What Next for Knowledge Management?
Development and Challenges
It's common at this time of the year to review the trends from previous
year and make predictions for the year ahead. It is also instructive to
learn from how right (or wrong) you were in the past. Five years ago (I3
UPDATE No. 8) we made the following observations about 1996 developments in
- Large corporations realized that the Internet would not go away and they
had to have a serious Web presence
- The electronic commerce community realized that it needed the Internet as
well as EDI
- The big banks realized that if they did not sort out online payment
mechanisms someone else would
- Major new entrants realized a) that Internet pricing is a different ball
game; and b) you can lose a lot of money if you get it wrong
- Advertising started to take off, but in unexpected ways
- Web sites realized that it was not about 'publishing' but about
'engaging' the user
Most are still valid. In particular, the first and the last attract as much
attention today as they did then. Inexorably the Internet (and intranet and
extranet) are part and parcel of every knowledge management strategy, both
for 'publishing' (packaging useful knowledge for easy access) and 'engaging
the user' (providing facilities for online communities). As far as the
wider KM scene is concerned, some observations we made a year later (see
Knowledge Management 97 issue -
- The importance of verbal communication in the creation and sharing of
knowledge (as opposed to the data or knowledge transfer metaphor). Stories
and anecdotes are a powerful tool.
- The importance of open networks: "webs of collective intellect".
Learning, the use of standard classification schemas
- The application of prior learning and organizational knowledge to
- The interdependency of people - processes - technology; but the crucial
factor for successful knowledge management resides in people and the
Today we note that storytelling and communities are in vogue, and that
cultural barriers are as challenging as ever. In 1997, we also noted
growing interest in and methods for measuring intellectual capital, and the
convergence of learning organization and knowledge initiatives. Both are
still far from mainstream.
Reviewing this (and other earlier I3 UPDATE) material some four to five
years later, several key patterns are apparent.
The Mainstays - More of The Same
Much of the current practice in knowledge management follows the paths set
down by pioneers in the formative years of modern KM during the early 1990s
(and in some cases earlier). These include:
- steady and pervasive growth - into almost every business function and
- the holistic perspective of people, processes and technology - as many
organizations still find out to their cost, you cannot simply put in KM
technical solutions and leave the realization of business benefits to chance
- the knowledge cycle - from creation to identifying, gathering,
classifying, storing, accessing, exploiting, protecting (and many
activities in between)
- conducting of information audits and development of knowledge maps
- the classification of intellectual capital into customer capital,
structural (organizational) capital and human capital - though we're still
struggling how to do it well (see below)
- the need for KM to demonstrate its value to the organization's 'bottom line'
- communities of practice, and the importance of nurturing, and not trying
to manage or control them
- the Internet as an infrastructure for communication, collaboration and
information sharing - despite the dot.com boom and bust (mostly impacting
investors and the pure dot.com companies) demand for Internet based content
and functionality continues to rise rapidly
- the need to root knowledge into its environment and context.
In most of these cases, the practice has become more sophisticated, aided
and abetted by improved technological tools. A case in point is the
addition of discussion group software as a standard module of many document
management systems and enterprise portals.
The Has Beens - Now A Faded Distant Memory
Remember some of these?
- 'push' technology (e.g. see "When Push comes to Pull" - I3 UPDATE No. 10)
- we're now so used to 'pulling' that we resent unwanted intrusions (such
as pop-up ads) on our desktop PC; the most we put up with is scrolling
headlines on part of our display
- disintermediation i.e. information direct from provider to consumer
without intermediaries - it does happen (e.g. information direct to your
desktop rather than via a librarian - see I3 UPDATE No. 8)), but it has not
become the overriding model as was sometimes predicted (as users we prefer
portals and aggregators to make our connections with providers
- the 'knowledge economy' - economists still measure GDP in familiar ways;
governments still worry about the 'real' economy, more so once the dot.com
boom fizzled, so expect the adjective 'knowledge' to be dropped in future
- The Y2K 'bug' - actually many people now say because we worried about it,
we cleaned up and upgraded our systems and thus avoided chaos - it was
mostly a non-event.
The Wanna Bes - Elusive Challenges
- government online (see I3 UPDATE No. 9) - can you vote online, can you
submit a planning application online? Not in the UK, but you can pay your
taxes and TV licences online (governments have different priorities to us!)
- knowledge markets that are thriving (aka. knowledge emarketplaces, B2B
knowledge exchanges) - iqport.com ceased development (see iqport special
edition) and many B2Bs have merged, been acquired or faded away. AskMe.com
now generates most of its revenues from its underlying software.
Nevertheless, these marketplaces are still likely to evolve as significant
in some form or other (see http://www.knexa.com for a
survivor, and showing
potential as a thriver)
- search engines that find what you want! the mainstream search engines on
many websites don't offer the selective searches on metadata or specified
fields (such as author, abstract, title) that are highly appreciated in
traditional information management circles (for an example of what is
possible see the power search at Northern Light
http://www.northernlight.com (Editor's Note: free service discontinued after merger with Divine - Feb 2002))
- expertise profiling (corporate 'Yellow Pages') - while technologies make
this easier, and many companies have made good progress, it remains a
challenge to get most people to maintain and update their entries.
- customer systems that work - for all the investment in CRM systems, we
all suffer from the left hand of organizations not knowing what the right
hand has told you; and voice mail jail seems as rife as ever
- metrics - what is the value of knowledge, which is so context dependent?
how can you demonstrate conclusively the benefits of knowledge management
to a business? how can you develop reliable intellectual capital accounts?
- progress is being made, but seemingly at a snail's pace
- harvesting knowledge from your experts - addressing the motivation and
"what's in it for me?" challenge for those who have knowledge that is
useful to others.
- coping with the email deluge - despite spam filters and rules processing
of inboxes, many of use never feel on top of the incoming flood of email
- the convergence of learning initiatives and knowledge management - we've
been expecting this for many years (see for example I3 UPDATE, KM97
Edition, Nov 1997 - http://www/sk/updates/km97.htm#thestory - but perhaps
its not essential or desirable, though there is now more evidence of it
happening (see I3 UPDATE No. 56)
- the professionalization of knowledge management - although there are
emerging standards and various bodies vying with each other to offer
'internationally validated accreditation', is the discipline sufficiently
mature that there is general agreement on what the profession is and what
makes a good KM career path? in particular, do buyers care a toss?
Expect progress in most of these areas, but the solutions are not clear cut
and nirvana may still be a few years hence.
The Must Haves - Hot Topics for 2002
As we start 2002, there are a number of hot topics that have come to
prominence over the last year or two. Many organizations will invest
heavily in these areas. Quite a few will not get their expected return from
investment. The ones that continually hit our radar screen are:
- Content Management - a hybrid of document management, databases and web
content. The theory is that it makes it easier for contributors to publish
on the Web (or your intranet), to produce a consistent style of output, to
personalize presentation and to deal with smaller relevant chunks of
information. The reality is that some of the software is cumbersome, the
management issues non-trivial, and the tasks of commissioning content,
editing, and developing a cohesive approach usually significantly
underestimated. There is interesting article in CIO magazine Jan 15th -
- Personal Portals - what was once an 'enterprise' portal is now (rightly)
focussed around the needs of the individual - all a person's information
and application needs harmoniously brought together how they want it
arranged on their desktop - mass customization in front of your eyes!
Again, the aims are laudable, but reality and theory are often miles apart.
After all, the enterprise (your bosses) wants you to see things that
probably don't interest you, while those football scores that YOU are
genuinely interested in .....
- XML (eXtensible Markup Language) - this gives you the ability to
structure and add relevance to chunks of information (that's why many CM
solutions use XML), and in theory exchange date more easily between
applications e.g. with your suppliers, customers and partners. However, you
may all use the same words (tags), but if each of you defines and applies
them differently, then we remain in the land of Babel. Common agreed
schemas are essential. Keep tabs with developments on the schemas and
metadata standards in your field. Useful sources are XML.org
(http://www.xml.org) the W3C XML schemas section - http://www.w3.org/XML/Schema
- Taxonomies - hierarchical information trees for classifying information -
like your library subject catalogue. They can help overcome differences of
language usage in different parts of an organization and even the use of
different languages. Traditionally manually intensive, the growing problem
of information overload, means that they are receiving significant
attention. But how do you cope with the evolution of terms, whose meaning
seems to change from one year to the next?
- Automatic (or semi-automatic) classification of information objects -
natural language analyzers, text summarizers and other technology helps to
understand some of the meaning - the concepts - behind blocks of text, and
to tag and index it appropriately for to aid subsequent retrieval. Many
take advantage of the organization's taxonomy. But are machines able to
replace experienced humans such as librarians?
- Telling Stories - no self-respecting knowledge manager can get through
this coming year without telling some good stories - and demonstrating by
show 'n tell the diffusion of key organizational knowledge. The dynamic duo
of David Snowden and Stephen Denning continue their series of workshops and
can show you how (see Events). For a useful overview of the topic see
- Note that several of these hot topics are to do with coping with the
fundamental problem of information overload, and working out ways for
individuals to zero in on relevant information (the precision / recall
conundrum of information science) at one or another phase of the knowledge
cycle - from gathering and classifying it, to subsequent retrieval. Other
hot topics are, of course, the challenges that remain as listed in the
Keep on top of developments in these areas, and your personal intellectual
capital and value (see later article) will certainly rise. To help you do
so, we will feature each of these topics in more depth in the forthcoming
issues of I3 UPDATE. If you have others you would like to add or have
comments on the mainstays, the has beens and the wanna bes, then please
share your thoughts with other readers.
Email: David J. Skyrme
© Copyright, 2002. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News is a joint publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited and ENTOVATION International Limited - providers of trends analysis, strategic advice and workshops on knowledge management
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® Knowledge Innovation is a registered trademark of ENTOVATION International.
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