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.