Things that look futuristic today will be part of the everyday life of the future, says Peter Hansson, Marketing Director the UK firm, Mycom. In the future each one of us will be able to understand and argue for the benefits of Knowledge Management (KM). The focus of the skills and experience for managers at every level sought for by future employers, will be dramatically different. Instead of asking for the actual knowledge of being able to perform work, the employer will more and more ask for skills in handling and managing such knowledge. Everybody does not have to 'know' everything as long as they know where to instantly get the knowledge.

This article describes knowledge in general and knowledge management in particular in the mobile network domain. It continues with discussing the main features, benefits, challenges and characteristics of a KM-tool in a mobile operator's organization. Finally, it attempts to see what future impact KM will have on the mobile operator's organization.

Hansson started his career with Ericsson in Sweden; he worked for three years in Malaysia and joined ComOpt in 1997 and Mycom in 1999. Mycom is an international company providing software and engineering services to the telecommunications industry. In February,1999, Mycom launched its next generation Knowledge Management System - NIMS-PrOptima. NIMS-PrOptima is the recognised leader in the field of Information & Knowledge Management systems for mobile operators.

For further information contact:
Peter Hansson, Mycom (UK)
Sales & Marketing Director
+44-181-8383806
peter.hansson@mycom-int.com

www.mycom-int.com

Knowledge Management (KM) Tools In Mobile Networks - Features, Benefits, Challenges and Characteristics
by Peter Hansson

Knowledge Management (KM) is one of the most exciting management subjects of today. Yet, few people are aware of its existence and importance - even fewer use the benefits of KM in their daily work.

This article describes knowledge in general and knowledge management in particular in the mobile network domain. It continues with discussing the main features, benefits, challenges and characteristics of a KM-tool in a mobile operator's organization. Finally, it attempts to see what future impact KM will have on the mobile operator's organization.

Data, Information and Knowledge

The different levels of 'Information'

Lotus, probably the first company to appreciate the power of knowledge management for the mass market, has developed several tools for the purpose of KM. When they first entered the market with their Lotus Notes in 1996, many people were skeptical about its usefulness. Today KM-software, like Outlook and Lotus Notes, is very much part of the every day work life of any employee in the IT or telecommunications industry. The main benefits of such tools are that they support organizations in expressing, sharing and retaining information and knowledge.

In order to describe what knowledge is, we need to describe the different levels of 'information', i.e., data, information and knowledge. The picture below shows their internal relationship.


As data is transformed into useful information and then into useful knowledge, we are adding a lot of value to the initially relatively useless data. Let us take a closer look at the three different levels.

Data - This is the lowest level of 'information'. The contents are usually not very useful as they are. Typically the data is unsorted, unformatted, not yet validated or redundancy tested and in some cases unreadable. In most cases it is not even available to the relevant people. It has to be transformed/post-processed before turned into something useful. Although data is important it is very rarely valuable in itself. Example: List of dropped call raw data (counters) from a BSC.

Information - Information is transformed data presented in a meaningful way for the user. The transformation usually involves post-processing of the data and is typically done through spreadsheets, queries to databases or presenting information through a GIS. Many organizations have realized the value of information, but are still struggling with how to manage it in an efficient way, mostly because there has not been flexible enough management tools available to support them. Example: A dropped call performance management report from a BSC.

Knowledge - Knowledge can be defined as the capability that creates actions from information. This is the highest level of 'information' and is the most user-friendly, because it speaks the same language as the user. Example: How to identify, analyze, solve and verify a high dropped call level in a certain BSC/cell. Who is best suited to solve such problem and when should it be solved.

In the mobile communication environment it is common to identify the following situation:

The different types of Knowledge and the difference between Knowledge and Information

Knowledge is commonly divided into two categories, explicit and non-explicit:

Explicit knowledge is formally articulated or codified information in the form of written reports, manuals, analyses etc. This is the knowledge that organizations traditionally have focused on and most organizations have a system in place for managing it. Explicit knowledge can for example be expressed through a table, graph, text or GIS.

Examples: performance analyses (analysis of a certain network problem), user manuals (how do I use this RF planning tool) and processes (how do the company handle a certain problem arising.

Non-explicit knowledge is the knowledge in people's heads, i.e., direct experience, mental models and beliefs. This type of knowledge leaves the building every night to go home, and often remains unexpressed. It is critical for non-explicit knowledge to be expressed and shared, but in order for this to happen, it must first be turned into explicit knowledge.

Examples: what to do when a certain problem arises (too high dropped call rates), how do I analyze a certain opportunity (more traffic captured by adding a TRX).

In the knowledge level, the information has turned into decisions or actions answering any type of question. The table below further explains the difference between information and knowledge:

Information

Knowledge (the answers to the following questions)

A report is indicating an decrease of traffic in one region

What do I need to analyze to solve the problem?

A report showing difference in today's and yesterday's traffic values

Why is there is a difference?

A report showing a hand-over problem

Who is best suited at solving this problem taking availability, skills and motivation into account?

A report indicating a dropped call problem

When do we need to act?

An report showing an opportunity to increase the traffic in the network

Where, when, who and how should we expand the network?

A report indicating a network configuration mistake

How could it happen?

Knowledge in Mobile Networks

Characteristics of Knowledge in mobile networks

Knowledge about how to operate a mobile network has been one of the most sought for type of knowledge for some time and let us start with taking a closer look at its characteristics:

The value of this knowledge has become so high that you could argue it is the mobile operator's most valuable asset. If true, this has some dramatic consequences. For example, the Finance Director responsible for managing the company's assets should spend more time on Knowledge management (KM) than on other assets' (buildings, equipment, stocks etc.) management. His title could change to Intellectual Property Director as it better describes his focus. The requirements for such a position would be very different from the Financial Director's and it is likely to even be another position.

How Data, Information and Knowledge is often managed today

Despite the high value of knowledge, many mobile operators spend too much time on managing data, i.e., collecting, formatting, reformatting, receiving and distributing it. In the information layer, also a lot of time is spent, on creating and analyzing reports, running-macros on and post-processing of data, and spreadsheets. If an engineer wants to create a new type of information, it could be a nightmare, because:

Very often people find it too troublesome and give up. This has, of course, very negative consequences on the productivity.

How to Ideally Handle Data, Information and Knowledge

In the example above, too little time is spent on adding value in the knowledge layer. Most likely, the employee was employed because of his special skills and knowledge. The value that he sometimes adds in the data layer is relatively low and the tasks could often be done faster and more accurately by a computer. Computers also have the added advantage of being able to do boring, frustrating and repetitive tasks without being de-motivated.

If the employees were supported by a knowledge management tool, the efficiency and the quality of his work would dramatically increase. Short-term benefits include a higher quality of the work and long-term benefits include increased motivation. Surely using his skills, gaining additional knowledge and being involved in creative work would increase his motivation. If the employee has worked in an environment where KM was functioning, he would have gained the shared knowledge (which is by definition larger and most likely much larger than his own knowledge) within his area. Also, employee turnover would not be such a big problem, because every new employee would add something to the knowledge base and thereby increasing the value of the department/company (provided you ignore recruitment costs).

The Power of Sharing Knowledge

Why then is Knowledge Management so valuable? One of the most important factors, is the value of sharing knowledge. As data exists in every corner of the organization and data between different entities are rarely shared, a lot of information and knowledge is currently unutilized. If not considering security and confidentiality, ideally, all 'information' should be available to every employee and each employee should be able to contribute to the information and knowledge base. Some examples of knowledge that would be beneficial to share are given below:

Knowledge

Main owner of data, Information and knowledge

Other potential contributors of data, info and knowledge

Other potential receivers of data, info and knowledge

  • How will the market react to a new service?

Marketing

Traffic planning

RF planning

Customer care

MSC engineering

Traffic planning

RF planning & Optimization

Customer care

MSC engineering

  • What type of subscribers has the highest average complaint rate?

Customer care

Optimization

Marketing

RF Optimization

MSC engineering

  • Why do we experience low QOS in this region today, when it was high yesterday?

RF Optimization

Customer care

RF planning & Optimization

Customer care

RF planning & Optimization

  • Where should I locate a new site to maximize coverage, traffic and profit?

RF planning

Marketing

Customer care

Traffic planning

MSC engineering

Marketing

Customer care

Traffic planning

MSC engineering

  • How should I dimension a transmission trunk to maximize traffic in the future?

MSC engineering

Marketing

Traffic planning

Customer care

Traffic planning

RF Planning & Optimization

If all the relevant underlying data, information and knowledge is available to us, we would be able to answer all the above questions.

But, how do we make all that information available in a compact and useful way? We would not like to look at hundreds of reports, but rather look at one comprehensive report with the answer on it. This would require an Information & Knowledge Management tool.

Knowledge Management (KM) Tools for Mobile Networks

Features

Earlier we defined Knowledge as the capability that creates actions from information. Knowledge management is then the process of managing such capacity. An Information & Knowledge Management Tool is a software tool that supports the user in managing in formation and knowledge.

A true Knowledge Management tool supports the user in managing knowledge, i.e.; expressing, storing, sharing, refining and retaining knowledge within an organization as described below.

Expressing Knowledge - Knowledge as such, is quite abstract and to be able to express knowledge in a way that it becomes useful in a software tool, there has to be a simple, flexible user interface.

Storing Knowledge - Once the knowledge is expressed, it has to be stored. Storage has to take place where the user and other users can access it in the future. Typically, in a computer environment, the knowledge is stored on a 'knowledge-server'.

Sharing Knowledge - The stored knowledge can be shared, accessed and utilized by others. The business case for sharing knowledge is obvious. The power of sharing knowledge is also one of the underlying driving forces of the network and Internet revolution.

Refining Knowledge - If knowledge is shared, there would inevitably be knowledge improvement suggestions. Suggestions that would encourage discussions about particular types of knowledge, e.g., what is important, how is it best expressed, who should have access to it and how to improve it. All types of knowledge have to be under constant revision as network and subscriber behavior constantly change.

Retaining Knowledge - Retaining knowledge is one of the most important features of a fully working KM-tool. The benefits of retaining knowledge are obvious when for example somebody leaves the company or goes on vacation/sick leave. Also if certain key people are not present at work, their work can still be carried out by somebody else, ideally anybody who is a skilled user of the tool.

Benefits and challenges

A working KM-tool would clearly deliver some benefits as well as challenges. The table below shows some samples of these for each feature described in the last section.

KM Feature

(Knowledge action)

Relative value

Sample benefits

Sample challenges

Expressing

High

  • Forces people to think in terms of knowledge instead of data and information.
  • Speak a common knowledge language.
  • 'Release' the hidden knowledge /secrets of specialists.
  • How to express non-explicit knowledge/experience to a computer?
  • Are people willing to?

Storing

High

  • Knowledge can be re-used.
  • Where/how to store it?

Sharing

Very high

  • Knowledge available to everybody.
  • Flexibility among work force.
  • Considerable reduction of training time and costs.
  • Who should have access?
  • Are people willing to?

Refining

High

  • Continuos quality improvement of knowledge.
  • People feel as being part of the knowledge base.
  • Different people/different experiences?

Retaining

Very high

  • Knowledge always within company (even on leave or business trip.
  • Are people willing to leave knowledge behind them?

Characteristics of an Ideal KM-tool

Before discussing the characteristics of an ideal Knowledge Management tool, let us take a look at different tools that exists today in the data, information and knowledge layer. The table below gives some examples.

Level

Example of tools

Value

Data management

Databases, graphical information systems (GISís)

Relatively low - value growth only when new data is imported

Information management

Data warehouses, performance management tools, 'mapping' tools, Data Mining, Expert Systems

Medium - value growth only when new data or information is added

Knowledge management

NIMS-PrOptima‘

Relatively high - value growth when new data, information or knowledge is added

The three different tool types have different scope, i.e., an information management system should have a strong underlying data management system and a knowledge management system should have a strong underlying data & information management system.

A natural evolution of a software company is that they start with handling data (a company with a strong database) and when the market matures they will attempt to build up the information management layer. If they gain extensive knowledge they can eventually attempt to provide a knowledge management layer. This evolution will most likely lead to a non-optimal product, with both development and support problems. The reason is that there are certain decisions taken along the evolution that will not be optimal in the end result (a KM-tool) and all these trade-offs creates a 'compromise product'.

To build a fully functional information & knowledge management system, you will have to start with 'the end in mind'. If a bicycle maker was asked to build a car, would the product be better if they tried to build an 'enhanced bike' or start from the beginning with the criteria for a car (four wheels, able to carry heavy engine, able to carry five people and so on)?

Let us now take a closer look at the characteristics of an ideal, from a user point of view, Information & Knowledge Management tool:

Speed - Obviously we would like to solve network problems as they arise. If we have to wait days, hours or even minutes for information or knowledge, e.g., a report, we are wasting valuable time and creating a lot of opportunities for distractions. A good KM-tool has to be able to display anything the user wants to visualize within seconds. As an additional bonus, speed enables the user to test different ideas on a trial and error basis.

Flexibility in use - When the user starts looking at the network through a tool, he has no idea what information he will require at a later stage. In many cases he will need to analyze information on a very detailed level, i.e., zoom in to a problem (e.g., detailed cell report). There are thousands or millions of possible combinations of useful reports and it would not be practical to produce, store and distribute all of them. Instead the KM-tool should be flexible enough to allow the user to instantly and easily create any type of useful report he requires.

Flexibility in data sources - The tool has to have an open and flexible data model, that is not only able of handling existing data sources, but also being able to integrate future sources that we do not necessary know the shape of today. A good KM-tool has a data model open and flexible enough to handle any type of data source.

Ease to use - A knowledge management tool is valuable to every employee in an organization. As many people from many different departments would benefit from using it, the tool has to be easy to use and 'intuitive'. No programming, query-language, formatting or macro-skills should be required to use it, so that training could be a self-tutored 'walk' through the program for a couple of minutes. A good KM-tool should be ' intuitive' and easy to use.

Multi-platform - Because of the importance such a tool, it has to be accessible from any operating system (Windows, Unix, Linux, Macintosh etc.) and any type of hardware (desktops, laptops, palmtops, mobiles or any other type of electronic application). A good KM-tool is multi-platform.

Accuracy - If the user cannot rely on the data/information displayed, the tool is not very valuable. A good KM-tool must have several data checks: validation, redundancy and automatic update of network changes.

Great fun - The value of the tool grows with the use of it. In order to encourage people to use the tool and thereby grow the value, it has to be great fun. Too often, people abandon software tools, because they are not easy enough to use, too slow or just boring. A good KM-tool should be fun to use.

Internet - The use of networks is obvious for these kinds of tools. The whole idea builds upon the ability to communicate data, information and knowledge over networks. The use of the Internet and web-browsers will continue to grow and all types of data, information and knowledge have to be able to be communicated through a web-browser (or any other type of communication software and hardware). A good KM-tool should be Internet-adapted.

Programmed in Java - Java was initially developed as a network/communications programming language and is already considered to be the programming language of the future. It is 'simple' - yet powerful, modular and scalable (like building with Lego), multi-platform by definition, adapted for the Internet and it is fun for programming. Java is the only computer language that is truly future proof. A future proof KM-tool should be developed in Java.

To summarize, the requirements for a KM-tool for a mobile network are very high. This is of course a great challenge for software companies.

Knowledge Management (KM) - A Look Into the Future

Things that look futuristic today will be part of the everyday life of the future. In the future each one of us will be able to understand and argue for the benefits of knowledge management. The focus of the skills and experience for managers at every level, sought for by future employers, will be dramatically different. Instead of asking for the actual knowledge of being able to perform work, the employer will more and more ask for skills in handling and managing such knowledge. Everybody does not have to 'know' everything as long as they know where to instantly get the knowledge. The word instantly is very important - if knowledge cannot be obtained instantly, the 'knowledge' does 'not exist' and is therefore useless.

A few years ahead, we will be looking back and wonder why we did we not do things differently and ask ourselves:

Imagine the following future scenario: A KM-tool has been implemented at a mobile operator. Most types of knowledge can be expressed in the tool. The organization consist of a knowledge managers and experts in each field (department), e.g., planning, optimization, marketing, IT and service introductions. The experts are good at using the tool rather than possessing the knowledge of their area. When each department was started up the department manager (knowledge manager) hired some 'knowledge consultants' to build the knowledge base into the company. Gradually their work was taken over by the company's own employees. The external (or internal) consultants can be asked to perform a 'knowledge update when needed, e.g., upgrades of equipment, introduction of new service, periodical knowledge updates and so on. Please note that transfer of knowledge is not relevant any more as it is performed through the tool. The tool experts will only work on the information and knowledge level - the tool handles the data. If problems arise they have to be dealt with by the IT-department (using the tool to solve the problem). The users should only work on an exceptional basis, i.e., if there is a problem or opportunity identified by the tool, the tool should (assisted or not by the user), analyze, suggest solutions, select a solution to the opportunity / problem. After the necessary changes have been made, it should automatically verify that the change improved the situation and if appropriate, take necessary actions. The user of such tool has moved from being the person who acted within a certain framework of processes and procedures (either self-created or not) to being the person that fine-tunes those processes or procedures to an ever changing environment and network situation. Additionally, gone is the time when reports were generated, printed, distributed and never gave the user the 'right' report for the particular situation.

For some people, this future might seem scary. Sharing knowledge for many people means sharing (or loosing) power. However, the benefits of this future scenario are so many and powerful, that it will happen, no matter how strong the internal politics of the organization. Competition will drive every single operator into the field of knowledge management and the one that is not the leader will follow, or loose its competitiveness. Creating a competitive edge on the market, both by attracting the best employees and being able to offer the best quality services will be so dependant on how KM is handled, that KM will be the most important organizational and business change in the next few years to come. This transformation will clearly be exciting.

Summary

This article started with describing data, information and knowledge in general. Then the knowledge in mobile networks was discussed in more detail and also some examples of knowledge that would be very beneficial to share were described.

The features of a knowledge management tool were described: expressing, storing, sharing, refining and retaining knowledge. For each feature, benefits and challenges were given. The increasing value of such tool was explained and contrasted with other types of tools and the ideal characteristics of a KM-tool were discussed:

Finally, we looked a few years into the future and described how knowledge management will change the way mobile operators work today and how they will work in the future.