Thursday, September 04, 2014

Knowledge management: a journey from 15 years ago....

I started introducing knowledge management to Arthur Andersen Business Consulting 15 years ago under the coaching of the then Global KM Director based in Atlanta, US, I remember we focussed on the following:
- we built best practice knowledge base to enable the consultants to re-use good practices
- we created top down communities of practice
- approved resources were posted up by knowledge managers
- members of the communities were brought together because of their industry focus
- members of an industry segment community were added to a email DL, they received newsletter with latest updates, wins, best practices every week
- KMers role were to cold call partners/consultants around the world to encourage them to share proposals, presentations, and then sanitised them (ie take out confidential info, client names, financial figures) for globale re-use
- KMers were there to understand consultants' information needs, and give them what they want 
- the consultants had limited channels to find information other than the centrally design KM platform (or use their own personal network). At that time, Internet was not as a rich resource as we are today. Consultants rely on good KMers to organize knowledge and make them accessible.

Just over 10 years ago, in 2001, I became the Knowledge Management Director of the British Council. I recalled the KM focus has evolved:

- knowledge management started to move away from building best practices knowledge base and centrally controlled intranet
- static intranet was still an important KM tool, but it was starting to show its limitation
- the intranet navigation was corporate controlled, stable, and required approval to make changes
- for a global company with cross-country initiates to be rolled out globally, the project team need to coordinate amongst themselves, learn from one another quickly, they need collaboration space connected with the intranet
- the role of knowledge managers change from being the approved webmaster, best practice publisher sitting in the centre, starting to help to create collaboration groups, focus on building communities of practice which allow the members to talk and learn from one another
- collaboration tools became common: email DLs, Sharepoint team sites (Sharepoint 2003)
- KMers became community facilitators not only managing content, but facilitate learning, conversation to help members to learn from one another
- knowledge sharing event / communities of practice / After action review became popular

That was the age of collaboration, more specifically, I call it the age of collaboration in silos because:
- it was difficult then to see the connections across communities
- good KMers put in so much effort to try to create vibrant communities, and engage with all the members, with tools such as meetings, phone calls, collaboration sites, intranet
- good KMers became facilitators / community managers, not just knowledge base, intranet or content managers.

About 8 years ago, Enterprise 2.0 or enterprise-wide social collaboration platform enter the picture. Since 2006, I happened to have the opportunity to work with a visionary CEO of the world's largest environmental consulting firm, and then a visionary CEO of a large global bank. I recalled these visionary leaders spotted a gap, they noted the external world has changed so much, but the internal environment has not caught up. There are opportunities to change how we connect, collaboration and communicate to improve how work gets done.

After spending four years connecting all the employees in the environmental consulting company, and transforming how work gets done across boundaries. I took it as a personal challenge to move to a global bank to continue to innovate and fine tune my approach and thinking, this time round, driving business transformation from within a business focussing on business-specific use cases.

This is also the time (roughly about 4 years ago) that a few other banks are starting to invest in enterprise social collaboration program to test the water. I noted these programs tend to be led by the communications team or IT team, and not business-led.

The technology is so disruptive that initially, managers and employees have no idea how they use the shiny new tools. I remember:
- intranet managers wanted to replicate traditional intranet on the new platform, wanting the same level of control, taxonomy structure
- communications managers asked for creating default setting when they can force email notification to all employees worldwide
- users and community managers had lengthy discussions as to where a document should sit, is it more appropriate to be in Community A versus Community B (not aware that a document is associated with an individual employee in this new world).

Soon we realised that this is a totally different world.  The control, the habits, the processes, the tools (especially email) we have grown used to at work have to evolve/disrupt if we want to put our employees at the center of this new ecosystem.

Knowledge managers started to realise the power of social collaboration platform, ie:
- individual employees are in the driving seat (the knowledge manager as an intermediary function to manage content fades away). We cannot manage all the content, organize and tag them all. Employees can share, can tag and decide what to follow and subscribe to. They can search themselves at the time they need information.
- Content, communciation, community, collaboration converge in context, they cannot be handled separately if we want to give a holistic experience to the end users. 

Fellow KMers, should we be worried: do employees still need KMers to anticipate their needs and bring the updates to them? should we be celebrating: do we finally have an opportunity to take the flow of knowledge to another level? If so, how?

It is time to rethink our role, why companies need us, and how can we create value? Are we designer of a knowledge ecology? Or are we gatekeeper of approved content? Where should we focus? Fellow knowledge mangers, what do you think?


Knowledgable 1 said...

My first encounter with the term knowledge management was in an article in P/C Computing magazine in 1989. I've been a #kmer for 25 years.

Simon Carswell said...

I think that's a great little historical summary of the evolution of KM over the last 15 years. However, not all organisations have evolved at the same rate. Yours have been somewhat in the vanguard, I think. I'm still coming across organisations that are at the earlier stages. So concentration on content provision & organisation/ QA is still an area in which KMers can work, and I suspect may be so for some time. It can be furstrating though to know how much further things can be taken towards Enterprise 2.0 without it be ing possible to do it in practice, becasue the organisation isn't ready for it.