Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Newforma Dialog #1 – Part 4: Disaster Prevention and Recovery (PIM and KM Style)

This post is the fourth in an open dialog with Chris Parsons of Knowledge Architecture. Here are links to Part 1: Knowledge management is squishy, Part 2: PIM is like a bunch of boxes, and Part 3: Information Disasters vs. Knowledge Disasters … for reference.


In your latest KA Dialog post, you summarized the challenges we each face as:

Managing information artifacts is a challenge of abundance.
Managing knowledge assets is a challenge of scarcity.

I think we agree that having too much can be as serious a problem as having too little.  Think flood vs. drought, for example.  Or information glut vs. knowledge paucity.  But permit me to tackle the two questions from your latest post head-on….

Question #1 – “Can Newforma Project Center help firms to transform information artifacts into knowledge assets?”

Response - Yes, it can.  Enabling AEC information workers to capture information as it is being created, to organize and classify it as a by-product of creating it, and enabling them to find it when they need it, is a significant contribution to getting more value from that information.  In my mind, that is a significant step toward transforming information into knowledge.  But I emphasized the phrase, “help firms to”, to make a point.  Some in our industry seem to be looking for a solution that can “automagically” render order out of chaos and knowledge out of completely unstructured information.  The fact is that an investment of judgment, abstraction, and synthesis is required to complete such a transformation.

At the end of the day, knowledge is in the eye of the beholder, or perhaps, more accurately, the value of knowledge is in its application, and the application of knowledge is a distinctly human task.  So, at Newforma, our focus has been on leveraging the time, effort and brainpower of the beholder – the person, the AEC information worker - who has to deal with all of that information.  Freeing their time from the grunt work of managing information gives them greater opportunity to synthesize that information, infer the patterns the information reveals, and apply the resulting knowledge to the higher order creative problem-solving challenges they face.

Question #2 – “Could Newforma help firms to prevent knowledge disasters?”

The process wonk in me is screaming that effective prevention of knowledge disasters requires some serious root cause analysis.  But even without that, it is clear from feedback from our customers that they believe Newforma Project Center is helping them prevent knowledge disasters through better management of project information.  Our recent postings of real life customer stories on the Newformant user community website includes several examples where having the right information delivered to the right person at the right time provided valuable knowledge that averted disaster.

Newforma is also helping firms mitigate the consequences of knowledge disasters.  A few months ago, one of our sales team members visited a new prospect, meeting with them in a conference room which was stacked with dozens of laptops and desktops.  It turns out the impetus for the meeting was the prospect’s realization that all manner of critical information was stored on those computers which had been previously assigned to a number of staff members who were no longer with the company.  Assembling all of that scattered information and enabling others to find the information they needed after those knowledge assets had walked out the door was more than ample justification to purchase Newforma Project Center. 

The challenge, as this last example illustrates, is that effective management of project information and institutional knowledge requires some forethought and upfront investment.  Industry leaders invest in people, processes and tools for the long term that are going to build and preserve their core competencies – the elements that truly distinguish their firm and make it unique.  That is why firms like HOK, Perkins+Will and SOM invest in initiatives like buildingSMART, in people like chief knowledge officers and company-wide BIM gurus, in processes that explicitly train their up-and-coming project managers, and lead the way with enterprise-wide implementations of tools like Newforma Project Center.

So, Chris, the question to you is, as you build your business, how are you investing in building KA’s knowledge assets?  Or are the cobbler’s children running around without shoes?



Chris Parsons is founder of Knowledge Architecture, an information systems and knowledge management consultancy that leverages technology to transform business processes and create strategic insights for architects and engineers. Also, Knowledge Architecture is a Newforma Partner proficient in technology audits, business process consulting, implementing the Open Asset digital image library management application from Axomic (another Newforma Partner) and is certified on work-flow integration between Deltek Vision and Newforma Project Center.

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