I3 UPDATE / Entovation International News

a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda

No. 57 January 2002





David J. Skyrme


David Skyrme Associates


Contents - Next Feature - Knowledge Digest


What Next for Knowledge Management?
Development and Challenges

David J. Skyrme

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 the Internet:

  • 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 - http://www.skyrme.com/updates/km97.htm#ke ythemes) were:

  • 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 decision making.
  • The interdependency of people - processes - technology; but the crucial factor for successful knowledge management resides in people and the organizational culture.

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 geographic location
  • 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 - http://www.cio.com/archive/011502/et_art icle.html
  • 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 http://www.stevedenning.com/learn.htm.
  • 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 previous section.

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 and knowledge innovation®

® Knowledge Innovation is a registered trademark of ENTOVATION International.



Knowledge Management: Has It Peaked?

Will The Real Knowledge Management Please Stand Up?


Knowledge Management 97 on Skyrme.com




W3C XML schemas section

Overview of KM Story Telling at Stevedenning.com


Customers: a new twist on knowledge management

Dot com winners and losers

Virtual teaming and virtual organizations: 25 principles of proven practice

Measurement myopia; those who measure and those who act

Portal power: gateways or trapdoors?

Creativity is not innovation

Virtual trust

China: accepting the knowledge challenge

Innovation action for Europe