Continuing on the series of Knowledge Management (KM) insights derived from recent research sponsored by my friends at Parature, I’d like to focus on a question that constantly comes up in inquiries and conversations, yet gets little coverage: what is the proper place for KM to thrive in the organization?
We have two paths to grow KM in the organization, and they depend on the focus we give to knowledge: internally focused KM projects tend to surround collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 implementations, and externally focused KM projects tend to focus on Customer Service implementations. The approach we take dictates where KM starts being implemented – and usually where it ends, as well.
And this is the problem, not where it starts but where it ends.
There is little question, no matter who you talk to, that KM is necessary throughout the organization. Marketing and sales, the other customer-facing business functions, also need knowledge to grow and expand. Outside of the necessary knowledge sharing necessary to collaborate, virtually every function inside of the organization also needs access to the right information at the right time to succeed.
If this was all that propelled KM to grow (as it has until about five to 10 years ago), it would not be sufficient to expand beyond the original unit in the first place. Until recently budget and political plays were enough to thwart the expansion of KM beyond the original business unit.
However, the advent of social networks and online communities changed that.
We long knew that customers were a formidable source of knowledge that we needed to tap into, but we did not have the proper tools or infrastructure for it. As early as the late 1990s, we documented the use of external communities to power knowledge management successfully. It was, however, very hard to implement, populate and maintain – resulting in low adoption.
The complexity of deployment and management has been solved in the past three to five years by vendors creating better infrastructure to power both traditional KM solutions, as well as social and collaborative solutions, within the same infrastructure. It is now feasible to leverage knowledge in many forms and many formats where it resides, not simply in a knowledge base.
And that changes not only the nature of the KM implementation, but also the placement of KM in the organization. Finally.
Making KM part of an IT infrastructure as opposed to being “owned” by a specific business unit is a far better investment in technology for organizations, but more importantly is a far better way to generate, maintain, and use knowledge. As organizations strive to transform in the coming decade, the appropriate placement of knowledge is critical for this to happen. Whether the knowledge is generated internally or externally, the fact that it is used is far more important that who owns it. For this to happen, organizations must have KM as part of their infrastructure and communities as one piece of it.
This would be just a vision for the future if not for the data collected in other research earlier this year. When asked about the area or technology that customer service practitioners wanted most to invest or focus in the coming year, virtually all of the respondents to different surveys said that communities had the most potential for customer service. Often citing a new model for KM, they wanted to learn how to make both work better together.
Alas, when asked how many were investing in this new model of KM – or even how many knew what to do about it – very, very few had a strategy or a plan in place.
The time has come to make KM part of the organizational approach, not just one or two business units within it. Together with the creation of this infrastructure, we need to make communities an integral part of knowledge generation, maintenance, and usage.
Is this the approach you are taking to KM over the next decade? How about making a KM infrastructure more widely available?
Let me know in the comments; would love to explore those ideas further with you.
Disclaimer: Parature has generously contributed sponsorship to the topic of Knowledge Management together with Transversal, and Intelliresponse. The findings from all those hours of research (primary and secondary) are not influenced by any of them. I appreciate they allowing me to continue my research on KM, but these opinions and models are mine only and none of my sponsors have any bearing or influence in the outcomes and insights. I am very grateful that their contributions allow me to expand my research into KM.
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