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Know Your Knowledge

Having a strategic vision for data is as important as organizing it.

Amassing data serves little purpose if it is not processed into knowledge, and that knowledge is largely wasted if leaders don’t understand what they have and how it can best be used.

That was just part of the message on empowering knowledge delivered by a NASA expert on the second day of TechNet Cyber 2020, AFCEA’s virtual event held December 1-3. Tiffany Smith, chief knowledge officer and information technology manager in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, emphasized the importance of understanding both the knowledge at hand, knowledge priorities and the people who will exploit that knowledge to the fullest.

And that understanding may be the key to opening the way to innovation. Different departments of a company or a government organization can benefit greatly if they share knowledge that is particular to their specific needs. This knowledge sharing can be strategic or tactical, but it only works effectively if the right people are aware of what they know and what others need.

“If you start with the premise that knowledge has enduring value, then it is much easier to make decisions to take advantage of knowledge,” Smith said. Developing a knowledge management strategy must be followed by implementation, she added.

“The object of your knowledge management strategy isn’t usually to defeat an enemy,” she said. “But, you want to build a framework that will sustain your strategy even if specific plans need to change. You need a vision and a mission.

“Mission is the primary ‘what’ of your knowledge management strategy,” she stated. “If you’re working from the premise that your knowledge has enduring value, the knowledge you want to pay attention to is always tied to the mission.”

The next step is to determine what knowledge is critical to the organization. And the follow-up to that is who has that knowledge, she offered. Doing an environmental scan can help determine who those people are. Putting together a team of people who know the mission well is the key to being on the right track. “For effective knowledge management, get to know the people and how they understand and use knowledge,” Smith said.

She emphasized that knowledge is embedded in an organization’s culture. “If you start from the culture you have, you’ll be sure that the choices you make in terms of strategy support your ability to obtain greater value from the knowledge you manage and maintain,” she said. Understanding that will help determine the “how” of a knowledge management framework.

Engaging other stakeholders also is useful for determining the path for knowledge flow. This is especially useful for research because all parties could learn how to benefit from each other’s knowledge, Smith allowed. Research also can be tailored to suit other’s capabilities, with knowledge being exchanged among parties.

“Effective knowledge management can position an organization to take the best advantage of new technologies and obtain greater value from its knowledge through innovation, greater resilience and improved visibility.

“Knowledge management is always about people, processes and tools,” Smith declared. “To deliver on your strategy, you have to balance all three of these.”