Individual needs vs. Organizational goals

Found this one languishing in my drafts pile from July 16. Ooops.

In response to a comment I made to Maybe All KM is Personal KM, Tom Collins at Knowledge Aforethought wrote the following:

That means we have to build team collaboration tools and enterprise information systems (not to mention tools for connecting outside the enterprise, as well). My concern comes from the well-documented fact that vast resources have been poured into monolithic “enterprise solutions” without much work on making them accessible or usable by the individual knowledge worker.

Not too long ago I wrote a paper for my graduate studies along these lines. The specific question I asked was, “If an enterprise process can result in such large efficiencies at the enterprise level, why is it so difficult to get individuals to use the process?” In the specific case I investigated, I found that the problem was that while the new enterprise process resulted in a significant (huge would be an understatement) time savings enterprise wide, the process also resulted in a significant (about double) increase in the amount of time required of individuals to access the information from the process.

The “new” enterprise process: In a large (5000+), multi-tiered (5 layers) organization, use a web based document repository to publish/disseminate a telephone directory for the organization staff to the entire organization.

The “old” process: Use e-mail to disseminate the directory.

Sending a Word document through e-mail to a 5 layer organization, layer by layer, can take a while. In my example, it came out to about 87 hours of actual time, including the time required for people to forward, to detach the document so they have it locally, etc. It is important to note that this time does not include propagation delays in getting from layer to layer. Of course, the time required to publish the same document to a web based document repository and have it available to everyone in the organization was much smaller, in this case about 2 minutes.

87 hours 2 minutes. What’s the problem again?

The problem, as it turned out, was that when an individual in the organization would actually want to use this directory, accessing it on the web based system took nearly twice as long (16 seconds vs. 7 seconds) as simply opening it from their local hard drive.

Though the results here are for a specific case, personal experience tells us all that individuals – especially individuals who don’t care for “high tech” stuff in the first place – will do what they know and what works for them, no matter what the “higher-ups” want them to do. The failure is not (necessarily) in the enterprise system or the enterprise wide goals, but not taking into account the needs/wants of the individuals that make up the organization.

Update: Since I first wrote the above there has been a continued interesting discussion concerning Personal KM, for instance Personal Knowledge – an oxymoron?? and Gained in Translation.