it, or fish for it.

Knowledge capturing and understanding that knowledge’s context cannot be achieved by harvesting, mining, or fishing. You can’t just harvest documents, mine them for the information you think is important and guess what contexts that knowledge can be used for. If you do that all you end up with is information. This as I mentioned earlier is unusable in a corporate memory solution.

Instead you need to create (forgive the bad analogy) the fertile field in which knowledge can grow and plant the seeds. Remember that knowledge is organic, and that initially while you set up the plan, framework and solution that it will change overtime and that it is impossible to guess how the knowledge will grow. This planning and hard work to create a solution is the field in my analogy. And the seeds are the first pilots, communication methods, and training aspects that you implement to get your corporate memory solution to grow (in the direction you want it to).

If you try and harvest, mine, or fish for the knowledge you will just end up with barren fields that don’t bear fruit. (Last one, I promise.)

If you carefully think about those points I am confident you will implement a corporate memory solution that will not only provide wonderful opportunity, growth and power to your organization and its members, but you will also have done it in such a way that you don’t have to redo all of the work a short time down the road just because the technology changes (which it always will).

Thank you and best of luck to your corporate memory solutions,
Richard Harbridge

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