Can you outsource KM support?

Are there any parts of KM support you can outsource? If so, which parts?

You have a successful Knowledge Management program under way. All is going well, but you are under increasing pressure with requests from the business, and you don’t have enough resources to respond to the demand.

You think “I must be able to outsource some of this work”.

But how much can you safely outsource, and what are the elements you need to keep in-house?

Read on, and find out!

What you can’t outsource

Ownership of the knowledge management framework. Knowledge Management needs to keep running, and the KM Framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance needs to be maintained, applied, monitored and continuously improved. Ownership of the Framework is an in-house responsibility, even though you may employ trusted KM consultants to support you.

Ownership of the knowledge management strategy. Although it a very good idea to get an  experienced Knowledge Management consulting company to help you to draft a strategy, the strategy needs to be owned and delivered from within your own company.

Delivery of knowledge management implementation. Although it is a very good idea to get a good experienced Knowledge Management consulting company to help you with implementation, the implementation project needs to be led and delivered from within the company.

Leadership of the communities of practice. The CoPs own your critical organisational knowledge, and this needs to be owned internally.  The CoP leaders should be in-house experts.

Knowledge ownership. The practice owners, the knowledge stewards, the subject matter experts, all need to come from within the company. If you start outsourcing knowledge ownership, then you have really outsourced that particular capability. And that’s fine; companies outsource things like financial management or catering, but you are outsourcing the entire capability and not just management for knowledge capability.

The ownership of content. The content owners need to come from within the organization, although you can bring in an experienced KM consultancy to help create some of the content in the first place.

The application of the knowledge. Applying knowledge is done by your teams, your departments and your individuals.

What you can outsource

Knowledge capture services, such as the capture of lessons learned from projects. This is an intermittent activity, and can sometimes be a high volume activity and sometimes not very much is going on, which makes it hard to resource internally. Knowledge capture requires specific skills, and you may not have a readily available pool of people with those skills in your organisation. This is an ideal service to outsource, and knowledge capture is a service we already provide to many clients.

Knowledge retention services, such as retention interviewing and the creation of knowledge assets from retiring staff. Like the example above, this is a specialized task requiring specialised skills, but one which is intermittent. Many companies outsource this service – Shell outsourced much of their ROCK interviewing for example, and Airbus outsources management of their ExTra program. If you have a sudden workload of retention work, then look to outsource the service.

The facilitation of knowledge management processes, such as peer assist, knowledge exchange, or community of practice launch can be outsourced to trained KM facilitators.

The administration of the online library or the online knowledge base. Shell, for example, outsourced much of the administration work related to their Wikis, such as building cross-links between articles.

Lessons management, and the administration of your lesson management system. You can bring in people to do the day to day work of quality control of lessons, tracking lessons and actions, following up on actions, and gathering and reporting metrics; also the work of lessons analysis.

The development and maintenance of taxonomy and ontology. These are specialist tasks, and you might as well bring in specialists to help with them.

Audit of your knowledge management framework and application. You can bring in an external objective company on a regular basis to check the health of your knowledge management program, and to audit the degree of management of your knowledge assets – ideally using ISO 30401:2018 as a benchmark.

Provision and maintenance of some of your knowledge management technologies. Technologies such as lessons management systems, customer-facing knowledge bases or collaboration tools can be hosted by the technology provider, rather than having to be hosted and maintained from within the organization.

Maintenance of the search technology. Maintaining and tuning the search engine, particularly AI-assisted or semantic search, can be outsourced to a specialist company.

So there are many things you need to do yourself, in-house, but there are a number of specialist services where it makes sense to set up a call-off contract, so you can respond to needs by pulling on a pool of external specialist resource.

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