Is Technology a Boon or Bane for Knowledge Management? (part 1)
Just the other day I was at a conference and the buzzword of today: digitisation was the talk of the town. As a user, amateur advocate of it; it got me wondering as to what's really the requirement to even discuss this-isn't it a given?
Introspecting and digging deeper into a few of my own experiences-I couldn't be further from the truth. First up, digitisation and digitalisation are oft confused words and interchanged generously. While one deals with an entire business process re-engineering of sorts in the hope of a digital transformation and revolution; the other takes into account the aspect of tactical and operational shifts towards moving from a pen and paper methodology of functioning. Installing an ERP v/s just using digitised minutes of a meeting-get the drift? Well, a simple-mind would think the latter to finally lead to the former and achieve a technologically robust system in place for functioning: but that's not necessarily the case.
Picture this, you want to coordinate and fix a meeting amongst 10 members. Well, what's the first instinct-shoot a calendar invite? Great, and the job's done! Or is it? Well, two days prior the meeting and you haven't received an accept from any. You're wondering what's the matter-did it not reach them? Are they busy? Very conveniently, you send a reminder. Little did you know, that won't solve it either. One day prior and now you need answers, you call them individually and learn that 2 of them have changed their e-mail addresses (not updated in the system prompt), 3 of them couldn't answer your call, another 4 of them never checked their inbox and another 1 has no head or tail of why s/he is being called for the matter.
So, to resolve the first scenario; you take down the new IDs and add them to the group. For the second, you drop an SMS. For the third case, you drop a text reminding them to check their mail. For the last, well that's in a way set out in the context of an agenda henceforth. You consider getting responses now. But, wait it doesn't end here. Now, what could possibly go wrong? Well, 2 of them didn't check their SMSes-to solve that you consider putting in reminder alerts via mails and now you start coordinating on WhatsApp-well thanks to the blue ticks and read receipts you can be assured the recipients receive and read the message. (Keep in mind, uptil now we haven't reached to the actual task at hand-the meeting to discuss/brainstorm/even work on a particular task) what goes further from here could be someone not using the application or having a different no. for the app and another for calls/messages; also an inactive data package; if that's not enough you might just not even get a response and will have to translate the limited responses from the calls/texts to the calendar.
Did technology achieve its goal of making it easier? I think not. You had to adapt to 4 different modes of communication (e-mails, calls, SMSes and WhatsApp) ; and this will be a trend that continues everytime henceforth. So, you start putting in a required response by a certain date and if not; the meeting stands cancelled depending on the quorum. Well, practically the meeting just never happens. What do you do next-you end up explaining them individually what is expected of them and by when; apart from their views. It clearly dissolves the purpose of getting everyone on the same page-not to forget the redundancy of repeating yourself 10 times in this case.
Well, you would wonder this could easily be resolved with a little bit of self-discipline from the recipient's side or even if prior sharing the invite you coordinate to check their availability and set the context. Maybe. Maybe not. What happens next is this roundabout method of functioning, is a reflection of how tasks actually get carried out-suppose you needed to analyse some data points across geographies; how would you go about it? Well, that's a no-brainer: you just source it from a centralised system and begin playing with it. Or is it? You go ahead and pick it up, well first you need access permissions, once that's done you dig out the files. Proceed and perform your analysis and are now in a position to share insights. Well, your audience happens to be none other than those very 10 people.
A repeat of the above, and finally once you have a word-well they conveniently let you know that the system's data is incorrect (rather something they don't refer and believe) and so they promise to share what they are upto. The waiting game begins, you schedule another set of reminders and asks for this as before while scheduling meetings and then finally you receive some data from a few of them. A few back and forths and you realise, they sent you something completely diametric. So, you're back to step one. What happens next-you think it would be great to freeze a format for all to be on the same page-drafted, explained verbally, instructed on e-mails and you think you should now finally receive some correct inputs. Well, little did you know that the formats won't be adhered to; and neither shall the inputs come in. The ones that finally do, 40% are exactly as what you pulled out from the system (implying that wasn't incorrect) and 30% are just made up details (yes, you need to audit it now) while the remaining 30% have an explanation that's so obvious and menial at the same time a practical challenge.
Did technology help you? I think yes, but did it lengthen your process of arriving at an insight/solution? Maybe not so much of a technological issue as much as the willingness to adopt it. So, did the human interaction aid? Maybe not so much; but more so towards arriving at the reasoning. (And yes these are administrative challenges; because fundamentally a software ought to capture the same data that's inputted anywhere up and down the line.) But, what happens next from here is that you educate them and handhold them to commence using these software-however the duality continues.
There will be someone preferring to play in an Excel sheet as compared to reading reports from a system, there will be plenty who think the system is too slow and can't be customised to suit their need. There will be access-right and license issues, there will be many who may not even have access to the internet to use the software in the first place; but the fun lies in ensuring the transition does happen. It's a bane while that does occur; but once done its a boon!
Wondering what my thoughts were post the conference, precisely what they were prior. Technology is an enabler.