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It is too soon to tell whether the NEU IS division's venture into Web-enabled KM has met the expectations of its creators or their customers. The end product is not static and will evolve with use over time. Nevertheless, much has emerged from the early stages of this effort. The IS team can point to the following noteworthy outcomes:
Single, integrated, Web-based platform delivering anywhere, anytime access to authoritative IS operational information, project documentation, business forms and process, and best practices
Better control of IS documents, standards, and best practices
Improved staff communications and electronic venues for the open discussion of key issues impacting IS
Improved collaboration across project and service delivery teams
Content-management system that encourages regular, systematic review and revision of IS business practices and technical standards
Test case/laboratory for KM and portal functionality
This case study affords a number of relevant lessons learned. First of all, the same forces that drove Northeastern University to establish a PMO justified the investment in the creation of a knowledge portal. Just as the PMO serves the IS division as a center of expertise in service and project delivery, the portal provides an access point for the tools, templates, and process artifacts supporting IS team efforts. The PMO team acts as the archivists, anthropologists, and guardians of the division's tacit knowledge and its collected best practices. The portal captures the more explicit evidence of what works and what does not. Second, perhaps key to the PMO and the portal, both perform aspects of a clearinghouse function for the activities of the greater IS organization. The PMO team keeps an eye all on aspects of service and project delivery. It also looks for ways to rationalize and streamline new assignments through the leverage and reuse of past work. For its part, the portal archives service and project artifacts so that these may be adapted and redeployed by the PMO and its customers as these knowledge assets apply to similar tasks.
Thus, the value propositions for the PMO and the knowledge portal are intertwined. Through its efforts, the PMO creates and manages the processes and documents that would feed any knowledge repository. It has both the perspective and the appropriate analytical disposition to create a knowledge store and to maintain it thereafter. Unlike the vast majority of their IS organization colleagues, PMO staff members enjoy enough separation from day-to-day delivery to serve objectively as the keepers of the unit's knowledge, choosing what to save and how to repurpose it for reuse. At the same time, PMO personnel are intimate enough with the details of IT organization work to identify documents of value, properly index these for retrieval, and establish complementary KM services for instances of unrecorded (i.e., tacit) learning.
To achieve these objectives and to benefit the entire IS organization, the knowledge base places special demands on both the IS management team and the PMO. Even though the myIS portal was shaped by the direct requirements of Northeastern's IS rank and file, as of the date of writing, widespread adoption has not occurred. Like their line-of-business colleagues, the university's technologists are slow to adopt new work practices that leverage the knowledge site's capabilities. Staff members continue to rely on content stored on their own computers rather than to refer to the common information library on the knowledge portal, and they find other, less economical ways to achieve the outcomes enabled by myIS services. By contrast, the PMO (and to a lesser extent IS management) regularly employs the portal in its work. In the final analysis, NEU's first KM application may be rated as a successful prototype to what is sure to be a successor offering that will emerge from the university's Web services platform.
Concerning the outcomes of this case study, the author's perspective is hardly free of prejudice. Nevertheless, I offer my measure of the tangible advantages to an IT organization in developing its own knowledge store:
As a resource library for standardized forms, workflows, and checklists, an IT knowledge store promotes consistency of practice and perhaps more predictable results in service and project delivery.
As a centralized store, the portal saves your team time and effort in the search for reusable knowledge artifacts. It may even avoid the regular reinvention of past practices (and mistakes).
As an archive of best practices, success stories, and proven tools, the store serves as a training platform for new hires, technical personnel transitioning to management, and service delivery and project teams searching for what works.
This same store serves as the toolbox for your PMO team's project managers and business analysts.
In the face of increasing scrutiny by your colleagues on the business side of the house, the application of knowledge store assets will demonstrate your commitment to greater efficiency and effectiveness in service and product delivery, to continuous improvement, and to doing more with less.
Of course, to achieve these lofty outcomes, some group, like the PMO team, must maintain your IT knowledge store and continue to enhance its scope of services and breadth of content. This is an evolutionary process. If responsibilities are distributed across the organization, the establishment of a KM function need not be resource-intensive. However, maintenance of a KM function does require real discipline and attention to detail. Furthermore, if it is to succeed, the portal requires the ongoing and active support of IT management. By support, I mean the regular, public use of and advocacy for the knowledge store as a key element in the way the IT organization does its business. To my mind, your investment will pay a healthy return.
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