Monday, March 06, 2006

From quality documentation and IT systems to leveraging the usage of information and knowledge for the purpose of managing business performance

Very often in quality approaches, quality professionals have placed stress on documentation (or particularly on quality documentation). Often they have referred to requirements of ISO 9000 standards or quality award criteria. However, the real requirements for documentation come only from business needs, not from standards which are only guiding documents or general models for operations. Instead of quality documentation, one should consider the documentation needed by good business management as a whole. Practices for documentation for managing an organization have developed from passive and separate documents to dynamic and flexible systems for leveraging usage of information and knowledge in collaborative group work. Old solutions (which however are still used in many organizations) include:
  • Loose and fragmented paper documents
  • Copied or printed manuals, procedure documents, record reports, and certificates
  • Fragmented documents in information technology (IT) systems
  • Semi-structured IT systems or intranets with variable share of Office and HTML documents
Organization needs to share information and knowledge among its managers, employees, and people of stakeholders. In order to manage situation, organizations have invested in IT solutions. However the development and use of the IT solutions has been problematic in practice. During the past years many IT applications have made the jobs of people more complex and difficult, rather than simplifying their work. In many cases the data sources, systems, and applications are located throughout the organization. Corporate-wide systems are complex and designed for a specific purpose and function, so the IT department is required to deploy many different and often unrelated applications and modules to fill the information and processing needs of the entire organization. Incredible amount of training time is needed for an employee to learn how to effectively use such a complex suite of applications and all of the processes and steps involved to complete their assigned responsibilities. The corporate intranets were originally designed and implemented to meet the needs for shared information across the organization. Correspondingly Internet and extranet solutions were developed for external purposes. Using the corporate intranet, employees are able to access corporate information using web browser to find forms, open applications to perform their jobs, and review a customer's project status, and for many other activities. The corporate intranet solution provides navigation to different enterprise systems and documents. Corporate intranets are responsible for hosting a multitude of applications and exponentially growing number of documents to be available for employees. As intranet sites grew larger, a new set of problems created related chaotic situations with information access, knowledge-sharing, and security. Key problems of corporate intranets relate to the following issues:
  • Employees need to make more informed and consistent decisions.
  • Employees are asked to complete more activities online.
  • Intranet sites contain thousands of pages and continue to grow.
  • Intranet pages must be continually updated.
  • Employees must access information from multiple sources.
  • Navigation through your organization's intranet becomes difficult.
There are doubts about real benefits of the existing business Internet and extranet solutions. Anyway, all these IT solutions have been used very poorly for the purposes of quality management and quality assurance.

Effective use of modern disruptive information technology gives completely new possibilities especially strengthening applications in the area of tacit knowledge that, in fact, covers the most important and biggest part of business knowledge. These new solutions include:
  • Portals and portlettes
  • Collaborative learning / group work and social networking infratructures
Portal is a modern solution for knowledge-content businesses and seen as a solution to chaotic information situation in organizations. E.g. corporate portal expert Heidi Collins "Portals: Escape from Intranet Hell?" Portal is a single, Web-based interface into the world of heterogeneous and incompatible information and knowledge sources distributed across the telecommunication network. For quality management a portal may offer "A cutting-edge gateway to quality-related business reality for enhancing quality awareness, improved use of expertise, performance management and interested party confidence." This approach may be called as "eQuality Portal". Portal provides automatic services for quality management to the members of an organization as well as to its partners. Portals use Internet technology, but basically a portal is very different from simple Internet or intranet pages of organizations. Portal has general features that are beneficial for all kinds of knowledge-based activities including:
  • A consistent view of the relevant business community
  • Information organizing and searching capabilities
  • Direct access to knowledge and resources
  • Direct links to relative data and knowledge experts
  • Individual identity and personalized access to content
Negative point is that portals are rather expensive and therefore suitable primarily for big organizations. Modern Web-operated social networking applications based on simple and cheap solutions of disruptive innovations have a wide variety of quality management related uses such as personal management, collaborative learning, carrying out cooperative projects, and supporting cooperation in networked business environments. Their main strengths include customizable group systems that allow many groups to work simultaneously on sharing individual knowledge and to create new mutual knowledge. This may be done with appropriate new tools for projects, calendar, tasks, forums, conferencing, information / knowledge links, chat, reviews, voting, files, instant messages, resource profiles, etc. Designed to ease problems solving with group based working, the solutions make it possible to work in groups, inside and outside the organization. This gives advantages to organizations which have a lot of work groups that have to be in contact with each other around the globe. E.g. a virtual network of quality managers of a corporation or a larger business community may be created on this basis.


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