The Future of Knowledge Management

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Nov 6, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)

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©

Dave Pollard, October

2003









The Future of Knowledge
Management

DISCUSSION PAPER





This paper is the result of discussions with
many KM leaders about the current quandary
of the KM discipline, and how

social software

,
weblogs, and the perceived need for
improvement in fron
t
-
line worker productivity
could present KM leaders with an opportunity
to

reinvent


the discipline and make it much
more valuable. Opinions expressed are the
author

s and not those of his employer.

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©

Dave Pollard, October

2003


The writing is on the wall for Knowledge Management, on
ce the darling
of business schools and business gurus, and the fastest growing area
in Management Consulting. The evidence is everywhere:


budgets for KM have been slashed everywhere, and whole KM
departments eliminated


many companies are now trying to
outsource KM, no longer
viewing it as a core competency


where at one time six of the top 10 best sellers at Books for
Business were about KM, now very few KM titles even crack the
list


writers are starting to predict

the death of KM

, lament

where
di
d KM go wrong


and even decry

the autism of KM



there are now fewer Chief Knowledge Officers in Fortune 500
companies than there were five years ago


half of the KM conferences scheduled in the past year in Toronto
were cancelled for lack of interest


The concept was a good one. There is no question that most
organizations, especially large ones, do a poor job at managing their
intellectual capital, and that this capital provides an increasingly
important part of organization
s’

value. Desktop and laptop

computers
have become ubiquitous in business, but the return on this investment
generally ranges from unmeasurable to unsatisfactory. The
expectations were that KM would be able to improve


growth and innovation in organizations,


productivity and eff
iciency (reflected in absolute cost savings),


customer relationships,


employee learning, satisfaction and retention, and


management decision
-
making.

It has arguably failed on all counts.


The reason for this failure was the unrealistic expectatio
n that human
organizational behaviour could be changed, in all kinds of positive
ways, by persuading people of the wisdom of capturing, sharing and
archiving knowledge. Unfortunately, people only change their
behaviour when there is an overwhelmingly compe
lling argument to do
so (not the

leap of faith


on which much of KM was predicated), or
where there is simply no alternative. Before KM, the way in which
people shared knowledge was person
-
to
-
person, just
-
in
-
time, and in
the context of solving a specific
business problem. A decade later, that
is
still

the way most people share knowledge, even in the

Most
Admired Knowledge Organizations

:


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©

Dave Pollard, October

2003


growth is achieved by better selling techniques and beating or
buying competitors;


innovation is achieved by listen
ing to customers articulate
business needs and developing creative solutions that address
them;


productivity improvement is achieved by downsizing and
outsourcing

non
-
core
-
competency


activities;


customer relationships are improved by increasing

face
-
time


with customers.


employee learning is improved on
-
the
-
job, learning one
-
on
-
one
from those doing the job now, and by making mistakes;


employee satisfaction and retention is improved when bosses
invest in one
-
on
-
one face
-
time with employees and of
fer them
interesting assignments, responsibility and promising career
opportunities; and


decision
-
making is improved when management and front
-
line
people know their business, know their customers, know the
business environment, and apply this knowledge
intelligently.


In all of these things, personal
knowledge

of the market, the
business, and customer and employee wants and needs

is essential
to success. But in none of these things has Knowledge Management
proven to be either a critical element or a key
differentiator. It has not
demonstrated any competitive advantage to the organizations that
have invested in it.


What, then, is the value proposition for KM, if there is one at all? The
answer to this question lies in the Peter Drucker

s assertion that th
e
greatest challenge to business management in the 21
st

century is, and
will be, improving the personal productivity and effectiveness of front
-
line workers doing increasingly complex and unique jobs.

Unlike the
work world of the last two centuries, most e
mployees today either
come into their jobs knowing more than their boss about how to do it,
or quickly acquire such superior knowledge from their peers and from
personal experience on
-
the
-
job. Every job today, every process, is
unique, and therefore the ex
pectation that KM systems could capture

best practices


and

success stories


and

lessons learned


that could be
reapplied by others again and again was unrealistic.


I believe that if KM hopes to save itself from imminent extinction, it
needs to acknowl
edge and act upon the truth of Drucker

s assertion
above, and the following two principles that reflect what

improving
personal productivity and effectiveness of front
-
line workers


means
with regards to
knowledge:


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Dave Pollard, October

2003

1
1
1
.
.
.



Knowledge is most effectively and effici
ently conveyed to front
-
line workers by other front
-
line workers or outside experts, one
-
on
-
one, just
-
in
-
time, and in the context of solving a specific
business problem.


Implication
A
A
A

for KM: Emphasis should be on capturing
specialized know
-
who
, i.e.
the granular identification of
experts inside and outside the organization whose expertise
can be quickly brought to bear to solve specific problems, and
the best means of contacting those experts just
-
in
-
time. The
tools that do this are called Expertise F
inders (see Appendix
1), and they are one category of a newly
-
developed collection
of software applications called Social Network Enablement
Software (or

Social Software


for short).


Implication
B
B
B

for KM:
Know
-
what

and even
know
-
how

in
centralized rep
ositories should therefore be de
-
emphasized,
since it is hit
-
and
-
miss and impossible to contextualize,
except in very prescribed situations. In those prescribed
situations (e.g. call centre automation), it should be filtered
and embedded in expert systems
to make its re
-
use effective
and efficient.

2
2
2
.
.
.



Front
-
line workers have a large array of tools and technologies
at their disposal, but rarely know how to use these tools and
technologies competently, and when they do, they often find
that these tools and techn
ologies force them to think and work in
ways that are not intuitive to them, interfering with rather than
helping their work effectiveness.


Implication
C
C
C

for KM: The best use of

knowledge
professionals


is working in tandem with (or even as part of)
t
he organization

s IT professionals, devoting the bulk of their
time to scheduled, one
-
on
-
one

personally productivity


sessions with front
-
line workers to improve these workers


competency with worktools, and ability to do their own
research & analysis.



Implication
D
D
D

for KM: A related challenge to personal
productivity is
personal content management
, the capture,
organization, recall and dissemination of documents,
messages and other personal knowledge in an intuitive,
transparent, automatic,
personally

customizable

and simple
manner. There is a new class of tools that achieve this
objective, called weblogs (a kind of publishable personal
electronic filing cabinet


see Appendix 2). KM could play a
critical role in the introduction of weblogs to organiza
tions.
KM could also be involved in the development of
knowledge

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Dave Pollard, October

2003

mining tools

(another category of

Social Software

) that
would work with Expertise Finders to identify experts. These
mining tools would also allow workers (with the appropriate
permissions)

to

browse

, peer
-
to
-
peer, an expert

s weblog
(like browsing through his filing cabinet) as a surrogate or
proxy if the expert him/herself was unavailable or too costly
to involve in the project.


Implication
E
E
E

for KM: The new Value Propositions for KM t
hen
become (a) improving personal effectiveness of front
-
line
workers (allowing them to do more, and more productive,
work in less time), (b) improving personal connectivity of
front
-
line workers (allowing them to draw on, acquire and
employ new and improv
ed competencies and networks), (c)
reduce personal travel costs (allowing these funds to be
deployed elsewhere, freeing up time for other personal and
work
-
related activities, and allowing

virtual


participation in
valuable but previously
-
unaffordable dis
tant conferences and
learning events), and (d) as a consequence of the above,
dramatically increase ROI on management

s investment in
technology and knowledge resources. Measuring the success
of KM will therefore entail developing new yardsticks for these
four value propositions.



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Dave Pollard, October

2003

For most organizations that have invested heavily in KM, this would
represent a radical change. This table contrasts the current and future
KM functions.


Function

Current State

Future State

Note on
Roles

Research &
Analysis

May

be part of KM
business unit or
split among other
business units.

Researchers will
provide personalized
training in how to do
research and analysis
yourself; and will do
less research
themselves.


Intranet &
Extranet
Architecture
Development &
Management

Centrally
-
managed
tools and
repositories and
publishing and
permissioning
environment.

Personal weblog
-
based

world of ends


architecture; anyone
can publish, anyone can
subscribe, peer
-
to
-
peer
browsing, expertise
finders, knowledge
mining and other

socia
l
software

; Centrally
-
managed expert
systems where
processes are
prescriptive; Extranet is
an extension of the
Intranet, with different
permissioning
protocols.

Conversion of
existing Intranet
& Extranet to new
Weblog
-
based
architecture will
be a major on
e
-
time project;
development of
social software
applications and
expert systems
will be ongoing

Community of
Practice (CoP)
Management

Usually centrally
-
managed support
function.

Self
-
managing
communities and self
-
managed community
tools and spaces
(anothe
r

social
software


category).

CoP facilitator will
be part of the
CoP itself rather
than a central
function

Database
Purchasing &
Subscriptions

May be part of KM
business unit or
split among other
business units;
fixed price site
-

licenses negotiated
in
advance plus
pay
-
as
-
you
-
go
services.

External databases and
resources are
subscribed to and
accessible individually
the same way internal
weblogs are, with
automatic tracking for
volume rebate
purposes.

Gradually
diminished need
as external
vendors move to

automatic RSS
subscription basis

Knowledge
Training,
Communication &
Content
Management

Centrally
-
developed
curricula, web
-
based learning
tools, e
-
newsletters
& content
management
P
ersonal, one
-
on
-
one
scheduled training;
each front
-
line worker
selects their own
taxonomy, organization
and access
Big shift from
development and
running of
courses and
communications
to one
-
on
-
one

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Dave Pollard, October

2003

architecture; users
are trained in
taxonomy,
database layout and
access.

(permissioning).

personal,
scheduled
training


Bottom lin
e: No change in headcount or basic KM functions but a huge
shift in roles, from responsive help
-
desk services to proactive personal
one
-
on
-
one services, and major decentralization of architecture,
content, subscribing and publishing to the individual deskt
op. The
benefits to management: (a) better return on technology & knowledge
investment, (b) valuable understanding of what front
-
line workers
need to do their jobs more effectively, and aren

t getting, and of
course (c) happier, more productive staff.


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Dave Pollard, October

2003

App
endix 1: How an Expertise Finder Works

(Inter
-
organizational Future State)










































It tells you that the R&D department of your company has some information on tax credits on their
team blog, which they've posted to the R&D Community of Practice intranet site. It also tells you that
Jan has access to this intranet site, and that this intranet site subscribes to Jan's Tax Credit blog
category. It also identifies two other people at the accounting firm that have expertise on this topic,
since Jan is unavailable, and a customer of both y
our company and your accountant, who outsources
his R&D to your company and qualifies for a 'flow
-
through' of the Research Tax Credit and hence is
very knowledgeable about how these credits work. And a supplier who sells a Tax Credit Analyzer to
your accou
ntants, and a tax credit expert advisor to your accountants who, it turns out, went to high
school with you and might cough up the knowledge you want for free, are also identified.


So you have lots of alternatives. In Jan's absence you can phone or e
-
mail

or IM any of six other
identified experts, or subscribe to their blogs, or buy the Tax Credit Analyzer yourself (knowing your
accountants thought it good enough to buy), or tap into the R&D group's CoP tool or the accountants'
extranet. Problem solved.

You are the CFO of Company Y, depicted in the lower right corner of this chart. You need to find
out about a proposed change to the tax code for R&D Tax Credits. Before Social Network
Enablement (SNE) software, you would have typed the term into th
e intranet search engine,
checked the public CCRA/IRS website or some purchased tax service your company buys, or just
picked up the phone and called Jan, your accountant who works for Company X. Alas, Jan just left
on a three
-
week vacation. Since you've i
mplemented SNE software, however, it’s easy. You key
the term into your Expertise Finder and up pops the picture below.

As you expected, Jan appears
as one of the experts. This Expertise Network diagram shows all and only the experts and
connections relat
ed
specifically

to the subject of R&D Tax Credits.




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Dave Pollard, October

2003




























Recap: With Social Software:



The entire issue of centralized
content collection and management

goes away.
Everyone does
their own.



The intranet becomes a
people
-
to
-
people connector

instead of a content repository, a
'link
harvester'
, scanning all traffic across it and dynamically identifying connections to people and
their knowledge. New tools would be needed
to allow such functionality.
These would be
Social Software tools, not KM tools.



The intranet architecture begins to look more like that of a telephone switch than that of a
DBMS. It gets very skinny. There are
no central databases
.



Each individual's subs
cribable, personally
-
indexed weblog becomes a
surrogate or proxy

for
the individual when s/he's not available personally.



Organizational
boundaries become irrelevant
. It doesn't matter whether the person you are
sharing with is a work colleague, a supplier
, customer, friend or advisor, an individual or a
team, inside or outside the company. You share what you know with those you trust, period.
Security

would hence be provided at the individual level, not managed by the enterprise. The
Appendix 2: Layout of a Weblog


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Dave Pollard, October

2003

same way employees kno
w what hard
-
copy documents can be shared with whom, they set up
‘subscription’ access to their blog categories correspondingly


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Dave Pollard, October

2003

Appendix 3: Other Voices Chime In


Intel's IT organization has recently reorganized itself to combine the
knowledge management,
collaboration and personal productivity
groups. Called eWorkforce, the group supports knowledge worker use
of PCs, laptops, cell phones and PDAs. The primary goal is to develop
integrated solutions for knowledge worker processes

e.g. arranging
and conducti
ng an asynchronous meeting or managing a project. While
I believe it's a great step forward to integrate devices and support
organizations, I'd argue that to make real progress in knowledge
worker productivity, we need to disintegrate the target audience.
All
knowledge workers aren't alike



I'm more confident than ever about the importance

and the
difficulty

of addressing the topic of knowledge worker productivity.
Just remember: It's the Next Big Thing, and you heard it here first.


--

Tom Davenport, CIO
Magazine, Oct. 2003



The fatal flaw in thinking in terms of knowledge management is in
adopting the perspective of the organization as the relevant
beneficiary. Discussions of knowledge management start from the
premise that the organization is not realiz
ing full value from the
knowledge of its employees. While likely true, this fails to address the
much more important question from a knowledge worker's perspective
of "what's in it for me?". It attempts to squeeze the knowledge
management problem into an i
ndustrial framework eliminating that
which makes the deliverables of knowledge work most valuable
--
their
uniqueness, their variability. This industrial, standardizing, perspective
provokes suspicion and both overt and covert resistance. It also starts
a cy
cle of controls, incentives, rewards, and punishments to elicit what
once were natural behaviours.


Suppose, instead, that we turn our attention from the problems of the
organization to the problems of the individual knowledge worker. What
happens? What pr
oblems do we set out to solve and where might this
lead us?


Our goal is to make it easier for a knowledge worker to create and
share unique results.


--

Jim McGee, Professor, Kellogg School of Business, Oct. 2003