Knowledge Management is dead. Long live Knowledge Management!

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My first true contact with the Knowledge Management happened somewhere around year 2005. I was in the content management business, so I more or less knew the basics of the KM, but not much more than that, since my job was focused on the Document Management area.

Almost by chance, I got involved in an internal project concerning the deployment of a Knowledge Management platform for my company, a 2500 employees, multinational software services provider. The company was having trouble capturing and leveraging the projects, accounts and technological knowledge acquired by the teams thanks to years of experience, so new hires were almost starting from scratch and had to build their own knowledge all over again (that was again lost later).

This is when I realized how unbelievably challenging is for a company to perpetuate its knowledge and culture, and that in such a technology dominated era, the word in mouth was still the single most efficient support of the corporate tacit knowledge. Now, of course, KM goes well beyond software and technology, involving a lot of work on the human and organizational aspects, too – education, change management, community orchestration, etc. (see Wikipedia definition for Knowledge Management). But still, the expectation was (rightfully) that the technology would facilitate the work and promote habits change.

My involvement in this project took several months, and during this time I had the opportunity to evaluate software suites, talk with other companies to get feedback on their KM experience, read literature, analyst reports, in short I became pretty familiar with the area. In the end I came to a painful conclusion: the KM is one of those fields where the technology failed its promises. I’m still nauseated when I remember those nightmarish Intranets with half-glued wikis and forums, ultra-complicated taxonomies and content filing rules, and very unappealing to use. They usually took months or years, and big dollars, to deploy, and were never really adopted by the employees.

After I stopped working on that project, I kind of lost touch with KM technologies, although I kept being aware of the need, this time as an user (employee). In my next companies there were different degrees of KM initiatives, typically wikis, mailing lists, and Intranets, but none that worked decently. In the end the only reliable way to get answers in due time was asking around and finding out which one of my colleagues had the needed information, and chasing him/her on chat/email/phone.

Fast forward in current days. The Web 2.0, the cloud, the social revolution passed over the IT world. Not only the Internet has definitely become sexier then ever, but even the enterprise software is changing, too, even if it’s a much slower process. The white elephants are still there, but new generation, lightweight, fun products have emerged, too. (I sometimes think that the “old” enterprise software was designed to be boring and complicated to use on purpose, as if a nice and friendly application cannot be credible for such a serious thing as the enterprise).

Sometimes in 2010 I came across StackOverflow, the online programming community. I was quickly amazed by its efficiency in supporting people’s work by providing accurate and timely answers to task critical questions. Developers actually use it as a work tool! I quickly understood that a new generation Questions and Answers product could be a fundamental piece of the businesses’ knowledge management efforts. It’s so simple and clever, and, big news, it works!

With this idea in mind, I started revisiting the KM landscape to update my understanding of the market. And I noticed a strange thing. Is it me, or the term “Knowledge Management” fell into the has-been category?! If you google it, a lot of the results are old, I mean really old. And the vendors providing new generation KM tools talk about social enterprise, collaboration, sharing, innovation, networking and so on – anything but. Basically, only the traditional vendors are still using the old KM argot.

It kind of makes sense. Maybe it’s not that “Knowledge Management” sintagm has lost its meaning – I still can’t think of a better way to express the notion-, but it’s just too compromised. It rings failure, wrong approach. As a modern provider, you don’t want to be associated with these kind of vibes. Or maybe, it’s too big, too ambitious, too unrealistic to achieve as a whole; better work on smaller, very specific aspects, one at a time.

It is precisely our vision with Quandora. Sure, Quandora doesn’t do everything – actually, it really does only one thing: structure the enterprise knowledge into a task-oriented, easy to capture, easy to access format. And once you have that, you can go very far by connecting to other enterprise resources like wikis, documents, digital assets, CRMs and so on – after all, the big work is to plug in to the people’s workflow. Quandora can be for the employees the gateway to all the organization’s knowledge and resources, inside or outside Quandora.

So, where does this leave me as far as the KM is concerned? Well, it doesn’t really matter how you call it, but I would like to give a chance to those two words, they may come back strong and reborn. Meanwhile, let’s make it four words: Knowledge Management done right.

What do you think, is KM undergoing a fundamental transformation? Have you come across successful KM strategies, and what did they have in common? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment below.
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