Optimizing Knowledge

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on knowledge management. Instead, I am an every-day Joe who has been working with his company to streamline how we access our knowledge. I am still learning, but I think I have hit upon some good tips for "optimizing" a company's knowledge base.

In advertising, we (all diligent agency folks) do a lot of optimization. On the media side, the planning, buying, and tracking processes are all inherently optimizeable. On the creative side, though less quantitative, the goal is to make the message as effective as possible, optimized for the target audience and the client goals. For our Internet campaigns we have infinitely more data on a near-real time basis than ever before and we are drowning in data quite often. This makes one wonder how we can make it more efficient to formulate conclusions and plans. And, in these days of quarterly vs. annual budgets managing knowledge is key to all endeavors for our clients and our own businesses.

When doing all this optimization for a client, we use shared, individual and learned (through research and experience) processes and knowledge. It is important to keep optimizing these tools in order to keep the machine that is your company running smoothly.



As some of my recent efforts have been involved with knowledge optimization, this will be the focus of my piece. Inevitably, there is some process involved, but only that which directly relates to how data is captured and accessed.

I define knowledge optimization as the most effective use of knowledge given fixed amount of business intelligence and time. It is so important since it is one of the few assets which differentiate companies; ever more so as processes become standardized.

Knowledge optimization primarily relies on efficient data capture and data access. Chronologically, the first step is obviously data capture. As the root of corporate knowledge exists bio-electronically in the minds of its employees, it is important to capture this data into a more reliable tool that can't leave the company or forget. While simple preservation is the goal, knowledge access considerations demand that only important information be preserved (see garbage in - garbage out).

Additionally, centralization of data is often a way that knowledge can be accessed more easily, and this should be addressed up front by inputting information into documents or databases that can be used by anyone that might need you use them. Obviously most knowledge should be electronically stored, as the scope of what needs to be preserved and the access efficiencies demand it. That said, all critical data should have some redundant system backing it up to make sure that the knowledge base retains its value.

Beyond centralization of important data in an electronic location such as a database or server folder, there are other ways to optimize knowledge access. One of which is selecting the right tool. Should you have a database, some Excel and Word docs saved in server folders, or keep everything on your email? The following should also be considerations when selecting a tool to access knowledge:

1. Content - obviously the content may have to be organized certain ways, depending on its logical presentation and formatting
2. Frequency of data use - some knowledge is merely a record to be referred to occasionally, while other knowledge it a tool one uses often. The time it takes to build a database is clearly not appropriate for all knowledge.
3. Interface - if it isn't intuitive, it won't be used
4. Number of interfaces - the fewer the better, as long as other considerations are appropriately addressed. A reason so many business tools are available via html, at least in the advertising industry.
5. Cost - some serious thinking could save the need for fancy solutions.
6. Access Privileges - who should be able to read, edit, delete?
7. Slice/Dice? - is it necessary to be able to sort, filter, use formulae, etc. in order to most effectively use the information? Which functions are most useful?
8. Archive vs. living document - is the data a standalone archived record to be referred to but not modified, or is it a living document that many people need to access.
9. History - is it important to keep a history of changes made? How will historical data be used?
10. Simultaneous users - how many people might need to edit or otherwise access the information at the same time?

Once selected and implemented, as system should be optimized and changed as needed, depending on changes in the way data is used. Employees then need to be aware of the tools and be taught how to access the information. Often this can be informal, but it has to be done. Lastly, involvement with the IT folks is key, especially when talking about file management systems, search tools, databases and groupware. By clearly explaining your data capture and access goals, they can help you build or buy what you need.

- Eliot Kent-Uritam is the manager of the consulting group at Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco and New York based Integrated Solutions Media Agency and Consultant.

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