Knowledge Management is Marching Along

For anyone that ever thought that Knowledge Management is dead, go forth into the blogsphere and watch it emerge anew. Like a Phoenix, it is rising from the ashes and beginning debates over again. It is nice to go back in time at reflect at how things were. It is even nicer to see the concepts that I’ve always thought important being revived as KM again.

KM is Dead, Long Live KM!

Everyone knows that KM died. The term became a very scary thing for executives to hear. It meant money and time gone. It meant undelivered promises. It did, and still can with the wrong approach. Let’s start simply with what is Knowledge Management.

Knowledge Management isn’t the Management of Knowledge. That just sounds nice and fits well with all the other buzzwords from the 90s. It is a means of capturing an organizations knowledge and allowing others to access it. You capture it so others can find it. Simple. Everything else is details. So lets look at some details on Capture.

What are you trying to Capture? Well, some knowledge is stored in the content of an organization. Other knowledge is distilled in the many structured systems like CRM. How successful projects and teams work is also knowledge. Let’s not forget what is sitting in people heads and shared over a water cooler. I’m sure there are other items as well.

Storing content is easy, and the bedrock of any good KM, Social Media, and many enterprise applications. Content is distilled knowledge from one or more authors. Once Captured, this content becomes potential knowledge for others if it can be discovered. More on that in a minute.

Data from the CRM system, or other enterprise applications, is even easier to capture than content. Capturing how successful projects work requires them to either write lots of things down, or to have them work online so it can be observed and captured. As for what is in people’s head…still manual and difficult. Discussions, wikis, and blogs can get some of that knowledge captured by turning it into easily contributed content. Incentives can help increase that percentage even more. (Forget the carrot though, I work for either cookies or frosty beverages.)

Now that I have “Captured” everything, how to I find it for use? Assuming you had a smart Change Management plan in place and people use the system at all, this is where things fall down. Search engines are stupid. They are smarter than they were 10 years ago, but they have a long way to go. You can remedy this problem with tagging and metadata, but depending on all users to spend the necessary time can be a risky gamble.

Then there is all of that information in the various corporate systems. It is just information until it is analyzed and placed into reports and charts showing trends and usable tidbits. It needs to be easy to access and it needs to be served-up in context with other relevant information. That information can be anything that has been captured. Mash that stuff together.

As for the last two captures listed, that is what good, advanced, collaboration tools can provide. They work much better when other items are integrated into the whole, like ECM behind a Social Media application or eRoom.

The Challenges of Discovery

This is the biggest problem for Knowledge Management in my book. Solving this also led to the older beliefs of what a KM project entails. Taxonomies, hierarchies, and meta data libraries are the tools that were available to use in the beginning. Users understand putting something into a folder structure, they do it all the time. If a taxonomy is well-defined, then users can find content much more readily.

That wasn’t the only factor that was needed for success, but that is the defining characteristic that people remember about KM systems. The collaborative solutions of today, linked with our re-envisioned ECM platforms (plug for ECM 2.0) can provide new approaches to cataloging information. Ratings, recommendations, tagging, and linking can help identify content in such a way that search engines are almost useful.

KM isn’t dead. KM is evolving. Things have continuously evolved in the capture arena, but the advent of Web 2.0 technologies are allowing KM to be reborn into something that is easier to use. Enterprise 2.0 isn’t the realization of Knowledge Management. Enterprise 2.0 is the next stage in the evolution of Knowledge Management. (Did I just try and define Enterprise 2.0? I thought I wasn’t going to do that? Oh well, back to the main thought…) Like the introduction of the opposable thumb, Web 2.0 technologies are making KM look around and find new and better ways of using the information that was already around us.

As for the discussion about SOA and Enterprise 2.0, the correlation depends. If you accept the premise that Enterprise 2.0 is the evolution of KM, the SOA is right in there. Remember, KM needs information from all sources put together in context. SOA allows that information to more readily be surfaced.

Mashups and Knowledge Management is a beautiful marriage. SOA makes it happen.

6 thoughts on “Knowledge Management is Marching Along

  1. I’m still unconvinced… why revive an old term like “Knowledge Management” that has so dang much baggage, and that got so many things so horribly wrong?

    I say start fresh. The “Enterprise 2.0” way to proceed would be to accept that KM failed, learn from those failures, and move onwards.


  2. KM’s failure was a result of too much promising and the technology not being there yet. It still isn’t. I have no problem killing the term as long as people acknowledge that we are trying to accomplish the same goals with newer tools that makes it easier for users to use the system.



  3. I agree that human input (such as tagging) alongside new technologies which take social relations into account are a nice step forward “managing information” (yet another term).
    But I would like to see more innovations in terms of applied technology to make all of this useful. Such as neural networks, knowledge-base methods (like inference) etc.
    Ok, let’s stop dreaming and get back to making search be relevant. Oops.


  4. I fundamentally agree with lopataru – applied technology will eventually yield something that more closely resembles the vision of KM I believe this post espouses.

    Over zealous sales people and management looking for a people-less (read that cheaper) way to run their business is at fault for many of the failures in this space.

    I am concerned though that renaming runs the risk of encouraging people to repeat the sins of the past with nothing more than a different title page on the project charter. The approach has to change with the nomenclature.

    The evolution of the idea is the reintroduction of people into the processing. If that’s Enterprise 2.0 then so be it, but I’m not sure that’s right either.


  5. Lee, excellent point. Renaming it can hide some of the lessons. The lessons learned from those efforts apply everywhere. Technology, by itself, does not solve a problem. It facilitates the solution when the proper analysis is performed. Let us not forget that all IT projects are risky as well, so setting high expectations and depending too heavily on the technology is not a good way to go.

    I don’t think we have to wait for the technology before starting. We acknowledge the current limitations and use what we have now. If a mechanism is put in place to evolve the system, and not have it just sit there, then there is hope.

    We cannot deliver on true KM now. As I said back in 2001, my kid will sell your company that solution. He is four. What we can do is leverage Enterprise 2.0 to get us to the closer to the true vision and allow people to better capture and share institutional knowledge/information.

    I’m going to have to write another post on this one I think.



  6. Lisa McIntyre says:

    I think a name change would be good if it incorporated the perceived issues with KM (you mean I need to do something to make it work?!!??). Still paramount to the success of KM is the need for human interaction (as has been noted already). Companies are still looking for that magic bullet that takes the responsibility out of the users hands and allows technology do the work. Because KM 1.0 showed that users either don’t care, didn’t see the benefit, or just didn’t want to take responsibility for KM. Well, we’re getting there (technology taking over) , but not quite. So maybe we could go with something like “I need to share my Knowledge” Management.


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