What Do You Know?

Oct. 1, 2004
What do you know?

Do you know what you know? At the corporate level, what does your company know? Perhaps a better question is, what is the sum of the knowledge contained within your company? Can anyone access it?

Although this sounds like the beginning of a book on Eastern mysticism, these are really important questions. The term “knowledge worker” has been around for more than 40 years. Peter Drucker, in “Managing in the Next Society” (Truman Talley Books, 2002), places knowledge workers at the centerpiece of the demographics of the “next society.” Knowledge workers are those whose jobs depend upon having formal and advanced education.

Drucker sees knowledge as the core asset of an organization. He believes that the job of the present and future chief executive is to manage the company’s knowledge. He poses these questions for chief executives, but I believe that they apply to all of us. “What information do I need to do my job? From whom? In what form? When?” As well as, “What information do I owe? To whom? In what form? When?”

The evolution of software tools now called product lifecycle management (PLM) provides part of the solution Drucker calls for. PLM applications are evolving toward ways to help companies accumulate, manage and use their total product knowledge from concept and design through manufacture, and then into the service and warranty stages. The tools usually provide the additional benefit of making it easier for knowledge workers in different disciplines and disparate geographical locations to collaborate on projects.

If you are wondering why you may need knowledge management tools to shrink the product design-to-manufacture cycle and foster collaboration across company boundaries, check out a recent paper by two Emory University business researchers. The complete paper can be found on the Knowledge@Emory Web site (knowledge.emory.edu).

The paper, titled “The Rise of Hypercompetition in the U.S. Manufacturing Sector, 1950-2002,” by researchers L.G.Thomas and Richard D’Aveni, contends the phenomenon of hypercompetition is rapidly spreading across the United States and the globe. Hypercompetition is “an environment characterized by intense and rapid competitive moves, in which competitors must move quickly to build new advantages and [simultaneously] erode the advantages of their rivals.”

Hypertension for managers

Extensive globalization, more appealing substitute products, more educated and fragmented consumer tastes, deregulation and the invention of new business models are hypercompetition drivers, according to the authors.

The authors say that business leaders should forget about trying to create sustainable competitive advantages because events are moving too quickly for that. Instead, they argue that the best strategy is to develop an endless series of strategically unsustainable advantages.

PLM is a good development, but “must evolve to help manage this constant change.” This month, I had an opportunity to interview executives from two new companies who are trying to do just that.

David Kraemer, vice president of global industry marketing and Scott Molitor, group vertical manager-Automotive, of Global Exchange Services (www.gxs. com, a spin off company of General Electric), explained how their company has set up a secure networking environment to help companies establish automated information exchange.

Meanwhile, Richard Treadway, vice president of marketing and strategy for KnowNow (www. knownow.com), explained his company’s technology for automating data exchange through a publish/subscribe technology.

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