Real-world issues in knowledge management were the focus of a compelling array of programs and presentations at the 2012 KMWorld Conference. In addition to the main conference tracks concerning KM strategies and practices, attendees had access to the Enterprise Search Summit, Taxonomy Boot Camp and the SharePoint Symposium. A host of distinguished keynote speakers and panelists offered their insights into KM as it is now and as it will be in the future.
Social networking and collaboration continued to be topics of major interest, with some new twists. In "KM for Customers," a case study describing a portal developed by GE Capital showed that KM can be bi-directional. The application, built on the Chatter collaboration platform, differentiates GE Capital from other financial services firms by providing a repository of specially tailored content along with access to a select group of GE experts.
Customers can ask questions on topics such as developing new markets, managing mergers and team building, and then rate the answers. Meanwhile, the inquiry triggers a message to Salesforce, alerting the appropriate employees to a customer's interest in the topic.
"The application took only a couple of months to deploy," reported Ian Forrest, VP of global marketing at GE Capital, "but we spent nearly a year working on content, experts and taxonomies to make sure the system would be useful and accessible to our customers."
Search remains a core element of KM initiatives and was well represented in the program through the presentations and exhibitors in the Enterprise Solutions Showcase. As much as search has advanced as a technology, achieving the goal of reliable discovery and retrieval remains a challenge.
"People want precise results even as they use broad, general search terms," said Seth Earley, CEO of Earley & Associates. "Or the search function is good but the content needs major work to make it searchable. The key point for the organization is to define exactly what it wants to accomplish with its search application, so that the right organizing principles can be determined."
In his presentation on "The Serendipity Economy," strategist and author Daniel W. Rasmus drew a distinction between industrial age measures of productivity, which focus on predictable outputs and process improvements, versus the creation of value that cannot be defined or predicted in advance but deserves equal consideration. In the same way that having an office next door to a startup can enrich the actions of a more established company through spontaneous interactions between employees, enterprise social networks bring people together in unpredictable ways that can produce dramatic leaps in value as opposed to incremental improvement.
"Look beyond productivity and efficiency," advised Rasmus, "and celebrate the value or even the potential value that comes from these interactions."
A greater number of conference sessions were interactive in nature. In David Snowden's "Design for Intervention" session, for example, participants brainstormed to select an experiment that would offer insight into an issue in the "complex domain," where causal relationships are not readily apparent because the data supports contradictory explanations. Each group designed an experiment to test problem-solving strategies for a business issue (for example, why employees who were retiring were reluctant to share their knowledge with the incoming generation). The process of structuring the experiment and discussing indicators of success or failure helped mine the knowledge of those at the table. Snowden is founder and chief scientific officer at Cognitive Edge.
One of the new approaches to KM is "gamification," meaning the use of games to engage or instruct. For example, an organization might devise a scavenger hunt on the corporate intranet to encourage employees to use a new search appliance. This emerging approach is valuable but needs to be used carefully. Jim Lee, practice leader of APQC's KM advisory services, cautioned, "Not everyone takes to gamification. A lot of advance testing is required, and the games have to fit in with corporate culture. Defining it as ‘activity-based learning' rather than a game is sometimes a good strategy."
Another piece of advice for those engaging users in a corporate KM system through gamification: "You need to start with good KM," said Stephen Kaukonen, senior manager at Accenture. "A game cannot make a bad product good, and in fact can make it worse. Fix the KM system first." But when done properly, applying gaming techniques can be motivating, and can help users achieve mastery of job skills as well as providing some fun.
Numerous presenters provided enlightening descriptions of how they successfully nurtured KM programs in their organizations, and technical sessions on taxonomies and SharePoint offered the nuts and bolts needed to support the enabling technology. At the same time, innovative views of knowledge provided a complementary perspective.
In his keynote speech, "Facilitating Knowledge Sharing," David Weinberger encouraged attendees to break away from old models of knowledge. "Embrace the mess," he recommended. "Gather in all the information and filter it later. Knowledge is a network, not a hierarchy, so welcome the dissenting opinions, and find common ground with others who are trying to understand the world." Weinberger is an author and senior researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.