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Thinking Out Loud – Knowledge Management

Warning: I sometimes often like to use anecdotes from my experiences to illustrate my points.

Note: E-discovery refers to the tools and practices used to automate the review of electronic content for relevance in legal proceedings. This overly simplified definition will be relevant later in this post.

Knowledge Management is defined as [insert your definition of choice], but that’s not what this post is about, nor is it what I’m going to focus on. I will say, though, that there seems to be some overlap between some definitions of Knowledge Management and Information Governance. To be honest, I’m not even certain that what I’m looking at even really qualifies as KM, but it’s the best label we have at the moment.

There are two primary components to KM: 1) Capture/Store; 2) Dissemination. Well, there’s a third piece if you include people. For now, I’m going to keep things pretty simple and practical; I am going to focus on the capture/store and dissemination of knowledge.

Knowledge comes in a variety of forms, from many sources, for many purposes. Within organizations knowledge is used to sell stuff, solve problems, articulate concerns, repair an appliance, put a mint on a pillow, … the list is endless. But, how do we know? We know because we take data and information from myriad sources, we add context and insights, and then we store it all so that those that can benefit can get to it when they need to. We hope. What about the room attendant (I’m using the phrase “room attendant” because I suspect “chamber maid” is outdated and sexist) that fielded the complaint or compliment from the hotel guest? Oh, it’s not digital? Maybe all room attendants need to be equipped with recording devices. Or maybe we need to look at different ways of capturing, processing, and using non-digital information.

All the “stuff” that happens online or gets created digitally can be dealt with pretty … not easily, but if you have the tools and money it can be done. It’s no great feat to capture digital material, add some context (e.g.: metadata tags, process association), and store it in some sort of managed or unmanaged repository. Note that I said nothing about doing it well.

It may be a little trickier to present what’s been captured to those that can benefit from it, but it’s still not overly innovative, yet. A file system with a well-defined folder structure and thoughtful filenames could serve as a “knowledge repository” if you wanted it to. Enterprise search, intranets, and enterprise social networks have helped to push knowledge to those searching for it. Some vendors have also given us the ability to connect with those that “created the knowledge”. Organizations that are secure in their own skin allow staff to connect with external peers/experts in order to collaborate and learn.

Where, I think, some opportunity for innovation lies is in the non-digital exchanges we take part in every day. Whether those non-digital exchanges are part of our own learning journey, whether they’re in the context of serving constituents, whether they’re part of a customer interaction, they happen and we’re losing many of them.

I think we can also innovate (with a small “i”) by looking at capabilities from a different angle and figuring out how else they can be used. For example: can e-discovery technology and practices be deployed for knowledge management purposes? Of course they can. If e-discovery tools and practices can be unleashed against millions of documents to find out which 5%-15% are actually relevant in a legal matter, why can’t we bend things a little and find out what information is relevant to an intellectual matter or customer experience issue?

Regardless of which definition of KM you believe in, or if you believe in KM at all, wouldn’t it make sense to be able to store the details from all those interactions, regardless of how or when they occurred? Wouldn’t the non-digital pieces help to fill in knowledge gaps? Wouldn’t it make sense to connect people to each other in order to know more and teach more?

Several years ago I was putting together an RFP response with a few colleagues (I was working at an SI back then). Between us we spent a lot of hours getting the thing done in order to have it delivered by the deadline. We put together a pretty good response, in my opinion. I have it on good authority that the response was opened, scored low, and never looked at. You see, gentle reader, the issuing organization HATED the vendor whose technology we were proposing. That wasn’t captured in any of our systems (my SI or the vendor), but it was “known”. How do I know it was known? Because the vendor rep told me, after the response was submitted. How did the rep know? Because the rep was told to “never propose anything to us, we think your tools and resources are garbage” by an employee of the issuing organization while having a smoke. That knowledge would have saved a lot of wasted effort (and me chewing out a VP and getting on his poop list) and money, and allowed the RFP responders to focus on things that would have had a chance of providing value. In a case like this the only thing that mattered was the customer’s opinion, and we had no access to it.

The more I think about Knowledge Management, the less I think it really exists as something that can be packaged and deployed in the same manner ERP, CRM, ECM, or any other enterprise type system can be. One of the major barriers is this folly we’ve been on to try and capture and codify the tacit. We can’t. It changes too fast and in ways that can’t be digitized or predicted, no matter how we try. I mentioned insights earlier in this blog; I bet that many of you reading this thought about insights in the sense of analytics. I only half meant that. I gain insights in many ways, most of which have nothing to do with analytics. They come via Twitter exchanges, comments on a conference call, things I read online and off, conversations with my family, … How would I capture these things, codify them, and present them to you and get you to absorb them the same way I did? What I can do is to present them to you and you in turn will absorb and interpret them based on your accumulated knowledge and experiences.

Maybe the key to knowledge management, or whatever it really is, is connections to content and to people. I can look at Salesforce all I want, but if I can’t chat with people that have had prior contact with the client, I’m missing out. Hyatt (Scott and I used this brand as an example more than once – but purely in a fictitious way) knows a lot about my travel preferences, but not that I wanted a room facing St. Catherine Street in Montreal; they knew that because of interactions at the front desk. I’m not sure how Sandrine and the others knew I should be the Mojito contest judge (which Sandrine won) because that is definitely not on my Hyatt profile. Even this blog post was influenced by a connection to a person, who connected me to content, that connected to my experiences, that caused me to spend more than three days working on this thing.

I don’t really know what we should call this KM thing; but I do know that “All of us are smarter than one of us.”


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