Archives for category: Reflections

Ladies and gentlemen, as we come to the end of this Summit I must say that I hope that when we come together again, we have some very different conversations. We’re still talking about obstacles, we’re still talking about “knowledge management isn’t receiving enough attention”.

Which is a tragedy because the World Economic Forum has in February identified Knowledge as one of the key things for the world to be competitive, and the global environment to be competitive. The work of the world is evolving is such a way that knowledge, and knowledge skills are going to be paramount in being competitive in our careers. And it seems to me that top management is not yet paying enough attention to this.

There are articles written about how knowledge is the new capital – three or four years ago the previous president Thabo Mbeki wrote an extremely interesting article and delivered a keynote speech at Stellenbosch University about the value of knowledge and the importance of knowledge. And it seems to me that we are not really advancing.

At least, what I can say on a positive note, is that we’re not just taking about it anymore, at least there are some companies that are doing it – as you can see from the case studies presented to us. So at least we are talking from an action stage – what we think is knowledge management – and at least we are doing it.

Herman van Niekerk & Ryno Goosen at the Summit Dinner.

Ryno Goosen & Herman van Niekerk at the Summit. 

Which brings me back to a key question for this conference – have we maybe not lost focus on what is knowledge management? I spoke to Patrick (Lambe) last night and he quite interestingly referred to the article where he was talking about the antecedents of knowledge management, where knowledge management was coming from. And I’m wondering, is knowledge management not becoming everything for everybody? We tried to bring business intelligence under knowledge management, we tried to bring competitive intelligence under knowledge management, everything is being drawn back to knowledge management. Are we not losing the roots of knowledge management? Isn’t it maybe time to revisit knowledge management and see, what are those traditional roots?

Knowledge management – before document management came into the picture – was all about the capturing of tacit knowledge – the people aspect of it. Which now has obviously been made much easier with the use of technology that can enable that – like we’ve seen with the use of SenseMaker today – where we can start capturing that tacit knowledge. I’ve heard very little about that in terms of how we are going to move forward in capturing and using tacit knowledge. Isn’t that the key thing where we should focus on and keep our focus on?

The differences between knowledge management and business intelligence and competitive intelligence – the process is the same for all three – but the tools and techniques and the values for each of those disciplines differ fundamentally. Business intelligence is more about structured data, where CI and knowledge management traditionally was more about your unstructured data, your tacit knowledge. So I think it is time that we all sit back and reflect and see how can we all move forward, and emphasise the learning aspect, using technology to make us more competitive.

Because that is what we essentially need to do. I’m worried about South Africa, because I think as companies and as a country, we are lagging behind, every single day. We are not talking about the skills that people need to work with knowledge. I’ve recently become very involved with critical thinking – I don’t think there is even a university in South African that has included critical thinking in their curriculum. I’m not being negative – it’s about those cues that you are getting and those are the cues that are worrying me. So I’m not talking about this in a critical way – I’m talking about it in the sense that we need to tackle these issues and these challenges.

Let’s move knowledge management forward. It is of extremely strategic importance… I think that top management underestimate the strategic importance that knowledge assets in the organisation have – and how those knowledge assets should be optimised to make organisations and countries competitive.

The theme of the 2015 Southern African Knowledge Management Summit was the value proposition of Knowledge Management as a competitive strategy – an idea that is relevant for individuals, teams, organisations, sectors, countries and even for the whole Southern African region.

Our context and reality are all too clear – South Africa has fallen from 45th globally (in 2010) to 53rd last year and to 56th in 2015, out of the 144 countries measured in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Low rankings in basic primary maths and science education, higher education and training, labour market efficiency, unemployment and low levels of research and development lead to a slipping ranking in this and other productivity and competitiveness surveys. (Source: Africa Competitiveness Report).

Furthermore, our economies are outsourcing innovation and high-value industries, rather having most of their population engaged in low productivity sectors such as agriculture and commodity processing, which offer a little leverage in an increasingly competitive world. As one delegate commented on the Sensemaker journal: “(It is) really concerning that R&D funding is decreasing when 99.7% of all R&D happens outside of SA.”

The solutions to these national and regional challenges will not be solved by business, or government, or by the development sector alone. The 2015 KM Summit brought together voices from across these sectors, to explore the role of KM in Southern Africa’s quest for competitiveness…

The South African National Development Plan seeks to tackle many of these challenges, eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030, as highlighted by Dr Tshenge Demana, Chief Director: Industrial Development Division, DTI, in his keynote on Industrial policy as a platform for competitiveness.

The NDP includes:
• a 2-year National Infrastructure Plan with 18 strategic integrated projects, including green electricity generation, expanding access to communication technology and public transport;
• a Human Resource Development Strategy to maximise the potential of citizens to acquire knowledge and skills to be productive and competitive at work;
• a Technology Strategy that includes training 5000 PhDs annually, increasing R&D spending to 1.5% of GDP and encouraging donor funding of research and development;
• an Industrial Policy to provide extensive support to value adding manufacturing activities, to diversify economy away from primary resource dependence, and to diversify the economy to include historically disadvantaged people and regions.

This National Development Plan poses significant challenges to our country’s capacity, particularly as relates to the scare and critical knowledge demands it creates. For the NDP to succeed, “building people is as critical as building physical assets” and becomes a strategic national imperative” according to Philip Marsh of Knowledge Management Institute-Africa in his case study on Preparing for the scarce and critical knowledge demands of the much vaunted National Development Plan.

Davis Cook, CEO of RIIS, highlighted the need for Open Innovation – innovation practices that cross traditional institutional borders and facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing across a broad stakeholder network. Open innovation offers both as a tool for knowledge exchange as well as a source of competitive advantage.

“Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”. Chesbrough, Henry William (2003). Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Open innovation is particularly critical in regional and national development needs that cross traditional corporate/government divides, such as the open innovation platforms RIIS has built for The Innovation Hub in Gauteng and the East London Industrial Development, as well as Africa’s first cross border open innovation platform, Regional Connect, in partnership with the University of Namiba and the National Technology Business Center in Zambia.

Our case study exchange offered another two tangible examples of this paradigm of innovation and knowledge management.

Dr Gretchen Smith of Knowlead Consulting & Training offered a case on Implementing KM in a Provincial Government: Case study of the Limpopo Province. This story focused on the introduction of KM to a Limpopo Provincial Government “under siege” and the resulting significant benefits to competitiveness, including organisational learning, access to strategic information, increased process efficiency & improved service delivery.

Hanlie Turner (PPC) & Lucien de Koker (Firestring) offered a tangible example of this attitude to innovation in their Case study: Exploring the digital journey of the PPC Cement & Concrete Cube (C3)In the spirit of open innovation, this innovative ‘Cube’ platform facilitated streamlined collaboration and information sharing for industry stakeholders across the Cement & Concrete Industry. “PPC recognised the importance of information and knowledge management beyond traditional boundaries, to avail open platforms for collaboration.” – Lucian de Koker

The message of all of these speakers was clear: Southern Africa is a place of great challenges, but also great opportunities. To tackle these challenges will undoubtedly take cooperation across sectors to share knowledge, experience, resources and ideas… embracing emerging models such as Open Innovation into how we tackle our national strategic imperatives.

Sustainable competitive advantage for Africa will take increased sharing, collaboration and cross-boundary innovation – and who better to guide and lead this than the KM community!


Related links:
The role of the Knowledge Leader: a roundtable discussion


Lucian de Koker preparing for the case study presentation.

Presenting PPC’s Cement & Concrete Cube (C3) as a case study exchange during the 2015 SA KM Summit, gave myself & Hanlie Turner the opportunity to interact with smaller groups.  This way it was much easier to demonstrate some of the functionalities of the Cube, despite the time constraints. Feedback highlighted that this Firestring / Ebsco partnership which culminated in the Cement & Concrete, was a very innovative initiative, while the questions asked by the various groups will help future developments. For example, confidentiality is obviously a concern of many users.

Whilst the user interface is fairly easy navigable with its Google-like search facility and a “LinkedIn” feel, the Cube presents numerous opportunities and benefits, not only for PPC employees, but also for stakeholders.

The format of the Case Study sessions was great, but as presenter we found it very short.





Lucian demonstrating the knowledge system to the delegates.

%d bloggers like this: