Day 10 – J: just-in-time Knowledge Management

The just-in-time concept was made popular by Toyota in its quest to improve its manufacturing processes. The concept was introduced in Knowledge Management by Thomas H. Davenport and John Glaser through their article “Just-in-Time Delivery Comes to Knowledge Management,” Harvard Business Review, Vol. 80, No. 7, July 2002.

If you have interacted with Knowledge Management professionals, it is quite likely that you have been exposed to the somewhat clichéd ‘right knowledge at the right time’ phrase already. The genesis of this phrase dates back to 2005 when Kerschberg and Jeong stated “the concept of Just-In-Time Knowledge Management is appealing in that, the goal is to provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time- just in time- so they can take action based on that information”.
As the definition states, the concept is indeed appealing especially when you look at it from the perspective of professionals who need knowledge on a real time basis. Let’s take the case of two sets of professionals i.e. call centre employees and doctors and assess their application of real-time knowledge.

For a call centre employee, the challenge is to pass on relevant information to the customer as quickly as possible in a professional manner. It is important to note that the employee performs the role of an intermediary here and the information that gets passed on is organisational knowledge. It is highly unlikely that the employee is a knowledge creator. That is certainly not a skill expected of the employee. What is expected are the ability to retrieve knowledge from a system and disseminate it effectively.

In the case of a doctor, the application of real-time knowledge is quite different though. Let me borrow this from the HBR article mentioned above.

Doctors need to stay current on 10,000 diseases, 3,000 medications, 1,100 lab tests and 400,000 articles added to the biomedical literature each year. Sounds like a job for the field of knowledge management.

The article then provides a hypothetical example. Following has been picked up from the article directly.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say Dr. Bob Goldszer, associate chief medical officer and head of the Special Services Department at Brigham and Women’s in Boston, has a patient, Mrs. Johnson, and she has a serious infection. He decides to treat the infection with ampicillin. As he logs on to the computer to order the drug, the system automatically checks her medical records for allergic reactions to any medications. She’s never taken that particular medication, but she once had an allergic reaction to penicillin, a drug chemically similar to ampicillin. The computer brings that reaction to Goldszer’s attention and asks if he wants to continue with the order. He asks the system what the allergic reaction was. It could have been something relatively minor, like a rash, or major, like going into shock. Mrs. Johnson’s reaction was a rash. Goldszer decides to override the computer’s recommendation and prescribe the original medication, judging that the positive benefit from the prescription outweighs the negative effects of a relatively minor and treatable rash. The system lets him do that, but it requires him to give a reason for overriding its recommendation.

The example above clearly establishes the difference in application of real-time knowledge among professionals. Unlike the call centre employee, the doctor retrieves the information but uses it as an input for decision making based on his personal knowledge and skills. And that to me is what makes Knowledge Management fascinating! Do you agree? Comments as always are most welcome.

You may read an excerpt of the HBR article here.

Have a great weekend!

The topic for the next post is Knowledge Management Quotes.

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