The Langley Files
CIA’s Perception of Knowledge Management
At the CIA, Knowledge Management (KM) is perceived as the technology or methodology that would allow analysts to access updated and accurate information quickly and easily (Varon, 2001). They perceive KM as an organized way of storing knowledge in the forms of records and files. With this perception, it is evident that the organization has a bias in the way it views KM. In particular, they are more technology than people-oriented and also more technology than process oriented. The organization seems to have the notion that having the technology alone is sufficient to implement KM.
The strengths of their definition can be their weaknesses as well. For example, their definition is good in that KM does involve technology. However, the weakness here is that technology alone is not enough to successfully implement a KM system. It’s also good that their definition of KM recognizes its value in that it can allow for the easy and fast access to accurate and organized data. However, their definition and perception do not include how such data can be kept updated and how access to such data can be enhanced, which are related more to people and processes. With the organization so focused on the technology aspect of KM, they fail to consider the other more important aspects of a KM implementation. In addition, there seems to be a perception that KM is like a project that will be completed once the technology is put in place.
KM Goals of the CIA
The goal of the organization is to have a KM system in place, which would allow employees to easily and quickly find the information they need, enabling them to perform better analyses and to minimize the errors in such endeavors (Varon, 2001). In addition, the organization aims to provide its officers with a broader access to information (Varon, 2001).
The organization wants to address the problems of being unable to provide analysts with accurate and updated data in a timely manner, which in turn prevent these analysts from making the right decisions. They also want to address the problem of information exclusivity within the various sub-units of the organization. For example, an analyst who is not part of a network is not allowed to access data within the said network. An employee who needs information must also be able to prove the legitimacy of their need before they are granted access to the information, which can cause delays in the access to critical information. Moreover, each sub-unit has its own system in place and has its own ways of organizing information, which only the sub-unit members are capable of understanding. In other words, there is no uniformity in the way information is organized and stored throughout the organization.
While these can be considered KM problems in that CIA doesn’t have the tools necessary for efficiently sharing and accessing knowledge in a secure manner, these can also be considered problems in the business processes and the organizational culture. In particular, these can be considered business process problems in that they don’t have an efficient process for granting employees access to critical data without compromising security. It can be said that their process for performing such is quite crude. In addition, these problems are also related to the organizational culture as each sub-unit of the organization seems to consider itself as independent from the others instead of seeing all of the sub-units as parts of one single organization. As such, each sub-unit tends to look after its own interests rather than work towards the achievement of the organization’s objectives as a whole. Related to this is the problem of records managers and librarians not being included in the KM implementation initiative when they are the information management experts who are most knowledgeable about the best ways of organizing information. This can also be attributed to the exclusivity that exists among the organization’s sub-units.
Finally and most importantly, another problem is that the executives who lead the KM initiative do not have a complete understanding of what KM is and how it can benefit the organization. This is evident from the seemingly ignorant comment made by Jim Reid when he said, “If the map in there is wrong, you're going to see the wrong data,". "But it will solve the problem of someone having a map you don't know exists" (Varon, 2001).
Explicit vs. Tacit Knowledge in the CIA
Data analysis skills
Tips from other government agency colleagues
CIA knowledge is categorized in this manner because explicit knowledge pertains to tangible knowledge that comes in the form of documents, which can be reproduced or transferred. On the other hand, tacit knowledge pertains to intangible knowledge, as it is not documented and is often innate within the person. For example, the skills and processes that employees use for analyzing data and making decisions may be innate within them. They are often not documented as they are often different for every person. In the same manner, an employee’s past experiences, opinions, and other skills may influence the decisions they make and the way they perform their jobs, but these are often not documented. Moreover, the tips that they receive from other colleagues are often received while on the job and these often remain in the person’s mind and do not get documented.
In terms of addressing their explicit knowledge, it’s good that the CIA chooses to use the taxonomy used by librarians and record managers for cataloguing the organization’s official records, as this taxonomy ensures that all of the most valuable records for analysis are captured. It’s also good that they have criteria for choosing the types of data that they will keep or delete and that they have a procedure for eliminating outdated information. As well, it’s good that they are able to identify the records that they want to share.
When it comes to the handling of their tacit knowledge, it’s good that they’re implementing this through the use of metadata. Such metadata can be used to store information about explicit data. However, I would recommend that they customize the metadata so that it can also be used for storing information such as document locations, subject matter experts, previous experiences, and lessons learned (Dataware Technologies, Inc., 1998). In addition, I would recommend the creation of searchable repositories for skills profiles and resumes; online communities of practice; and skills databases, which would further facilitate the storage of and access to tacit knowledge. By knowing who the subject matter experts are, the employees would easily know who to approach for their information needs.
As well, I think that there are better ways for organizing CIA’s data rather than using a virtual card catalog, which enables the user to search for information using the fields that would normally be used in manually searching for information in a physical library. Instead, I would recommend the use of the conceptual, process, and functional models for classifying information (Dataware Technologies, Inc., 1998). In the conceptual model, knowledge is classified and organized according to topics. In the process model, knowledge is classified based on business functions while in the functional model, knowledge is classified based on the organizational chart. With the KM system employing these three models, the users are presented with more options on how to quickly and efficiently search for the information that they need based on the search criteria that they have.
The BTOPP Framework
It‘s apparent that the CIA is not headed in the right direction with their KM initiative since they are mostly focused on the technology aspect of KM and seem to overlook or disregard the other aspects that should also be considered in a KM implementation.
When situating CIA’s KM on the BTOPP (Benefits-Tools-Organization-People-Process) framework, it’s true that they have identified the benefits that they want to derive from KM. However, these benefits and the entire KM implementation in general are not clearly linked to the organization’s business strategy. Their objectives for the KM implementation are not well defined.
The leaders of the KM initiative are immediately focusing on the tools or the technology aspect of KM. However, the leaders of the KM team don’t even have a complete understanding of what KM is and what KM can do for the organization. This lack of knowledge and understanding may render the technology useless, as its capabilities will not be maximized. It may also not be implemented properly as there’s a lack of understanding on how it works.
In addition, by being too focused on the technology aspect of KM, they fail to recognize that they must also restructure the organization in order for KM to be properly implemented. This restructure can include efforts to remove the exclusivity that exists among the organization’s sub-units and to make all the sub-units more cohesive and work as a single organization. They should also promote an organizational culture that encourages knowledge sharing.
Moreover, they should focus on the People aspect of the initiative, that is, they should have systems or plans in place for training the employees on how to use the KM system and on how to change their behaviors to enable the successful implementation of KM. As well, they should be able to motivate the employees to use the system by helping them understand how it can help them do their jobs better and how it can help the organization meet its objectives. Moreover, the employees must be rewarded for practicing the new KM-related behaviors and for using the KM system in their jobs. As it is, the CIA does not have plans for using incentives to promote knowledge sharing within the organization.
Finally, the CIA also hasn’t effectively addressed the problems with their Processes with regards to their KM implementation. Aside from identifying the tools they want to use, they should also be able to define the processes that would be implemented together with these tools, such that easy and quick access to information would be possible without security being compromised. Having a metadata repository is not the most effective means for accomplishing this as KM technology is capable of so much more. Examples would be the capabilities for creating security and workflow rules.
Measurement of KM Benefits
One way to measure the benefits of KM is to identify who is involved in contributing and accessing knowledge from the system, that is, majority of the organization should be involved. KM tools usually have usage reports and performance measurement capabilities that allow for this information to be obtained.
Another measurement that can be used is the number and nature of the bottlenecks encountered with the distributed system (Dataware Technologies, Inc., 1998), as these bottlenecks can serve as indications that there are problems and inadequacies with the KM system’s hardware and software infrastructure.
As well, success stories and anecdotal information can be used as a measurement of the KM’s success. However, such information should be documented to ensure that they are kept. Finally, the KM’s success can be measured in terms of an increased bottom line, although this may take some time to be realized.
As the CIA has not thought about everything, I would recommend that they take the following steps in implementing their KM initiative: 1.) Identify the business problem; 2.) Prepare for the change by obtaining executive support and changing the organization’s culture; 3.) Create the KM team; 4.) Perform a knowledge audit; 5.) Define the KM’s key features; 6.) Organize and classify knowledge; and 7.) Link knowledge to the people (Dataware Technologies, Inc., 1998).
I would recommend that they start with identifying the business problems and business objectives as these would serve to guide them in their implementation and would ensure that the initiative eventually leads to the accomplishment of the organization’s strategic objectives. As well, it would be recommended that they start with changing the organization’s culture as a KM initiative is a long-term endeavor and only when the correct behavior and attitudes are inculcated within the organizational members will the initiative succeed and will the changes be sustained.
Dataware Technologies, Inc. (1998). Seven steps to implementing KM in your organization.
Retrieved from http://www.systems-thinking.org/kmgmt/km7steps.pdf.
Varon, E. (2001, August 1). The Langley files. CIO. Retrieved from