The 21st century belongs to the knowledge age, where acquisition, possession and application of knowledge are the most important resources

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Cover Story

Super Power 2020


Igniting India's mind
The nation can use its core competence in IT, natural resources and human resources to become a knowledge superpower by 2020



Words like 'vision' and 'dream' are back in currency. For long, they were inhabiting the manifestoes of political parties and the lexicon of the student who wanted to make a name in elocution. The common man did not believe in these words.

Now, suddenly he does. Many factors have contributed to this recharging of meaning. One is a President, who, by virtue of not being a regular politician, has caught the imagination of the nation. His dream of India becoming a superpower by 2020 has become the people's dream.

But between the idea and the reality falls a shadow, as the poet said. In a series of articles beginning with one penned by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam himself, we do a reality-check on this dream. Experts ranging from Bharat Karnad and M.S. Swaminathan to K. Kasturirangan and Arun Shourie give their concrete proposals on how to turn these ideas into reality. So that dreams do not remain daydreams.

The 21st century belongs to the knowledge age, where acquisition, possession and application of knowledge are the most important resources. To India, knowledge is not new. Ancient India was an advanced knowledge society with a continual process of intellectual renaissance through inspiring contributions by saints of many faiths, philosophers, poets, scientists, astronomers and mathematicians. There existed great universities like Takshasila and Nalanda where students not only from India but also from far-off countries came to study diverse subjects. Many scholars have said that India culturally conquered and dominated China for 20 centuries without sending a single soldier across the border.

However, invasions and colonial rule destroyed these institutions and robbed them of their core competence. People were systematically degraded to lower levels of existence. By the time the British left, India was at its nadir. Now, it has the challenging task of rediscovering itself and become a knowledge superpower by 2020. For this India first needs to transform itself into a knowledge society. Let us see the genesis of such a society, its characteristics and how India can transform itself into a knowledge power.

The importance of knowledge
Knowledge has many forms and is available at many places. It is acquired through education, information, intelligence and experience. It is available in academic institutions, libraries, research papers, seminar proceedings, organisations, workers, managers, drawings, process sheets and shop floors.

Knowledge, though mainly associated with education, comes also from learning skills such as those possessed by artists, artisans, philosophers and saints. There is an abundance of unorthodox, earthly wisdom in our villages and even in our folk songs.

Knowledge has always been the prime mover of prosperity and power. The acquisition of knowledge has therefore been the thrust area throughout the world, and knowledge society can be the foundation for building a developed India.

During the last few centuries, the world has undergone several social transformations. First there was an agricultural society where manual labour was the key factor and economic growth was dependent largely on agricultural products. With the advent of the industrial revolution, economic progress was propelled largely by technological development leading to machines replacing human resources.

India could not fully reap the results of the industrial revolution as the nation was ruled by foreign powers. However, licensed industrial institutions did emerge. This society added value to its products through explicit knowledge, which is technology, to produce industrial products that led to the economic growth of nations. Thus management of technology, capital, and labour provided the competitive advantage to bring about this transformation in economic growth.

The world today has already moved into an information society. This society derives its economic growth by further value addition to the explicit knowledge through networking. Connectivity and software products are now driving the economies of the nations. While tomorrow's world would be one that would recognise knowledge in its most comprehensive form and add further value to products through innovative knowledge-intensive products/services in a networked ambience. It is these knowledge products that will contribute to the economic growth of nations.

The knowledge society
Nations build themselves into knowledge societies by understanding the dynamics of knowledge and transforming it into wealth.
n The knowledge society uses knowledge through all its constituents and endeavours to empower and enrich its people.
n It uses knowledge as a powerful tool to drive societal transformation.
n It is a learning society committed to innovation.
n It has the capacity to generate, absorb, disseminate and protect knowledge and use it to create economic wealth and social good for all its constituents.

A knowledge society is driven by societal transformation and wealth generation. The societal transformation is built on education, healthcare, agriculture and governance. These will have to lead to employment generation, high productivity, high industrial growth, empowerment of weaker sections, networked and transparent society and rural prosperity.

The Planning Commission had formed a task force to evolve action plans for transforming India into a knowledge power. The team has identified wealth generation as a key task, which has to be woven around national competencies. It also identified the following core areas that will spearhead our march towards a knowledge society: Information and communication technology, biotechnology, weather forecasting, disaster management, tele-medicine and tele-education, technologies to produce native knowledge products, service sector, and infotainment (an emerging area resulting from the convergence of information and entertainment). These core technologies, fortunately, can be interwoven by IT.

Hence, multiple technologies and management structures have to get integrated to generate the desired knowledge society. It has to be recognised that the difference between an IT-driven society and a knowledge-driven society is the role of multiple technology growth engines. Having carved a niche for itself in IT, India is uniquely placed to transform itself into a knowledge society. The foundation for a knowledge society is the societal transformation, which demands transparent governance.

While a knowledge society has a two-dimensional objective of societal transformation and wealth generation, a third dimension emerges when India has to change into a knowledge superpower-knowledge protection. The knowledge superpower status brings in its wake a tremendous responsibility to strengthen intellectual property rights and protect our vast biological and microbial resources. Our ancient knowledge and culture should be protected against multiple attacks launched from many directions.

Thus a knowledge superpower has to focus on two important issues-economic prosperity and national security. Our communication network and information generators have to be protected from electronic attacks through surveillance and monitoring and building technologies to handle such attacks. Thus the core requirement for knowledge protection is two-fold. There should be a focused approach on intellectual property rights and related issues and major private sector initiatives in the area of technology generation for information security.

Evolving suitable policy and administrative procedures, changes in regulatory methods, identification of partners and most importantly, creation of young and dynamic leaders are the components that have to be put in place. In order to generate wealth, which is the second component for establishing a knowledge society, it is essential that simultaneously a citizen-centric approach in shaping business policy, user-driven technology generation and intensified industry-lab-academia linkage have also to be established. Such a system would involve a network of firms, knowledge producing institutions, bridging institutions and users in a value addition-creating production chain leading to innovation. It is only through the process of innovation that knowledge is converted into wealth.

The first area which needs to be improved is literacy. In certain situations new ways of giving education have to be thought of, such as tele-education and open schools and universities. Another important area is health care. Modern methods like tele-medicine can be applied for treating patients in remote areas.

The role of IT
IT and communication can help in a big way in the transformation process. Besides education and health, IT can also help in agriculture and in providing rural connectivity. For instance in the rural areas, reducing knowledge gaps and increasing knowledge sharing among the farmers are essential steps which are possible by the application of IT.

Empowering farmers with relevant timely information about different crop varieties can significantly reduce farming risks. Geographic information systems can make such information available more widely in rural areas through the hub-and-spoke model of information dissemination.

Improvements in agriculture can help unleash a virtuous cycle of benefits such as increased food availability, higher incomes in rural and urban areas, improved health and nutrition and sustainable management of human resources.

In rural areas proper physical connectivity is required. This can be done by providing urban amenities in rural areas. A model which can be thought of is an annular ring-shaped town connecting 10 to 15 villages resulting in decrease in transportation and waiting times and having access to all facilities like schools, hospitals, Internet kiosks, etc. Besides physical connectivity, such a cluster has to be equipped with electronic and other knowledge connectivity which will finally lead to economic connectivity.

IT can bring a major transformation in various sectors but it can only be effective if connectivity is provided in both rural and urban areas by adapting the latest technology like wireless in local loop, strengthening of optical fibre cables and improving and adapting convergence in communication technologies. IT can also bring about improvement in governance by improvement of the methods used to benefit citizens.

One challenge for anyone who deals with government agencies is their sheer complexity. There is now an increasing awareness in Central and state governments to bring in functional agencies that could facilitate one-stop shops for all the citizens' needs. Persons in this one-stop shops may themselves have to do much coordination within the complex systems. Modern IT tools help accelerate such coordination. Eventually, it can reach real-time capability as has been achieved for railway reservations.

The future challenges in information technology include issues related to software security. Open source codes can easily introduce users to build security algorithms in the system. Indian software industry still seems to believe in proprietary solutions. Further, because of the spread of IT which is influencing the daily life of individuals, any small shift in the business practice involving these proprietary solutions would have a devastating effect on society. It is precisely for these reasons that open source software has to be built which would be cost-effective and would provide the necessary security.

The core strength and the development pattern will vary from country to country. Depending on the situation, the type of training/education and infrastructure required to sustain a knowledge society has to be decided. Since knowledge of all types will be the engine of growth in such a society, it becomes necessary to manage this knowledge at the national level.

Nationwide knowledge management involves setting up of infrastructure, processes, policies and practices which will lead to an environment where knowledge creation is encouraged, nurtured, rewarded and finally exploited. Our science and technology, fiscal, trade and industrial policies have to be evolved based on our strengths, weaknesses, environmental threats and opportunities.

The strategies involved in knowledge creation, knowledge exploitation and knowledge infrastructure will finally lead to wealth generation and improvement in national economic indicators. The strategies, as mentioned earlier, are preserving knowledge through knowledge networks, human resource planning and development, promoting venture capital and national and international market development, selected technology acquisitions, and infrastructure development.

Assessing the extent of development in a knowledge society requires the development of an index, which can be called the knowledge development index to measure the level of knowledge creation, absorption, dissemination, protection and application.

For example, creation of knowledge can be measured in terms of the number of research papers published, dissemination can be linked to the density of newspapers, etc. Such an index, besides providing information, would provide a feedback for introducing necessary correctives.

The great resource
In the 21st century, knowledge is the primary production resource instead of capital or labour. There will be a shift from the molecule-centric agricultural era to the electron-centric knowledge era. The efficient utilisation of knowledge alone can create comprehensive wealth for the nation in the form of better health, education, infrastructure and other social indicators. The ability to create and maintain the knowledge infrastructure, develop knowledge workers and enhance their productivity through creation, and nurturing and exploitation of new knowledge will be the key factors in a nation becoming a knowledge superpower.

As the world transforms into a knowledge society, India has the tremendous advantage due to its core competence in certain technologies including IT, vast natural resources and above all, 300 million ignited youth. This strength must be harnessed fully for the transformation of society. This will be a beautiful India, prosperous India and happy India.


Know-how to grow
Knowledge could be used not only to advance businesses but also the economy


The age-old levers of competition-labour, capital and land-are being supplemented by knowledge, and the most successful companies in the future will be those that learn how to exploit knowledge (about customer behaviour, markets, economies and technology) to... renew the way they define themselves, think and operate.
-Former IBM chairman Lou Gerstner

Gerstner's view is today shared by most CEOs. Knowledge is a fluid mix of experiences, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. Knowledge manage-ment is a set of organisational design and operational principles, structures, applications and technologies that helps workers leverage their creativity and deliver business value.

There are three types of knowledge that need to be managed for success:
n Explicit knowledge that is available in through texts, electronic mail, presentations and other sources.
n Tacit knowledge, which is gleaned through interactions, experiences and behaviour, and provides the critical contextual relevance to ordinary information.
n Embedded knowledge, which is the core understanding of the organisation, represented in its products, services and processes.

Represented knowledge, which has a vital bearing on an organisation's strategies and its eventual success in the competitive marketplace, is the summation of all the knowledge types.

The constant innovation in technologies, as well as the evolving knowledge needs in a dynamic business environment, make continuity of efforts in managing knowledge not only unavoidable but even desirable. The benefits achieved by organisations which have attained significant knowledge management maturity, through ongoing integration and continuing efforts to articulate, synthesise and refine the knowledge management process are:
n Improvement in customer responsiveness: This is a logical first outcome of having knowledge available. It has helped many organisations, such as call centres, respond to their customers with more speed and accuracy.
n Increase in operating efficiency: This is crucial in a competitive environment that demands every possible element of cost to be squeezed out of the balance sheet. Availability of relevant knowledge has an immediate impact on efficiency at all levels in any organisation.
n Building compet-encies: A resource or competency is a basis for sustained competitive advantage when it provides value to customers and is difficult to imitate. Building competencies is a more difficult outcome for knowledge management, though the benefits are very high. This involves a large investment in tacit to explicit knowledge transfer mechanisms and can affect competency building in a range of functions that require expertise like maintenance, project management and all aspects of customer handling.
n Innovation: The holy grail for most market leaders. There is a realisation that it is innovation and not quality that builds market leaders in an environment where high quality and low cost are taken for granted by the customer. Firms like Infosys and Wipro have demonstrated the role of knowledge management in fostering an environment of innovation in new economy businesses in India.

A detailed study by IIT Mumbai's School of Management of customer facing functions in various IT organisations showed that there are four distinct types of knowledge corporations:
n Organisations whose successes in getting business have been largely due to either being first in the market with a great product or who have not really established any processes for knowledge capture or dissemination. The ability to respond knowledgeably to customers or acquire new customers with knowledge is lacking and so is the ability to impart knowledge to new employees.
n Organisations where there is some amount of predictability in knowledge sharing at the service delivery level, but has little or no sharing of knowledge sharing within the sales community and between sales and service delivery. This results in generally satisfied customers, but poor replicability of success because of lack of knowledge inputs to the sales force. These are characteristics of early stage organisations that have not instituted formal processes of knowledge management.
n Organisations which have established through a combination of discipline and maturity, an information sharing mechanism by which regular reporting, sales force automation and updating ensure that at least the explicit information capture occurs on a regular basis and is tapped for all customer related transactions. These are characteristics of organisations that have begun the journey to becoming knowledge corporations.
n Organisations which reach a level where both explicit and tacit knowledge is shared between employees across geographies, functions and hierarchies. These are the true knowledge corporations, where excellent processes for capturing, storing, disseminating and using knowledge as a competitive weapon in business are demonstrated at all levels.

The study came up with two conclusions:
1. There is a clear knowledge maturity model that can be developed to serve as a diagnostic, as well as prescriptive tool for any industry/function combination. This model can map and move an organisation through three stages of knowledge: initiation, action and maturity. In each stage of knowledge maturity, the organisation will have to manage the following four factors simultaneously:
n Business process readiness, which is the ability to capture, store, disseminate and use knowledge across its various constituents efficiently and effectively.
n Technology infra-structure encompasses the integration of the organisation's core systems to enable quick access to information needed for effective monitoring and decision-making.
n Human behaviour is a key to the progress of the organisation across various K-stages, and determines people's readiness to move towards a knowledge sharing environment.
n Leadership is the make or break factor in the success of any knowledge management initiative. Many companies are able to move to some level of knowledge initiation, but are unable to graduate to K-action because of lack of continuing leadership focus.

2. Having determined that there are stages for a knowledge manage-ment maturity journey, it can be argued that what works for corporations could also be made to work for societies. Today's knowledge economies are made of various knowledge producing and consuming entities and it should be possible to apply both knowledge management stages and management factors to improve the capabilities of economies.

Today the country gets unprece-dented attention from the business community all over the world and it will need a concerted effort on the part of government, academia and industry to put all the years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom to work for the betterment of the common man.
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