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Three trends shaping the direction of KM in 2019

This article appears in the issue May/June 2019 [Volume 28, Issue 3]
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If you follow the news and keep up with publications such as this one, you know that “automation” and “AI” are the KM buzzwords of the hour. Vendors and experts alike tout the benefits of automating routine knowledge tasks and using powerful algorithms to recommend content and colleagues based on a person’s role, interests, and current projects.

At member-based non-profit APQC, the benefits of intelligent automation have been seen firsthand by studying early adopters. But when 401 KM professionals were asked last winter about the goals their organizations have prioritized and the tools they’re implementing, the subset aggressively pursuing these trailblazing capabilities was comparatively small. Instead, KM leaders are focused on more incremental technology changes such as transitioning content and collaboration to the cloud and upgrading search and learning management tools. And beyond technology, they are embracing new ways to design solutions, manage projects, and adjust to rapid-fire change.

What KM programs are—and aren’t—focused on this year

As part of its 2019 KM Priorities survey, APQC asked KM leaders and staff about the most powerful forces affecting their KM efforts this year. Figure 1 shows the percentage of respondents citing each trend among the top three that will impact KM inside their organizations in 2019, with the most popular 10 of 21 trends listed.

The data suggests that, despite the buzz around cutting-edge technologies, KM adoption of these tools is progressing slowly. Only 11% of respondents said that robotic process automation, cognitive computing, or AI would have a serious impact on their 2019 KM efforts. The numbers for many related trends are even smaller. For example, 9% are focused on cognitive search and auto-classification, 8% on personalized recommendations, 7% on natural language processing, and 6% on chatbots.

This may seem surprising, but upon closer inspection, these results make sense. KM tech budgets tend to be modest—APQC’s latest benchmarks put the median systems cost for KM around $0.37 for every $1,000 in organizational revenue—so there is limited funding for risky innovation and custom development. As a result, most KM leaders are monitoring the potential of new capabilities and waiting for them to be either integrated into tools they already have or affordable enough to invest in as add-ons.

A majority of the KM programs surveyed are emphasizing on non-technical goals. Top 2019 priorities include honing the KM strategy, identifying critical knowledge so that KM is focused on the right areas, and increasing engagement among end users. And, the two most prevalent drivers of change are not technologies, but rather techniques for designing and managing KM systems and approaches.

TopAgile—a project management approach that stresses iteration, collaboration, and customer centricity—tops the list of innovations shaping KM programs. Nearly one-third of survey respondents listed it among their 2019 guiding forces. A close second is design thinking, a human-centric approach to problem solving that enables organizations to understand user needs, brainstorm ways to meet those needs, and then rapidly test ideas in order to progress toward an effective solution.

Among KM teams that are prioritizing technology, it is the complex move to cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google G-Suite that looms largest. Almost half of the survey respondents said their KM programs are adding or upgrading integrated digital platforms this year, and one-quarter listed this transition among the developments having the greatest impact on their 2019 KM efforts.

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