At Soutron Global‘s recent roundtable discussions in New York and Toronto, the company provided specialist librarians with a valuable opportunity for thinking about career planning. Throughout the so-called “knowledge domain,” knowledge workers are focusing more and more on their relationships with the people they work with. Indeed, one recent comment I heard (sorry – I can’t remember the reference) asserts that “successful KM is not about the knowledge – it’s about the audience.” As I played with that with some of my colleagues, we had a little trouble with the semantics but we didn’t have any trouble with the concept. And we agree with what’s being said. We just say it a little differently: “Successful KM is not about the knowledge – it’s about the knowledge-seeker.”
For that knowledge-seeker to get what he or she is really looking for, we’ve got to change the way we deliver knowledge services. Of course we’re happy to say that knowledge services converges information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning, but the question has to be asked: Can we deliver knowledge services using the same institutional/corporate frameworks we’ve been using?
You know the answer. We can’t. We must transform those functions, and that’s the business Soutron Global is in. The company’s target market is specialized libraries, and I would offer that the transformation must take place in any functional operation that delivers any version of information, knowledge, and strategic learning. It can be a specialized library, of course, but it can also be a corporate knowledge center, a research department, a records management operation, an archives unit, or any other business unit in which knowledge development and knowledge sharing (our popular “KD/KS”) supports the success of the larger organization.
As it happens, Soutron Global’s corporate tagline is Transforming Libraries, and before you ask “transforming libraries into what?” the folks at Soutron have an answer: Transforming Libraries into the Digital Information Resource Center of the Future.
For last week’s three Soutron roundtables, I was privileged to be the company’s guest speaker. And since much of Soutron’s work is designed to help specialist librarians deal with the management of intellectual capital – with managing knowledge at the enterprise level – it made sense for me to talk about how librarians could become the knowledge thought leaders for their organizations. Working with Soutron’s Tony Saadat and Graham Beastall, we came up with the subject for my presentation: “The New Knowledge Services: Merging KM and Librarianship.” And building on Simon Sinek’s perspective, we began by looking at the “why.” Why is there a need to transform libraries? Or any other business unit focused on managing knowledge?
In my opinion, it’s all right there in front of us, in what’s happening in the workplace. For one thing, what was recognized (as recently as just four or five years ago) as an emerging business role has now become a business emphasis. Any organization or company interested in moving forward, seeking to continue its current success or move to greater success, must manage its intellectual capital. KM is no longer an academic or theoretical subject of interest; high-quality KM methodologies and techniques are now required if that company is to be around in the future.
At the same time, enterprise management is now giving attention to the financial and mission-related value of information, knowledge, and strategic learning in the larger organization. In doing so, companies are re-thinking the role of knowledge professionals. These employees are now expected to function as knowledge thought leaders, both in developing organizational knowledge strategy and in building (or re-shaping, if it already exists) the company as a knowledge culture.
As for what’s required for transforming libraries, to meet management expectations with respect to managing intellectual capital, I identify four specific changes that must be made. Again, I note that while this report relates to one discipline – to specialized libraries – from what I’ve seen in the workplace these same changes must be made in any organization (or in any business unit of an organization) in which information, knowledge, and strategic learning relate to and enable success:
First Requirement: Enterprise-wide leadership and management must recognize the value of information, knowledge, and strategic learning to corporate success, with responsibility and accountability for KD/KS at a senior management level.
Second Requirement: The specialized library (or other knowledge-focused operational function) must be transitioned into the organization’s strategic knowledge function, with strategic knowledge defined as the product of any interaction having to do with information, knowledge, and strategic learning (content or activity) that contributes to organizational effectiveness and mission-specific success.
Third Requirement: The specialist librarian – or other knowledge professional – must transition into the company’s strategic knowledge professional (or one of a team of strategic knowledge professionals), recognized as the “go-to” person for knowledge-services delivery, regardless of how their operational business unit is designated, the individual job title, or the specific educational qualifications, experience, or expertise they bring to the job.
And how do we achieve these important transitions, if they are not now in place? A first step is to go back to the famous Alignment Project of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). A few highlights:
- Strategic knowledge professionals must develop language to explain (to both management and colleagues) what they do as strategic knowledge workers; they must also learn to describe the wide variety of services they offer, and the roles they perform throughout the larger organization
- Strategic knowledge professionals must quantify the deliverables, value, and intelligence they provide
- Strategic knowledge professionals must cultivate skill sets and specialized knowledge that meet the requirements of their employing organizations.
These and other (many other) refinements in the management of information, knowledge, and strategic learning – with the focus on the knowledge-seeker – will lead to strategic knowledge leadership. And, yes, there is one more critical step that must be given attention:
Fourth Requirement: Knowledge thought leaders must understand – and their staffs must have access to – KM/knowledge services tools that support enterprise-wide content transfer. For a company or organization to be truly successful, it must engage in identifying and understanding the value of enterprise-wide content access, and that access must be via a comprehensive “KM system” (ex-intranet or other enterprise-wide access tool) designed, developed, and implemented for the use of the larger organization.
Did I say “changes”? Yes, because what we’re looking at here, if the specialist librarian or other strategic knowledge professional is going to succeed in managing corporate intellectual capital. What I’m proposing is an approach to KM that focuses on change, and these four “requirements” are a good place to start. They will lead to innovation, higher service-delivery levels, and – ultimately – strategic success for the larger organization. It is a goal worth pursuing. Kudos to Soutron Global for sponsoring these roundtables for discussing our KM future.
- April 26, 2012