The ‘Global Brain’ and Corporate Knowledge Management

I was sitting in on a training session the other day when the trainer asked the following question: what does “ottffssen” mean. Within a couple of seconds, one of the people in the session; Connor Fulton of IBM Global Services had the answer, he’d simply typed in the letters into Google and up came the answer on the first try (it’s the first letter of one, two, three, four … ).

We call Google the “global brain” because we’ve come to think that it embodies the sum of all human knowledge with a pretty powerful search engine built in. It doesn’t really encompass anything though, since the actual knowledge is in the websites that the Google spiders traverse, but as a metaphor it works pretty well.

I bet I query Google dozens or even hundreds of times a day. Need a definition to a TLA (three letter acronym) I just type it into Google, need a recipe for key lime pie? … Ask Google. There’s almost nothing that I need to know but don’t that doesn’t eventually get asked of Google.

Yes, you say, we all know Google is a powerful search engine, but what does that have to do with me? A lot! Think of all the institutional knowledge locked up in your organization. It’s the sum of all the human capital in the organization as it exists right now. Then think of all the institutional knowledge that has been lost by employees who’ve left the organization.

Wouldn’t it be valuable if that knowledge could have been canned and time-shifted forward to present employees? Wouldn’t it be valuable if you could shift knowledge across both time and space in a seamless way?

Capturing the institutional knowledge of an organization is the first step in knowledge management, and once captured, the next challenge is to categorize it.

The problem with most knowledge management solutions, however, is they require you to focus on knowledge management as a unique process or discipline. Unfortunately it’s just not the way we normally work. We’re messy, we’re disorganized (mea culpa), we forget things and forget where we put the thinks we remembered to write down.

I always say that not knowing where something is just like not having it, so knowing where things are located is the key to actually having the tools you need to use when you need them.

There a couple of ways to approach knowledge management in most normal organizations:

  • Start a big complex knowledge management project and choose software that will manage all your knowledge, or;
  • put everything in a place that can be searched, and buy the Google search appliance and make it available to internal users.
  • Pretty simple, right? You didn’t know that you could buy an appliance from Google and put in on your network to have your own internal Google search site? Ten you should go to Google and check it out (PS – I have no association with Google in any way.). They have models which will search from 500,000 documents on up to millions of documents.

    I think it offers a way of managing the messiness of most knowledge organization. You simply need to create a repository where things should be stored, which is “data management 101” anyways.

    I can see a SAN array attached to the network where people would store their documents, spreadsheets, images, etc. The Google appliance would make them available across the enterprise and people could share their information in a seamless way. The only issue would be insuring that documents that weren’t supposed to be shared, like the entire company’s salary tables, are kept in a place that is not searchable.

    So, the only thing left is what you’ve stored on your own machine. I’ve recently been using the new Google desktop search tool and have to admit that it’s much better than the earlier beta. It will run only when you machine is idle, and categorizes everything on your hard drive. So you know have a good search tool for your own machine, your corporate assets, and then there is the “global brain” if you can’t find it anywhere else.

    We’ve moved a long way from the Dewey decimal system, and the ability to search for knowledge within documents is an area that can provide the modern organization with a very high payback at a very little cost.

    Daniel Gingras has been CIO of five major companies and is a partner at Tatum Partners, a nationwide professional services organization of senior-level technology and financial executives who take on leadership roles for client companies. He has more than 30 years of IT experience and teaches computer science at Boston University. He can be reached at [email protected].