Some notable observers have declared that “knowledge management is dead,” that it is an old, tired concept that creates little to no value in organizations. This drumbeat of negativity is misguided. On the contrary, knowledge management (KM) has evolved and matters more than ever to all types of companies and organizations.
Roughly 70 percent of the valuation of public companies today comes from intangible assets, and one of the most important assets is an organization’s knowledge. It is the intellectual property created in R&D labs, insights on customer trends gleaned by marketing, new cost-reduction practices found on the shop floor, and the collective experience of the organization’s people. Knowledge workers are creating and discovering knowledge every day, and are conversely also seeking knowledge from others both inside and outside the organization.
Many organizations have mobilized to apply this knowledge to continuous learning and new value to deliver faster growth, more efficient and cost-effective operations, higher-quality products and services, and greater human resource development. These efforts have become more deliberate since knowledge management emerged as a management concept in the 1990s, with organizations of all sizes investing significant amounts in people, processes, and technologies.
Unfortunately, some organizations have not realized their intended benefits from investments in Knowledge Management, with some abandoning their organized efforts altogether. Some business leaders have perceived these investments as not value-added, expressing frustration in many ways:
“We spent millions on a large content management system, but nobody can find anything.”
“Our expensive new collaboration tools go unused, as everyone seems fine using email.”
“Our people say it is a pain to collect and contribute knowledge to the database.”
“We have dozens of KM staff and I don’t know what they do or how they add value.”
This feedback is not isolated,, as these and other examples have attracted the attention of notable analysts and observers, with some writing openly about the decline, or even “death,” of KM. Some actual recent quotes:
“Knowledge management isn’t dead, but it’s gasping for breath…Any chance that this idea will come back? I don’t think so.”
“Knowledge Management is dead, thank God.”
Renewal of Knowledge Management
These fears are misleading. First, the need for businesses to drive results and competitive advantage through Knowledge has never been greater. This is being driven by ever-increasing business complexity, as well as the rapid explosion of new tools and data, while markets demand greater speed and performance than ever. In addition, in more emerging businesses (e.g. Uber, Amazon), “knowledge” is intrinsic to the service or product, putting knowledge at the front line of the business in ways it never was before. These require knowledge to be a central part of the end-to-end business model and cannot be an afterthought.
Second, many of the notable “failures” of Knowledge Management can be traced back to poor design and management of the KM program. A common pitfall is organizations who don’t articulate what knowledge is for their business and people, or the practical business benefits they are trying to achieve. The result is well-meaning efforts that are not aligned with the business’ strategy.
Finally, the concept of Knowledge Management has evolved. Historically, KM has typically been built as a central, monolithic department, with the goal of serving all business groups and all people thru a single set of tools and processes. Unfortunately, in most organizations, this is the wrong approach. The imperative is not to force-fit a single program everywhere, but instead align the right tools and behaviours to the right purpose, across the organization. For example, what works to enhance Customer Service is different that what is needed to improve Quality Assurance.
Businesses now have a wider and expanded set of tools and capabilities to choose from, including Enterprise Content Management, Digital Asset Management, Business Intelligence, Social Collaboration, Enterprise Search, Crowdsourcing, and many others. Each of these need to play a specific (and varied) role across any organization. Going forward, the successful “KM” program may not be a “KM” program at all, but rather good, smart business process enabled by technology.
As a result, we shouldn’t be talking about the “death” of KM, but its renewal!
Learn more. Reach out to Bob Armacost.