No. 15: December 1997
Knowledge Communities - Helping Them Thrive
- Information Managers embrace Knowledge Management
- Arrogance or Bluff?
- Working with Knowledge
- Footnote: The Alure of Technology
Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques - An Update
And Finally ... Merry Christmas
Welcome to this, the last issue for 1997 of I3 UPDATE, a free briefing analyzing developments in the networked knowledge economy.
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David J. Skyrme
David J. Skyrme
The notion of a 'Community of Knowledge Practice' has been evolving for
some time. The term 'Community of Practice', emanated out of the work at
Xerox Parc at the turn of the decade, and has been increasingly been
applied in the knowledge management context. For example, Shell uses the term
KMunity (now trade marked I believe) to describe their communities of
practice. Essentially a Community of Practice are a group of people who are
"peers in the execution of real work" (John Seely Brown, Xerox). They are
not a formal team but an informal network, each sharing in part a common
agenda and shared interests. In the Xerox example, they found that a lot of
knowledge sharing among copier engineers took place through informal
exchanges, often around the water cooler. They used a social science
technique called ethnography, also we have found to be growing in use as
researcher and managers strive to understand the nature of knowledge work
in different office settings.
Debra Amidon, a long term strategist in the field of knowledge, recognized
how such a community was evolving around the knowledge movement. She
described it as a Community of Knowledge Practice (see for example, The
Emerging Community of Knowledge Practice, Knowledge Inc. (March 1997) ).
This community is drawing together people from all geographies, all
industries, all functions. The harnessing of knowledge and its use as a
factor in business success is too important to be left to any one function,
such as MIS (management information systems). According to Amidon, each
part of business has their part to play, for example:
- Finance - reorienting the way they measure business performance, taking
account of the intangibles (intellectual capital)
- Human Resources - championing the 'people-centric' perspective of
knowledge management; helping the development of the learning organization
and learning networks
- MIS/IT - helping to systematize the flow of knowledge and the flood of
information; providing the technical infrastructure and tools for knowledge
sharing and collaboration.
- R&D/Technology Transfer - focusing on innovation, and in particular the
process for taking invention through to the marketplace quickly.
- Marketing - drawing in knowledge from the market, and especially
customers, constantly monitoring the environment, and leveraging that
intelligence and their organization's distinct competencies to create new
market positions (or even, as we have seen in several cases, totally new
These are just some examples of how different specialisations and skills
converge and collaborate around the knowledge agenda. In analyzing
developments over the last year, we have seen a kind of 'roll out' of the
knowledge focus around geographies, industries and functions. While we
should beware of oversimplification, it has happened something like this:
- Geography - First. in the USA (and Canada) knowledge management became more explicit and visible (e.g. in seminars in 1995); then Europe (at first
Scandinavia - some would say before the USA, then Holland and the UK, and
now other countries); now we see growing awareness in Australasia and Latin
America, while the Japanese have been quietly practicing their own form of
knowledge management for many years.
- Industries - Not surprisingly the management consultants (who business is mostly about knowledge in any case) have had knowledge bases and knowledge
centres for several years; next other knowledge intensive industries like
pharmaceutical, computing and telecomms, and now a steady progression into
oil/chemicals and finance.
- Functions - While MIS have been active for some time in many companies, HR were often encouraging knowledge management through the 'learning organization route. The information management community (including
information centres/libraries) have jumped onto the knowledge bandwagon
with a vengeance. Others are now become much more active. Still dragging
their heels, not universally, but in many countries and companies, are the
This overall community will grow in 1998 and evolve (perhaps to something
not called knowledge management by the year 2000). However, we must not
lose sight that much of the real ground work is taking place in smaller,
interconnected communities. They may be people who share an interest in new
materials for packaging, or a new techniques for deep water seismology.
These communities (call them networks if you like) are already, and have
for many years, been active within organizations, and across organizations
(e.g. via professional societies, special interest groups etc.).
The challenge for organizations is to support such communities and make
them effective. One potential danger of the focus on knowledge MANAGEMENT
is that a degree of systematization and formality will stifle such
communities. How can knowledge managers minimize this risk?
- Provide facilities that make it easy for them to meet and exchange -
web space, internal newsgroups, mail lists; also physical meeting places
(where tacit knowledge conversion can take place)
- Offer facilitation to help them improve current processes; too often
communities get bogged down in the content, not stepping back and seeing
the effectiveness of their ongoing processes e.g. when enrolling new members.
- Provide connection information - help others who share their interests
apply to join, help them publicize their existence to the outside world
e.g. via community directories.
- Develop effective note taking methods for meetings, articulating the gems
of conversation that often pass too quickly into 'knowledge nuggets', that
can be recalled and shared with those not at the meeting. This represents
the creation of value through conversion of 'tacit' to 'explicit' knowledge.
- Suggest that email discussions be synthesised and edited; this is a
common role for a 'knowledge editor', and represents explicit to explicit
- Respect their norms and value - some may want to remain small and
intimate and restrict membership.
Above all, give them 'space' (physically and metaphorically) to develop
and grow. In summary, this represent the style of management needed in a
knowledge-enriching organizations. Such communities are self organizing,
and the role of management - where it exists - is to provide the
appropriate environment and tools for these communities to flourish, by
providing the context, and using the techniques of facilitation, mentoring
and coaching. You may also find some useful ideas in our "Principles of
Virtual Organisations and Teaming" (see I3 UPDATE No. 11 at
In the wider context, two kinds of community are very apparent:
- global communities of shared interest
- local, geographically based, communities
The Internet is enriching the former, not just through the Web but through
news groups and mail lists (particularly moderated ones to eliminate
'spamming'), not forgetting plain old email (still the workhorse and
highest value use of the Internet). Genealogy provides an illustration of
how they might evolve. As a subject it is being transformed through the
readiness in which different branches of families can compare their
histories and make connections between previously disparate branches. Webs
of 'family knowledge' are being created, with rich interconnections.
Skyrm(e)s (a fairly rare name) are popping up all over the world, and finding their common ancestors (mostly in Pembroke, South Wales and Herefordshire).
Surprisingly, the Internet, while offering global reach to local businesses
(such as David Skyrme Associates) is also helping local communities find more sense of community and a sense of identity in the wider world. Just as in organizations, people just down the corridor email each other, so too this is happening in local communities, with the advantage that more than
two people can share in the exchange and increase collaboration.
Most readers of this I3 UPDATE are participants in the Community of Knowledge Practice (as well as other communities of interest). We encourage you to reflect on how it is evolving, how well it is working and how your
other communities of interest intersect with it. As always we welcome your
insightful comments and feedback to email@example.com.
 Abstract at http://www.entovation.com/info/article1.htm
Knowledge Inc: http://www.knowledgeinc.com
Update - Sept 2002: Read our K-Guide Developing Successful Communities available from our K-Shop.
David J. Skyrme
Information Managers Embrace Knowledge Management
OnLine 97, organized by Learned Information
(http://www.online-information.com) held at London's Olympia Conference and
Exhibition Centre from 9-11 December attracted over 10,000 attendees,
mostly information professionals, representing information (and knowledge)
centres in corporate, academic and public sector organizations. My
immediate impressions/reactions were:
- Information overload - everyone trying to thrust their literature into
your hand; lots of 20 minute presentations, one after the other with little
time to reflect;
- The future role of information centres - as information streams past them
from information providers, directly into the desktops of managers and
professionals across the organization
- The information-centric view (not surprising) of knowledge management
- The pervasion of the Internet, in all products and services.
However, several streams were devoted to knowledge management, indicating
as noted in the previous article, that yet another profession is actively
participating in the evolving Community of Knowledge Practice.
The stance of the online industry to the Internet was particularly
interesting since a couple of years ago, the online service providers were
very dismissive of the Internet (just like EDI suppliers!), seeing it as
either no threat, or cheap and rubbishy. Most, now though have embraced, if
not the Internet per se, the user friendly Internet tools, such as
browsers, so that their information services are Internet enabled, or can
be used on a company's Internet.
However, Danny Wagner, charismatic head of MAID, who have now merged with
Knight Ridder to form the new Dialog corporation, in his opening talk spoke
of 'confused users'. They are confused he says because through the
Internet, they expect lots of information delivered to their desktop at
virtually no cost. He suggests that they are misguided and need educating,
since no one can provide the quality and organization of information that
online providers can. He is right, of course, to some extent, but to my
mind came across as an arrogant supplier (perhaps that is why he has been
such a successful business person anyway!). In my own talk at Online 97
('From Information to Knowledge Management: Are You Prepared?'), I say:
"The worlds of online services and the Internet are already converging.
Users want the best of both world's: the accessibility, universality,
ease-of-use and low cost of the Internet, combined with the structured,
organized and (in some cases) the exclusive information of online services".
Already several services were showing this in practice. I was particularly
attracted by the offering of recently created KnowledgeCite, (by former
Silver Platter employees) that adds a level of searching by fields on top
of the increasingly frustrating free text Internet search engines.
The real threat to suppliers, as other speakers indicated, is that the
rapidly falling cost of packaged information. Using many examples - cost of
electronic encyclopedias, software etc. - one speaker estimated that the
cost to deliver customized industry news, direct to an individual's desktop
will reduce from $20/per seat/per month to just a few dollars per person
per month. At such costs, the business model will change, advertising
forming a significant part of the revenue stream, so that the nature of the
business changes, with some vendors not able to make the transition. The
demise of once strong names who failed to make the transition from text
based command language to Web enabled formats is testimony to this, as is
the panoply of completely new entrants such as Individual with First! and
Desk Top Data with Newsedge.
The online industry is not alone. The fact that Internet transactions and
operating costs are significantly less than conventional methods means that
many established companies in any industry that is to any degree
information intensive (including software, publishing, music, training,
financial services) will have to face competitors who charge a fraction
(say a fifth or even a tenth) of the current prevailing price. If you are
in such an industry and you have not played out such a scenario against
your business model, then perhaps you should!
Perhaps Wagner, rather than educating the confused user, is calling their
bluff, saying they will miss out if they don't pay Dialog's up front
subscription fees. These arrangements, while fine for large corporates who
want to budget their online costs, exclude a growing section of the market
- the end-user who wants focussed information for specific needs on an
ad-hoc basis. Interestingly, even Dow Jones has introduced a pay as you go
There were several streams covering several wider aspects of knowledge
management as we know them. These included:
- Managing Information - the Solution to Overload - the use of intelligent
agents as filters, and a sensibly structured Intranet site (such as Booz,
Allen and Hamilton's Knowledge Online) were featured
- Knowledge Management Strategy - Of particular interest here was Clive
Holtham's notion of a 'knowledge fabric'. He distinguished knowledge
management the fad (which may disappear in the near future) with the
underlying strands of 'deep knowledge management'. The weft of his
framework - information, technology, people and organization - are the most
visible and more easily changeable. The warp - direction, knowledge,
process and climate - are less visible but form the fundamental
- Knowledge Management - The Technological Solution: though in fact, most
speakers were very aware of the importance of non-technical factors. Rob
Welch of Kudos, for example, cited context, mediation, ownership and
elicitation as important aspects of knowledge management.
- Measuring, Marketing and Maintaining the Knowledge Asset - This included
an interesting online demonstration of Skandia's Dolphin system, that lets
managers view in real time the intellectual capital indicators of their
business. Perhaps the most interesting fact to come out was that most
organizations do not have a way to put a value on the services of their
corporate library, and that many do not closely align with business strategy.
Space and time limit a more thorough analysis of the whole conference.
However, one feature was very noticeable - the interest by the information
(library) profession in technology. The session on push technologies for
example, had to be switched to the main auditorium to prevent overcrowding.
Although as several delegates wryly commented; "The technologists have
finally delivered what we've been doing for years - only we called it
selective dissemination of information (SDI)".
Perhaps that sums up the challenge, not just for information specialists,
but other professions being caught up in the technological revolutions and
the knowledge movement - don't sit on the sidelines and watch these
upstarts (e.g. Internet push providers, knowledge managers) take over your
domain. Go with the flow - join them, become partners, and apply your well
honed skills of effective information management, so that you both succeed.
We had planned by now to do a review of tools and techniques that are being
used for knowledge management. This has turned into a major exercise, since
many software suppliers e.g. of document management systems, are
repositioning their products as knowledge management solutions, some with
more credibility than others. Do send details of products (not just
software, but methods used to encourage knowledge exchange) that you feel
should be featured. We will report our findings in a future I3 UPDATE.
A Merry Christmas (or Season's Greetings if you do not celebrate Christmas)
and a prosperous New Year to all our readers.
...May the Knowledge be with You
© Copyright, 1997. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge
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