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Monday, January 04, 2010

A failure of intelligence and knowledge management

It is interesting to note that since the recent attempted bombing of the plane in the USA on how failures of intelligence organisations to share knowledge nearly led to tragedy. Since 9/11 the us intelligence agencies have tried to improve this through technology. There has been the well cited case of the use of wikis such as intellipedia as a means of capturing information. I suppose one of the problems is that you can have too much information and you return to the drinking from the fire hose - or as this article puts it sorting the wheat from the chaff.

I think that the article is useful but I think that it needed to look at the people and leadership issues within the intelligence agencies as well as the culture.

Interestingly one of my KM favourites Morten Hansen has a piece in HBR (Click here) he highlights the hoarding barrier where the organisation and its incentives penalised sharing and also the poor ability to search for relevant information. He proposes three areas for improvement and I agree with the one regarding incentives - probably through areas such as the appraisal system and other non monetary inducements - however job rotation may not work in some organisations because of specialisation and recruitment of new people both in public and private sector seems a bit of a no no in the current economic climate.

I've undertaken KM work in the past in that we can provide people with the tools that we think that they need but the problem is that the culture of the organisation needs to be a safe one where people can use the tools and that it is expected that they will use them and that there are no disincentives for people to use them.

We probably also need to look at what is going on in the working environment that the intelligence agencies are working in and the culture - if you are working in a organisation that deals in secrets maybe knowledge sharing amongst other secret organisations is a little more difficult.

I am convinced that a new wave of technology will support improved knowledge management however at best at present it is a marginal revolution with people carrying out work in this area in many cases under the radar - because the organisations that they work for haven't yet caught up or it isn't seen as an organisational imperative in a very competitive and threatening business environment.

It is very easy to snipe from the sidelines when there is a systemic failure - but what current articles fail to look at is the pressure that the intelligence agencies are under and sometimes people don't have the time to share that knowledge even if they wanted to.

Later.... Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts her two pennorth into the discussion - here which talks about the lessons leaders can learn from this - however, there are also lessons that knowledge managers can learn from this.

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