Empowering Data Warehouses With KM

Susan Andre Survival Strategy Column

Knowledge management promotes an integrated approach to the creation, capture, management, access and use of a company's information assets. These include databases and documents, plus expertise and experience of individuals. A data warehouse contains a wealth of knowledge in its software and data structures, and in its processes and business rules. To benefit from this knowledge, companies should use a knowledge support system and knowledge management processes aligned to their needs.

Companies should develop a knowledge framework to identify what information should be retained over the project life cycle, who will use the information, how it will be captured at each stage of the project, and how it will be re-used during the operational stage.

Information often has a limited shelf life, and out-of-date information may lead to incorrect judgements and decisions. Information no longer needed should be archived offline instead of clogging up a company's systems.

A knowledge framework also illustrates the relationships between people, business processes, events and knowledge domains. Data warehouses are based on consolidated data sources, complex sets of business rules, algorithms and assumptions. This data can provide warehouse users with easy access to valuable information, empowering them to make high-quality business decisions. But this is possible only when the organisation can easily obtain and understand the knowledge on which the warehouse is founded.

Exploiting knowledge assets

Companies must first establish what their knowledge assets are, then they should work out how to exploit these assets for the benefit of their organisations. They should not only determine tangible monetary benefits but also intangible benefits such as knowledge in employees' minds, improved staff morale, better interaction across departmental and geographic silos, and a collective vision of the company's mission, strategy and goals.

A key to knowledge management is the integration of intellectual systems, electronic information and control systems, and communications and authority systems. However, there is a gap between the ability to generate data and the ability to turn data into information.

Converting data into information entails reasoning, interpretation and judgement (human, mental activities), therefore knowledge workers are needed to fulfil this function. However, there are obstacles to implementing knowledge management principles and these are often linked to the corporate culture.

Some workers, for instance, may be wary of initiatives which appear to be threatening, while others believe they are more valuable if they retain knowledge instead of sharing it. Therefore workers need to be reassured that their contributions are recognised and benefit everyone. In fact, knowledge management can make specialists even more valued.

Companies also need to identify and use all the skills of their knowledge workers, particularly special skills.

In conclusion, if knowledge workers are not used to their full potential, or if their specialist skills in certain fields are overlooked or ignored, these workers may leave an organisation, resulting in the loss of valuable knowledge sources to a company.