Sunday, August 31, 2014

What is Knowledge Management becoming?

The world has changed, consumers are connecting, collaborating and sharing information in a new way. What about at work? Where is our knowledge?

Many (most) companies have not caught up yet. 

  • Information is locked in shared drive, emails, team sites 
  • Intranet content is static, and search you cannot find
  • Employees are geographically dispersed. They need to connect (whether it is by email, phone and F2F meeting, online chat, conversation or latest digital tools)
  • Employees and expertise are locked in functional silos, organisation hierarchies. Cross boundary collaboration is not easy and can be political.
My research and professional interest throughout my career has been trying to find ways to allow knowledge to flow within and across boundaries within geographically dispersed global enterprises and institutions. Most people think my role is "to break down silos".

I am enlightened by a CTO who reminded me that silos are created for a purpose. The functional and hierarchical reporting lines (which reinforce silos) are needed to run the business. So no matter how we restructure a company, we need to find ways to connect employees across boundaries based on emerging needs, not just based on organisation structure.

The question is HOW? How do we get knowledge flow across boundaries, and let the knowledge reach the right person at the right time? 

In the past 10 years, I have been knowledge director for 3 different global companies, the senior management all want to improve knowledge and collaboration to increase value for the company. Somehow I begin to roll out social collaboration platform within large enterprises, and as I get close to the business, I touch on all aspects of the business (from sales, to product innovation, HR, learning, etc.) I realise my KM scope has changed. 

Last year, August, I published this book titled social strategies in action: driving business transformation. In this book, I outlined 13 different use cases how the use of social collaboration platform has transformed how work is done, how people share ideas, communication, share knowledge. As I speak at KM conferences and speak with knowledge managers. I got this response "Bonnie, you talk and your book is very interesting, but you are not talking about knowledge management." I am bemused.

I have been a knowledge manager (and eventually promoted to knowledge director) since 1995, I come out of library and information school, started as a cataloguer cataloguing medical books in a hospital library in Hong Kong, and eventually completed my PhD research on information seeking and use behaviour, joined Arthur Andersen Business Consulting to lead the KM program in Singapore/Asia, then move around various industry leading KM initiatives.

In the pass 10 years, although the job title had not changed, the scope of knowledge work has been transformed significantly:

  • I see I am moving away from managing information, content, intranet, categories to managing communities, conversation and dialogue. 
  • I see internal communication and engagement (and even marketing) being put under my knowledge management remit
  • I see I am moving from managing specific knowledge repositories with a clearly define scope and boundaries, from managing a highly centralise intranet to managing an interconnected ecosystem that is organic and constantly changing
  • My work is started to be labelled differently such as creating a digital workplace, building responsive organisation, defining the future of work. 
I wonder what is going on? What is KM becoming? What is my role? What is the role of my fellow knowledge managers / knowledge directors / CKO?

Do you share similar experience? Do you feel the change as I have experienced? More in my next blog post as I further reflect on my knowledge management journey....


Nick Milton said...

Hi Bonnie

My experience was not the same as yours - I started (over 20 years ago) with encouraging dialogue and communication, for example between teams and within communities of practice, and for me this was and is at the heart of Knowledge Management.

At the time I started, I would not have thought of "managing information" as being synonymous with KM. However KM for me has always had two strands - Connect and Collect; Connecting people, and Collecting and synthesising explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge and information are not synonymous; there is a huge amount of information which is not knowledge.


Saqib Ali said...


Well said.

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom

Traditional Knowledge Management and Information Management tools will not synthesize Data into Wisdom. You need people connecting with people, and people centric approach to get that Wisdom.


Bonnie Cheuk said...

Nick and Saqib, Thanks for sharing your experience. As a knowledge management practitioner, I always need to balance the management of knowledge (content, information) as objects AND the facilitation of the flow of knowledge via people-to-people connection. A user-centric KM approach is critical to design relevant "knowledging" environment. With the rise of social media technologies / enterprise social collaboration platform, we finally have the tools that are people-centric rather than document centric. For KM programmes which traditionally focus more on managing information/documents, it is a great opportunity to rebalance and shift the focus to people. For people like you who have already been focussing on people-to-people connection, I believe you will find social collaboration platform as great enabler to what you are already doing, and take it to another level. You will find it easier for your users to embrace the new tools. Unfortunately, many KM programmes out there are not people-centric, and so the move to embrace social collaboration platform becomes a real challenge. More in my next blog. Best, Bonnie