Ontario Ministries wade through document swamp

You can’t have knowledge management without IT, but you don’t necessarily have knowledge management with IT.

This was one of the points Greg Turko, manager of the knowledge management project at the Ontario Ministry of Education

and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities shared with attendees at Toronto’s recent Best Practices in Knowledge Management conference.

Turko explained how the two ministries, which together employ 2,000 people, are document intensive organizations that share information and corporate services. Despite this overlay, Turko said that finding a piece of information could prove difficult.

“”We have 800GB of data on shared drives, which is not a whole lot, but it is a lot if you’re looking for something and you don’t know what it’s called,”” he said. “”We were not short on information, but you just couldn’t find it twice in a row if you needed it.””

This 800GB is comprised of three million files, of which between 30 and 40 per cent were duplicate copies. Despite all of this duplicates, Turko said there was little reuse of information.

“”The reason? Because if you couldn’t find it, you didn’t use it.””

Turko described the environment as a “”document swamp”” where version control was difficult and there was a disconnect between paper and electronic documents.

“”We didn’t know what we knew,”” he said.

When the Ministries began looking at knowledge management, Turko said that they began their approach with a business focus.

“”We identified the problem and wanted the solution to be transparent to our users and not cause them any extra work. Nobody says that they have extra time on their hands for another bureaucratic process even if it is beneficial,”” he said.

The second point in their approach was organizing the team to handle IT support. Besides Turko, the Ministries’ KM team consists of a database expert, a Web developer and a librarian. The addition of someone with a library science degree, he said, was crucial.

“”We found that by creating indexes based on structured principals, they’re sustainable,”” Turko said. Otherwise, people catalogue information based on whims, which can get confusing, he said.

Thirdly, the KM approach was focused on information management, and the role of IT was defined within this context. Turko said that the KM team decided that it would leverage the existing technology base as much as possible, making it what he called a low-impact solution.

“”If it was cheap or free, it was good, but if it cost a lot of money we’d think again.””

Turko did say that all of the KM projects had an IT component, but admitted that the biggest pitfall in setting up a KM solution is using IT tools for non-IT problems. For example, while everything from document management applications to e-mail crawlers were discussed, not everything was supported by the staff.

“”IT solutions may help, but they don’t necessarily solve cultural issues, and for us, they were quite central,”” he said. One of the problems was a real reluctance to collaborate and exchange information.

“”Knowledge can only be shared, not conscripted,”” he said, noting that there was no sense in putting in a solution only to have people stay away in droves. “”We want it to be a library, not a museum.””

Further, he found that it was difficult to get people to take ownership for problems with the existing system. Turko described these problems as poltergeists that hovered around and everyone acknowledged, but nobody admitted to.

“”The holy grail for us is to have people put KM applications in the same category as voice mail and e-mail; the kind of application if it’s down would cause a revolution,”” Turko said.

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