Knowledge, Information, and the Business Process: Revolutionary Thinking or Common Sense?

Guy St Clair (SMR International, New York, NY, USA)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 30 May 2008




St Clair, G. (2008), "Knowledge, Information, and the Business Process: Revolutionary Thinking or Common Sense?", Library Management, Vol. 29 No. 4/5, pp. 450-452.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Those of us who work in knowledge services owe a debt of gratitude to Liz Taylor. While I am not sure I am comfortable with her subtitle, since much happens along the way between “common sense” and “revolutionary thinking” and – in my opinion – society is presently dealing with the management of information, knowledge, and strategic learning nowhere near either end of the spectrum. Still, give Taylor credit. She clearly understands the business process and how both knowledge and information contribute to its success (and how failures come about when information and knowledge are not given their fair due in the business process).

One of the pleasures of Taylor's book is that she has taken the much‐written about subject of knowledge management and moved it from the academic and theoretical (where so much tedious discussion seems to take place on an unending basis!) to the practical. Indeed, the purpose of her book, as Taylor makes clear, is to provide practical advice, “with guidance on the implementation of some of the key concepts and principles of managing knowledge and information.” She recognizes that there is a great gulf between those who would install some sort of knowledge management function in every organization and those who, as she puts it, “are often unsure [about] how knowledge, both individual and collective should be managed in relation to business processes, or what such proactive management can achieve in terms of realizing benefits.”

This, it seems to me, is the crux of the matter and the question that every manager needs to think about as the organization he or she manages seeks to find solutions – or at least direction to solutions – about using information, knowledge, and – in the knowledge services framework – strategic learning to support the organizational mission and ensure organizational success. How do we succeed in the management of information, knowledge, and strategic learning? How do we know when we are being successful?

Taylor answers these questions frankly and directly: by continually evaluating effectiveness. From her perspective – and many of us agree – it is the extent to which information, knowledge, and learning activities generate deliverables (and it does not matter whether the deliverables are tangible or intangible), that determines the success of the relationship of information and knowledge to the business process. Some of us deal with this concept on an on‐going basis, and we call this looking for the “operational impact.” Operational impact is the single measure by which information and knowledge products and services must be evaluated. Everything else is tangential or, at best, a step or two removed from the real focus of the activity.

Not surprisingly, Taylor moves the evaluation of information and knowledge products and services (and consultations, I would suggest, since so much of knowledge services relies more on the consultation process than on the provision of any specific product or service) to the people for whom the products, services, and consultations are designed. She recognizes that it is through the perceptions of the various stakeholders (and “specifically customers,” as she describes them) and through understanding their values that assessments are made. She also recommends taking whatever steps are necessary to manages customer expectations and going to whatever trouble is required to understand that “their consideration is part of the framework.”

The organization of Taylor's book is especially useful, for she is careful to ensure that her practical emphasis stays in focus all the way through. She begins with a longish discussion of intellectual capital and the large variety of components associated with it, and she is good at providing definitions that make sense to people who are not necessarily trained or inclined to the management role. I particularly liked Taylor's approach to “the process jigsaw,” as she describes the business process framework and provides specific direction for looking at a number of concepts and terms associated with the process. Stating the value of control and management where knowledge or information may have different roles, and then linking them to inputs, outputs, and by‐products used in evaluating the framework enables the reader to build a sort of checklist that can then guide the effort. It is a useful technique and one that makes the application of Taylor's approach all the easier. Key to making it work, though, is her discussion of process relationship that, as she puts it, can be complex. She defines process relationships at three levels, with the most basic being at the activity level, the second being the process level, and the third being higher‐level relationships.

Taylor's recommended framework for linking information and knowledge to the business process comes together in her fifth chapter, in which the application is put forward. At this point, specific questions are raised, the responses to which provide the reader with a step‐by‐step collection tool, enabling the manager to then synthesize and coordinate data so that a result can be obtained. Wrapping up with two chapters that pull the process together (“managing expectations” and “maximizing potential”), Taylor provides readers – especially those new to the evaluative requirements of the management role – with a product that they can use to work with as they identify business processes for which they need to establish the relationship between information and knowledge and the process itself.

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