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Are we good enough yet?

By Hugh McKellar, KMWorld executive editor

Truman Capote once wrote that "beat generation writers weren't writers at all, rather just typists." In other words, average people performing average, tedious tasks.

How far have we really progressed with KM? A lot of what we talk about in knowledge management is efficiency, human performance, knowledge worker productivity—all as it directly relates to a company's bottom line or new services provided. Billions of dollars have been invested in technology. Entire business practices have been completely revamped--business units created, eliminated or restructured. Head counts have been reduced dramatically.

But I dare anyone to claim this has all been for the good. Who among us doesn't have a voice-mail maze nightmare story?

I think Capote would have called all this simply typing—but I certainly wouldn't regard him as any business prognosticator. Nevertheless, like those beat writers for which he has such little regard, KM is still far from fulfilling its promise.

Accenture just released a study that supports that position, albeit from the perspective of a longtime, highly respected consulting and research firm. If you'll indulge me, I'll point out some key findings from Accenture's "The High-Performance Workforce Study 2002-2003."

As we've known since the early KM disasters, enthusiasm and commitment for a knowledge management initiative must come from the top, the CEO, and he or she must be far more savvy than ever before—even more that a couple of years ago—about what to expect and what to spend. In today's economy, the times of simply throwing technology at a problem are long gone. In today's business climate, people—and how the technology fits them—are the critical factors, not just technology.

And while executives acknowledge the value of a highly developed work force, they still believe it's elusive. Although considerable investment has been made in training, execs are "only moderately" satisfied with the effort. Another problem is measurement—ROI, a term I'm sure was never uttered from the lisp of Truman Capote. Accenture points out that some of these initiatives are actually preventing where and how to best deploy resources.

On the other hand, some executives are finding success, especially as they align their work forces with their customers. They see the value of HR and training activities and are able to measure training expenditures against key business results. That sounds as if some of these enterprises are well on their way to adopting truly legitimate and effective KM practices.

But, again, the question: Are we good enough yet? Is the technology ideally matched to the way people work? Is the work force functioning as an enriched part of a team trying to achieve common goals? Are customer satisfaction indexes growing in double, even triple rates? One just has to look at the study's table of contents to realize the answer is to these questions is no.

Accenture's study is well researched and written. We, on the other hand, are apparently mostly typists howling on the road toward success

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