Asset or Untapped Resource? The Value of Institutional Knowledge in IT

  • from ITtoolkit.com

Image of three human heads equal to one head signifying the need to pass on institutional knowledge.

When it comes to the value of institutional knowledge in IT management, you have two options.  One -- take action to make institutional knowledge a valuable asset, or two -- let it sit there as an untapped resource.  Which one sounds like the smart move? 

What is Institutional Knowledge in IT?

Here's the short answer - it's the collective wisdom, insight, expertise, judgment and awareness gained from actual "in the field" experience.  Institutional knowledge is derived knowledge, and as such it bears certain distinct characteristics:

  1. Institutional knowledge is unique knowledge, driven by collective experience and individual perception.
  2. The "raw ingredients" of institutional knowledge exist in the minds of staff members and as part of the global documented record created by multiple work initiatives.
  3. Institutional knowledge has to be captured (more so than acquired).
  4. Uncaptured institutional knowledge can be easily lost with staff transition and turnover.
  5. Institutional knowledge is subject to political circumstances and employee motivations.

Whenever a plan is executed, a project is completed, a system is installed, or a technical problem is solved, institutional knowledge is the natural by-product.  Within the IT management context, institutional knowledge (also referred to as institutional memory)  is made up of multiple formative components, to include technology facts and information, operational procedures, organizational awareness, actual results of work initiatives, beliefs and perceptions of staff members, stakeholder interests, and defined "lessons learned" (from standardized reviews and evaluations).


Work Smarter

Even under the best of circumstances, management is a challenge. When you learn to fast track, you’ll learn to work smarter, not harder. And that’s the value of every lesson, resource and template available at Fast Track Manage Learning. We teach you how to fast track your way to successful projects, committees and more. Learn More


Recognize.  Capture.  Integrate.

The work effort required to activate institutional knowledge plays out in three (3) primary phases.  But, before the process begins, the first (and perhaps most important) step is to set appropriate and realistic goals.  The key question is simple - what are you looking to accomplish and why?  The sample "goals" listed below illustrate the possibilities (demonstrating the value of institutional knowledge and justifying the work effort involved):

Start with a Clear Set of Goals and Planned Purpose

  • Goal #1 - To provide an informational basis to guide continuous improvement initiatives.
  • Goal #2 - To avoid repetitive mistakes (minimizing risks, costs, and lost opportunity).
  • Goal #3 - To avoid a loss of valuable knowledge associated with staff turnover, transfer and transition.
  • Goal #4 - To reduce the wasted effort and lost productivity associated with "reinventing the wheel".  You can't always start at square one.
  • Goal #5 - To ensure that critical knowledge is shared in a consistent, timely manner (and always readily available).
  • Goal #6 - To shorten the learning curve for new staff members.
  • Goal #7 - To provide the perspective that can only come with the passage of time (i.e. Why did we do that What were we thinking?)
  • Goal #8 - To provide a factual basis (based on actual events) to guide future plans, actions and decisions, and to support innovative, critical thinking.  Informed decision making is confident decision making (with less risk).

Phase 1:  Institutional Knowledge Must Be Recognized.

As part of this first phase, "experiences" (projects, problems, plans, actions, decisions, etc.) are evaluated to determine knowledge potential (the scope and extent of available institutional knowledge).  This is accomplished through a series of investigative questions:

  1. What did we do and why did we do it?
  2. What were the results?
  3. Did all go as planned and expected?
  4. How do we all feel about it?
  5. What did we learn from the experience?
  6. What would we like to see repeated?
  7. What would we like to see changed?

Phase 2:  Institutional Knowledge Must Be Captured.

Once knowledge potential is determined, it's time to capture the results as part of the IT-IKC (IT Institutional Knowledge Catalog).  This is the primary deliverable of the knowledge activation process (further detailed below).  To realize all of the intended benefits, this cataloging effort must be conducted in a consistent, standardized mannner:

  1. Catalog contributors should be identified and assigned to required tasks.
  2. Deadlines should be established to set expectations and ensure timely results.
  3. Entries should be reviewed and approved by designated decision makers.

Phase 3:  Institutional Knowledge Must Be Integrated.

As part of this third phase, the knowledge derived is applied to other initiatives in order achieve one or more of the intended goals (as set out before the process began).  In practical terms, integration is ongoing as new circumstances arise and institutional knowledge is continually updated and applied.

Creating Your IT-Institutional Knowledge Catalog

The IT-IKC is the primary deliverable of the knowledge activation process, turning intangible concepts into executable roadmaps.  Once created, the "catalog" becomes a reference point for future action.  The catalog can be produced in multiple formats (from simple fill-in forms to comprehensive databases), but it should always be easy to use, readily accessible and quickly searchable.  The goal is simple - to record institutional knowledge in a manner that supports compliance, participation, access and useability.  To that end, the following catalog content guidelines can be applied:

  1. Identification:  The catalog should provide the means to assign a unique "identifier" (i.e. record code) to quickly identify and locate specific knowledge records.
  2. Categories:  The catalog should provide the means to organize and retrieve knowledge records according to major categories (subject matter/type) - i.e. project, technical problems, strategic vision, staffing, operational process, etc.
  3. Priority:  The catalog should provide the means to rank knowledge records according to value and importance.
  4. Classification:  The catalog should provide the means to classify knowledge records according to access levels (i.e. confidential, private, general, etc.).
  5. Contributors and Stakeholders:  The catalog should provide the means to identify the staff and stakeholders involved in and/or affected by a given knowledge record.
  6. Statements:  The catalog should provide the means to document "knowledge" related conclusions, summarizing key points and integration guidelines.
  7. Narratives:  The catalog should provide the means to document "knowledge narratives", to describe the knowledge factors, explain knowledge relevance, value, and provide essential context for knowledge integration.
  8. Commentary:  The catalog should provide the means for staff members and stakeholders to comment upon record narratives and to provide appropriate, relevant feedback.
  9. Version Control:  The catalog should provide the means to document and track "updates" to knowledge records (as new information may become available).
Source: Unless noted otherwise, all content is created by and for ITtoolkit.com


About Us

Right Track Logo

ITtoolkit.com staff writers have experience working for some of the largest corporations, in various positions including marketing, systems engineering, help desk support, web and application development, and IT management.

ITtoolkit.com is part of Right Track Associates, proprietors and publishers of multiple web sites including ITtoolkit.com, Fast Track Manage, HOA Board List and more. We started ITtoolkit.com in 2001 and have continued to grow our web site portfolio, Toolkit products, and related data services. To learn more, visit us at Right Track Associates.

Stay Informed

Useful information without inbox overload.

we do not sell our list

subscribe now
I.T. Service Planning The Fast Track Project Toolkit Start For Free

The IT Service Strategy Toolkit teaches you how to fast track IT service planning using the time-saving “service strategy process”. The goals are simple... to manage IT departments, services and projects in a common-sense manner, to align business and technology, and realize maximum value, acceptance, and utilization - all at the lowest overhead costs. It’s all about adding value, in less time and with greater success. Get lifetime access to a growing IT service curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.

Committee Management The Project Committee Toolkit Start For Free

The Project Committee Toolkit teaches you how to manage successful committees using the "committee concept" process. Committees are one of the most effective ways to organize, deliberate and make decisions. But too often, committee success is hampered by conflict and bureaucracy. When you follow the committee concept process, you’ll learn to avoid these pitfalls and ensure that your committees are properly formed, managed and staffed. Get lifetime access to a growing committee management curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.

Project Management The Fast Track Project Toolkit Start For Free

The Fast Track Project Toolkit teaches you how to deliver on-time, on-plan projects using "strategic project fast tracking". The fast track approach is a time-saving methodology, designed specifically for "real world" project circumstances - when you are being asked to do more than time and resources may allow. Fast tracking is the way to work around these obstacles and deliver prioritized results. Get lifetime access to a growing project planning curriculum of lessons, videos, reference materials, templates and more. Start for free.