Learning & IT in Organizations LO24539

From: mbayers@mmm.com
Date: 05/02/00

Replying to LO24404

Igal Voronel wrote:
>1)IT and Organizational Learning - everyone seems to be talking
>about it,and most consultants seem to be making money elaborating
>on the connections between these two areas.
>However: Are they really connected? If so, how? In what ways?
>Does IT automatically induce learning other things than IT usage?
>Is knowledge management something that an IT system really can
>create and support?

Let me first talk about IT, then about knowledge management...

To help people understand where information technology (IT) was genuinely
useful and where it was mis-applied, we drew a set of x and y axes. We
labeled the vertical axis Data, with 'unstructured' at the top end and
'highly structured' at the bottom end (the zero end). We labeled the
horizontal axis Rules, with 'unclear' at the far end and 'very clear' at
the near end (the zero end). Thus at (0,0) you have clear rules operating
on structured data, and at the diagonally opposite corner you have unclear
rules operating on unstructured data.

In our experience, the closer you get to (0,0) the more
legitimate/defensible is the use of IT. For instance, if you the data you
use is inventory-on-hand and the rule is that when it gets to seventeen,
you need to re-order that item ... well, the data is structured and the
rule quite clear so let the computer take the action. On the other hand,
if you have data such as the child's temperature seems kind of high and
the rule is when the temperature is too high the administer an appropriate
dose of aspirin ... well, the data is kind of fuzzy and the rule is not
very clear. In that sort of case, the use of IT to perform some action is
not easy to defend.

(Of course, the other extreme situations are more problematic. If you
have unstructured data but clear rules, then you might engage in the
exploitation of an expert system to guide you through asking good
questions to help clarify the data. Or if you have structured data but
the rules are unclear, then you might employ case-based reasoning, and
attempt to find rules which fit the data at hand.)

We've suggested that there is some sort of squiggly line running from
about a third of the way up the vertical axis to about a third of the way
out the horizontal axis. Between that line and (0,0), IT seems
well-justified: if it's so automatic, then let's automate it. There's a
similar squiggly line running between the two-thirds points, and beyond
that line things uniquely require human intervention. Then there's that
gray area in between...

How does this relate to knowledge management? Ultimately this comes back
to the difference between data and information and knowledge. You can
find a variety of distinctions. Let me suggest that whatever we choose to
call data gets converted to information only when it helps reduce
uncertainty in a decision-making situation. That is, information helps
'inform' a decision. In Bateson's words, information is a difference that
makes a difference. For my money, information gets converted into
knowledge when it is placed in a larger context and connected usefully to
other information.

I happily draw a line saying that the context is a human mind. Thus,
knowledge by my definition requires a 'knower'. And thus knowledge
management is people management. If you can take something out of the
human being and store it in a computer, then it reverts back to
information. Ackoff makes a clear distinction between a distinction and a
computation: a decision involves uncertainty. Whether to re-order stock
in the earlier example is a computation not a decision. Whether to
administer aspirin is a decision. Determining how much aspirin might be a
combination of both computation and decision -- the boundaries are fluid.
And what might appear a computation for a more experienced person might be
a decision for someone with less experience.

At least, that's what I think right now!

Michael A
 - Michael Ayers
Mailto: mbayers@mmm.com Voice (651) 733-5690 FAX (651) 737-7718
IT CC&PD 3M Center 224-2NE-02 PO Box 33224 St. Paul MN 55133-3224
** Sometimes the right question is, 'Are we asking the right question?' **



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