All entries for April 2009

April 19, 2009

On knowledge management and the pma


Well this kbam pma has dragged on a bit (suppose to finish weeks ago) but I have myself to blame for spending too much time procrastinating. For the sake of kbam blogging marks, let me talk a bit about a small realisation about how to apply KM to AM. In my previous blog post I said something about "thinking about knowledge on a higher level" but now I think about it there is little value in that idea because it doesn't help with answering the question whatsoever.

An important aspect, I think, is to recognise the difference between "information" and "knowledge". As Nonaka (a guru on knowledge management) stated "information is indifferent to human values, context free, without intentions or commitment." whereas "knowledge is grounded in values, experience, and purposeful action." Well, that is just a wordy way of saying information is "dead" whereas knowledge is "living". Not sure if this metaphor makes more sense or not. The idea, according to me, is that without humans to 'use' or 'interpret' information, information is just information. On it own, information does not lead to better decisions, better actions, or better business performance. Knowledge, on the other hand, needs humans to 'interpret' and 'be understood' based on one's own perception and analytical abilities. In this sense, knowledge is subjective which often exists in a tacit form, like a skilled craftman knows how to make beautiful porcelain but cannot explain how. When such tacit knowing is externalised (distributed, made public, turned into worker's manual), knowledge becomes information in the eyes of others. Unlike knowledge, information in an explicit form is easy to circulate. An English dictionary, for example, exists only as information to an unlearned person unless (he) can use it to solve a translation problem. If he succeeds, information is turned into knowledge. 

So, what is the point of this information/knowledge garbage? What are you getting at you may say. Well, aspiring businesses that have approached KM by installing expensive IT, automated computer systems may be thinking "Yes, We have a knowledge management system, I mean we spent all these money on these technologiee havn't we?" Actually what they have gained is merely an 'information processing' technology. It may help them to collect and distribute key information about customers or suppliers in an unprecedented rate. But when information is not 'sinking' in i.e. not being utilised in a way that helps them to make better decisions, they quickly despair and claim KM is just 'air' and move on to the next initiative. 

Why wouldn't it work? It seems more is needed, but what? Nonaka thinks KM should have three ingredient, working together; the knowledge asset, the Ba, and the SECI process. The knowledge asset is the people, or the infrastures such as IT system. SECI process is a process describing the conversion of knowledge between explicit to tacit forms. But to me, the key ingredient is the Ba which in Nonaka's words is the "platform for the concentration of knowledge assets." We can draw parallels between the concept of Ba and the idea of "creating a learning environment" in organisational learning. 

When thinking about application of KM, it is easy to think "what is difficult about that? Just put in a computer IT sytem and that will solve all your worries. I mean, after all, that is what big companies are doing!" Yes, on a surface level, we see company buyig technologies and naturally we want to imitate their success and the quickest way is just to have whatever they have. Unfortunately, as said before, explicit things such as information can be bought easily with money. Knowledge on the other hand must be fostered and created from within the organisation. Knowledge, unlike information, can not be bought.

April 14, 2009

initiating kbam pma

I have chosen resource utilisation for my KBAM pma. At first answering the question was rather puzzling because I could not see how resource planning, i.e. inventory levels, capacity planning could relate to the idea of knowledge, i.e. how to facilitate sharing of information etc., that seem to dominate literatures on KM and organisational learning. 

After spending some time reading up about inventory management, and some common problems that goes on in scheduling production, managing customers, and raw material orders, I begin to see it is necessary to view knowledge in a more broader sense: as the ¡§thing¡¨ that is necessary to run a business and this may be key information, the way of organising work etc

So in a way resource utilisation tools (or methods or techniques) such as MRP, MRPII, JIT, DRP are, I suppose, knowledge management tools in its own right, designed to help people interpret and make decision based on raw data such as inventory level, delivery time etc.

If above premise are accepted, then the systems mentioned above seem like the formal KM tools- ie what people can see explicitly and followed religiously. However, there is also another level of knowledge not visible from these formal tools, called informal knowledge, which are often the often tried & tested ¡§methods¡¨ or ¡§ways of doing things around here¡¨ .

Sometimes informal and formal knowledge are incompatible with each other, such as when data generated from computer is completely ignored by workers who would rather rely on talking to people or own experience to make own decisions, thereby rendering the formal system essentially worthless. Interestingly, Landvater 1997 explains this by saying whether formal, informal adopted by organisation, it is the one that provide the necessary information to people that reigns all. The abandonment of computer system is due to the fact it doesn¡¦t give the information people wanted, therefore an informal system appears. 

To apply KM to resource planning then, seem to take the questions of resources to a higher level. Instead of asking ¡§what information do I need to make my ordering decision¡¨, we may be asking ¡§what system will best suited to solve this problem?¡¨, and this question would then depend on ¡§what sort of knowledge does this decision requires?¡¨ 

The point I am trying to make here, I suppose, is that KM is about maximising the benefits of formal/informal systems of information transfer to deliver your organisational objectives. This would depend on the organisational structure, cultures, and type of operations that are carried out. Thinking along this line of thought brings KM literatures closer asset management. 

April 10, 2009

Sustainable Energy – Without hot air

Global warming problem is HUGE, our need for energy is HUGE, but how do we balance one huge with another huge? Essentially this is the point David MacKay try to tackle in his book "Sustainable energy- without the hot air" and I must say he paints a rather grim future regarding our ability to meet energy demand using renewable energy. Considering we hear news about icebergs breaking, or bizzare weathers happening around the world, it seem like a pretty important issue but everyone seem to either hold a skeptical view toward climate change, or are too busy to think about it seriously. And even though many politicians claim to be getting "serious" about combating climate change, because of Mackay's book, to me, it seem like goal of replacing fossil fuel with renewables is unlikely to be achieved in near or distant future... the implication is both unimaginable and unthinkable...

One of his main conclusion is whichever method(s) we use to replace fossil fuel (wind farm, hydro, plant, tidal, or solar but not nuclear because it's not renewable), it all require country sized space to be physically practical. For example, build wind farms twice the size of Wales, solar panels the size of Germany + in desert places, grow plants twice the size of Britain and so on. In another word, he is saying it is practically+ physically not workable (unless we can turn most of land space into energy production)  that we will meet our energy demands from renewable source. More importantly, this conclusion is drawn based on physical considerations only. Other considerations like the economic consideration of cost or political consideration like "you can build it anywhere except for my backyard" will shift any renewable solution from improbable, to impossible.

Nice thing about Mackay's book is that unlike many climate change debates we hear. His argument is based on numbers which tells you without dispute (except for how the numbers are derived) whether we have reason to be concerned. The following passage illustrates the motivtion for his book

"This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy
could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with
what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates,
people just say "Nuclear is a money pit" or "We have a huge amount of
wave and wind." The trouble with this sort of language is that it's not
sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one
"huge" compares with another "huge"
? namely our huge energy consumption.
To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives."
(Mackay 2008, p3)

David MacKay's book Sustainable energy - without the hot air is freely available from his website, or it can be purchased from You can also listen to his light hearted talk to understand his ideas (talk (mp3) here  (25mb) + ppt(pdf) here (27mb)). Oh ! and it is really fun to listen because he is a really funny man :P

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