Experts call for knowledge management rethink

Chances are you haven't spent much time thinking about e-learning, but start talking about "knowledge management" and C-level executives take notice.

Representatives from the nascent e-learning industry Wednesday debated some of the issues facing corporate education and training, calling for senior executives to embrace it as a tool for greater worker productivity.

Speaking in light of the fact Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers and Electronic Data Systems Corp. Chairman and CEO Dick Brown chose to focus squarely on e-learning issues during their Comdex keynotes, panel members agreed improving employee knowledge transfer has significant impact on corporate productivity and profits.

The key to success, according to Paula Moreira, vice president of integrated learning at brick-and-mortar education outfit New Horizons Computer Learning Center Inc., in Anaheim Calif., is not to focus on e-learning itself. "The key is [e-learning's] all about knowledge management," she said.

The way to improve the economy and corporate productivity is to improve knowledge transfer and management, argued another speaker, Sudheer Koneru, executive vice president of products and strategy at Inc. in Bellevue, Wash. "It's all about your business, [speeding up] the core of your knowledge transfer," he said.

Also in agreement was Michael Lodato, vice president of market development at e-learning vendor DigitalThink Inc., in San Francisco. DigitalThinking lists Cisco and EDS as its two largest customers, and recently added McDonald's Corp. to the list, Lodato said.

Using McDonalds as an example, he said the fast food chain is preparing to install PCs in McDonald's stores throughout the United States to help train its 1.5 million employees.

"But we didn't build courses, we built video games," explained Lodato, saying the company realized more employees were familiar with video games than traditional corporate computer applications and therefore built the applications to suit. "This is not a white collar tool, this is a business tool," he said.

One recent study supporting the panelist's arguments included a report from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young LLP, which discovered 49 percent of employees are either "poor" or "very poor" at transferring knowledge to other employees.

As a result, the panelists agreed that thinking about traditional knowledge-based enterprise applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), and BI (business intelligence) tools in isolation was only part of the bigger picture.

"E-learning is not going to solve all your business problems," Moreira said. "But it can improve the productivity of your organization."

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