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Filling that ever-expanding reservoir of knowledge-A report on the KMWorld 2000 conference

Despite cynical predictions of death by buzzword, knowledge management is alive and well, thank you very much--just look at the success of KMWorld 2000. From Sept. 13 to 15, 2,900-plus attendees met at the Santa Clara Convention Center to gain understanding and build solutions to their business challenges and opportunities.

Attendance was up more than 60% from last year, and the conference was the first KM event 80% of the visitors had attended. In many of the tracks--notably, content management, e-learning and taxonomies--speakers drew extensive, overflowing crowds. And in the hallways and exhibit halls, delegates were sharing stories, comparing notes and generally building their own knowledge.

Curt Carlson's keynote the first day introduced the premise that exponential growth means that jobs change significantly every six to 12 months. The CEO of SRI International said that an exponential economy requires exponential improvement processes, as well as an active partnership between organizations and their employees. Interpersonal relationships, respect and trust are critical and become magnified in the communities of this type of economy. "It's funny to talk about people in a technology speech," he joked, but he said he has seen repeatedly that respect and trust are the keys to change and growth.

KM: It's the people, stupidAs so many presenters pointed out, KM is all about change, growth and people. The Day One track focusing on KM Strategies was packed and, by the afternoon, was being broadcast into a second room. Speaker after speaker emphasized the critical "people" issues.

One of the most popular presenters was Susan Mohrman from the Center for Effective Organization (CEO), Marshall School of Business, who addressed "Organization Design for KM." A survey conducted last year by the CEO with support from Korn/Ferry identified a number of factors inhibiting KM's progress within organizations. Those factors include time, turnover and distance.

Mohrman explained that when people have too much to do, KM activities will not get done. What's more, many employees are unsure of their organization's business direction or the competencies required of them in the future. Uncertainty leads to turnover, with employees taking their knowledge with them.

Compounding the time and turnover dilemma is the trend in organizations to disperse work teams and develop virtual teams. As soon as people are dispersed, Mohrman said, they focus more on their own work than on sharing what they learn or know. Yes, they'll use technology networks, but only when those are within their interpersonal networks. People must be allowed to know each other, in person, before they can work effectively using technology and sharing their learning and knowledge.

Hot job of the millennium: taxonomist!Another track that spilled into the corridors and had to be simulcast to extra rooms probed content management and taxonomy. Who would have predicted that cataloging, organizing and indexing internal Web sites and intranets would be the hot topic of 2000? Documentum's Documentum Nazhin Zarghamee, the company's VP of marketing and alliances, gave an overview of the content management process and focused on the issues that ensure quality and timeliness in an e-business environment.

Her talk dovetailed nicely with Alan Pelz-Sharpe's overview of some of the main content management solutions. Pelz-Sharpe, a senior analyst with Ovum (ovum.com), discussed which offerings--from such vendors as Documentum, Open Text, Vignette, BroadVision and Interwoven--most closely approximate an end-to-end solution for organizations. His insights into the whole process were particularly timely given several recent mergers, such as Broadvision's acquisition of Interleaf this year. (See page 12 for content management primer Pelz-Sharpe wrote with his colleague Chris Harris-Jones.)

The afternoon further focused on the specifics of taxonomy creation, maintenance and design. Speakers such as Wendi Pohs from Lotus and Mike Crandall from Microsoft discussed their large intranets and Web sites and the hybrid development of hand-crafted, organization and content-specific taxonomies while using the automation tools as required.

Claude Vogel, the founder and CTO of Semio, informed the audience about automated taxonomies and the various methods to ensure quality while still dealing in a timely manner with the growing morass of information. Each speaker talked about the role of uncovering hidden insights in content as a key result of a well-managed taxonomy. Many agreed that the market is now ready for international taxonomic standards--perhaps developed and maintained in a vertical industry group.

Overall, the entire track paid close attention to the role of workflow and the information supply chain in creating and moving content (and decommissioning content, as well) in the electronic environment. Allen Clark of NCompass presented a session on user-centric KM in content design. He also presented a cogent argument that the relationship of content to users is taking a broader form--the same content that an organization collects and makes available to its employees, partners, prospects and customers can be made available from a central repository using similar processes--knowledge management, customer relationship management, e-commerce and channel management.

Storytelling--the business caseAs children, we learn first through stories. Previous generations have long shared their knowledge to the next through stories. It was no surprise, then, that one of the hot topics for knowledge sharing was storytelling.A brilliant storyteller himself, David Snowden entertained Day Two's keynote audience with his explanation of how storytelling is an "old skill for a new age." European director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management in the United Kingdom IBM Institute for Knowledge, Snowden teaches people how to construct meaningful stories. As he said, "Story is a technique to convey complicated meaning in a simplified format to handle complex situations." It is, however, a highly detailed technique that must be learned and practiced to be successful.

:e-Learning@body:Early developers of the e-learning technology were featured on Friday in another packed-to-the-rafters and overflow session. Experts from Click2learn.com, thoughtSpace, Knowledge360, Danish Probe and SmartForce spent the day showing the early thinking in the growth of learning management systems (LMS). It is clearly an up-and-coming topic driven by the need for organizations to deliver just-in-time learning to a rapidly changing work force--largely driven by demographic changes and Boomer work force retirements. This session combined with another on creating collaborative, virtual work environments gave hints as to what our work and learning space will look like in the coming years. Stay tuned, we're in for another big change!

One of the challenges for any conference is keeping attendees engaged through the last afternoon. Nick Bontis (bontis.com), the wrap-up keynote on Day 3, was a compelling reason

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