Knowledge Management as a cost saver in difficult financial times
The UN, like many other development organizations, is going through lean times with declining income, increased demand and likely cutbacks as well as economy measures in place. In such times the first immediate measures taken are things like cutting back on travel, reducing the of meetings, cutting back on conference attendance, delaying new equipment purchases etc.
But as Steve Denning lamented recently Knowledge Management and similar cross cutting initiatives can be among the things that gets cut in lean times, especially when management don’t understand it and how it benefits the organization. Yet one of the precise benefits of a good knowledge Management programme is that it can be a significant cost saver for the organization. Here are just a few of the ways in which knowledge management can help contain costs and improve value for money.
1. Reducing travel costs – Greater use of technology can reduce the amount of time spent travelling – in particular e-learning courses and webinars can be helpful in reducing the need for face to face training, and also webinars and video-conferencing can be used for more informal knowledge sharing that wouldn’t previously have been possible, and for regular cross location meetings. Livestreaming of meetings can also help reduce the number of participants, or bring in extra participation without significant extra cost. That said, this approach can only be taken so far as some meeting face to face is essential if you want people to work well together remotely afterwards.
2. Reducing the time to find key information – Just think of the amount of time you can spend looking for information and not finding it. some estimates put this at up to 25% of the work time of an average knowledge worker. Having a functional repository of key documents, a god document management and electronic and hard copy filing system as well as a good taxonomy and search can greatly reduce the time and frustration involved in searching for things saving a lot of time and money. The difficulty with this is that although the savings and improved productivity can be large, unfortunately many organizations are reluctant to spend the money up front to develop these systems
3. Making better use of internal expertise (and not hiring consultants) – UNICEF staff have collectively a vast wealth of knowledge, expertise and e xpertise, but often these are not tapped in to and so because we are not aware of what we have in house and how to best use it we often end up hiring external c onsultants. Use of tools such as expertise rosters, communities of practice and peer assists can make it much easier to find and make use of our in-house experts (see Collison and Parcell’s “no more consultants” for more tips).
4. Not reinventing the wheel – similarly a lot of the problems we face in one country have already been solved elsewhere in another – yet since we are not always aware of the past learning inside the organization we often need to “reinvent the wheel” and design programmes almost from scratch. This makes the programmes more expensive and time consuming to develop, and also they are likely to be prone to repeat past mistakes from other projects rather than learning from them. Approaches such as documenting innovations and lessons learned, the communities of practice and tools such as after action reviews and end of assignment reports can all help capture this learning so that it can be reused.
5. Just in time support – often problems on the ground need a quick response otherwise opportunities are lost or resources are wasted – but traditional ways of working often mean that just in time advice is not forthcoming and so offices are left to muddle through themselves. Tools such as online helpdesks (such as the 24 hour response mechanism in EMOPS communities of practice), use of tools such as Skype, IM and social media to quickly share information and put people in touch can greatly speed up “just in time” advice to country offices or others who need quick support for important and urgent decisions.
These are just a few of the ways that improved knowledge management can improve organizational efficiency and save costs. It’s important to note that while knowledge management can be a means to improve organizational efficiency, its most important contribution is arguably to improving the relevance and effectiveness of what we do. That’s why we need to invest in it – since a relatively small cost now can lead to big gains in efficiency and effectiveness later.
Does anyone have any other good examples of ways in which knowledge management can or has saved money?