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Invisible KM

Ever since I was handed the reins of this magazine five and a half years ago, I've learned that knowledge management means a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of different people. I get dozens of e-mails a month redefining it. Some of them are, well, let's just say "intriguing." Did you know, for example that there's a 12-step program for knowledge managers? There is. Really. A "consultant" has developed an elaborate plan that will, if followed precisely, free yourself of the old trappings of understanding and enable you to find hitherto unimaginable business success.

And, Just a week ago, I was offered the chance to give you, wise reader, the opportunity to change your life--but this time you could do it with fewer steps: The centerpiece of "The Five Steps to Knowledge Management" is a revolutionary typing system that uses a keyboard with only five characters. This new system allows you clear your thinking so your mind can work as it was intended. Sounds a little like Scientology, but to this guy, it's KM. Unique approaches to "knowledge management" seem to appear in my inbox every full moon.

A claim that knowledge management can be accomplished with a new, five-character keyboard is surely an extreme (and ludicrous) example of the confusion surrounding the term, but defining KM has always been elusive. If you ask a few different people what knowledge management means to them, you hear a different point of view depending upon whom you ask: "Real knowledge only exists in documents, nothing else matters." Or, "KM really means content management, because content is everything." Or, "True knowledge management is only achieved in call center or help desk applications." Or, "In the business world, KM exists if, and only if, a process can be automated." Then, there are those who will define it even more precisely. They say, "Everyone knows that the only 'legitimate' knowledge management applications focus on the help desk and call center environments." And, let's not forget the dismissive generalists, who say, "There is no such thing as knowledge management, only information management." These are all exact quotes from vendors and analysts.

So, where does that leave us, especially in light our list of Trend-Setting products on p. 22, as well as of list of 100 Companies That Matter in Knowledge Management that we publish each March? How can we properly identify companies and products representing such a diverse universe? And how can we properly serve a readership as broad as that of KMWorld?

I believe those question was best answered and articulated by my colleague and KMW senior writer Judy Lamont. We were speaking with a vendor at a conference earlier this year, and he asked her, "What does knowledge management really mean to you? How do you measure success?" Her reply crystallizes the concept of KM: "Knowledge management should be invisible."

When well-executed, KM does not fall into a specific technology category, it's woven through elegant solutions to problems.

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