Why it’s important to make KM clickable
Having worked together for years, Zach Wahl and Joe Hilger, co-founders of Enterprise Knowledge (EK), a consultancy and service firm focused on knowledge and information management, saw an unanswered need in the market for a “one-stop shop” that provided real-world insight on how to deliver enterprise KM value.
In addition to their nearly-decade-long partnership at EK, the two knew each other for 10 years before starting the company. All that time has given them the opportunity to learn from one another. With their new book, Making Knowledge Management Clickable, they have documented the collective experience they've gained from helping countless customers with KM projects.
Recently, Wahl (top left) and Hilger (bottom left) shared their views on knowledge management and what’s needed for projects to successfully address today’s enterprise challenges.
What are the questions that you are addressing in the book that you feel organizations need to focus on?
The book presents a highly practical, how-to guide for large-scale KM transformations, with a focus on the design and implementation of KM technologies. It doesn’t just talk about KM, it provides actionable step-by-step guidance on every stage of a KM project, from initial strategy (such as benchmarking, business case, user engagement, etc.), to design (including taxonomy, ontology, content types, search hit types, governance, requirements gathering, etc.), to tool selection (such as use cases, feature prioritization, software options, software evaluation, etc.), to Agile methodologies for implementation.
Put simply, it will help the reader be successful at every stage of an enterprise KM transformation, or more specifically, in every phase of a KM system project.
What are the most misunderstood aspects of knowledge management?
The trick with KM as a whole is that it can mean a lot of different things to different people, even within the same organization. For some, KM focuses solely on harnessing tacit knowledge. For others, KM is more about managing digital content and ensuring it is findable. Other organizations make the mistake of thinking that technology alone can “fix” an organization’s KM challenges. In our book, we present a broad definition of KM that encompasses all forms of knowledge, information, and data, and offers a tapestry of solutions across the factors of People, Process, Content, Culture, and Technology.
It is this broad and encompassing definition of KM that, in our experience, yields the strongest business value and is most likely to succeed within any given organization. This definition also allows us to talk about an organization’s knowledge assets holistically, uniting structured and unstructured, tacit and explicit, and business and technology into cohesive solutions that provide measurable business impact.
People often say that DataOps (an approach for operationalizing data delivery) is not something you buy but instead is a methodology composed of people, processes, and technology. Is that also true of knowledge management?
It is absolutely true. There is no quick fix to address KM. Though there are “buyable” parts to a KM solution, namely professional KM services and technology, these are far from a complete solution. As we’ve said before, a truly effective KM strategy and transformation will consider solutions about and between People, Process, Content, Culture, and Technology. It is only when you have a complete understanding of your goals and anticipated outcomes for KM and have devised an integrated plan to achieve them by considering all five of these factors that you can begin to achieve a real KM solution.
Our book details this process. It includes the methodologies to assess all the factors that comprise your current state of KM, approaches to identify your ideal target state, and then our proven process to create an Agile roadmap to achieve that target state. We also included a version of our company’s proprietary KM Maturity Benchmark, which scores an organization on over forty different factors. This is something we’re really proud of, and this is the first time it has been shared outside of the organization in such a way.
The book then goes deeper into the specific methodologies around selecting, designing, implementing, and integrating KM technologies. This fills a really important gap in the literature around knowledge management. We’ve worked to compile the comprehensive view of strategy, design, and implementation of all technologies that can form an organization’s KM suite of tools.
Has the accelerated trend of people working remotely due to the pandemic as well as the "Great Resignation” put a spotlight on the value of KM?
Very much so. What we say is that a lot of organizations used to be able to fake it through social interactions. A new employee would be able to peek over their cube and ask their neighbor how to do something. People would walk down the hall and shout out a query for the latest version of something or a starting point. Folks would meet in the kitchen and learn from each other through natural conversation.
All of a sudden, all of that stopped, and for many organizations, it may never come back. The pandemic has made it obvious to executives that KM isn’t a nice-to-have, it is a must. Especially when you apply our broad definition of KM—this is how employees learn, perform, and grow within the organization. When you take the pandemic and compound it with the highly competitive job market, executives are realizing there is massive return on investment for KM done right. It can translate to faster employee upskilling, employee retention, customer loyalty, improved speed of sales, and increased deal close rates, just to name a few of the clear business outcomes to KM. We detail this ROI in the book, approaching it in terms of both KM outcomes and business outcomes, to ensure our readers know how to market KM internally and obtain executive support.
Has the pandemic made it easier or more difficult to implement a knowledge management system?
Well, in a way, both. It is certainly easier from the standpoint of getting executive buy-in and support, and furthermore in getting the business to understand the value they’ll get out of a KM system. Being able to paint it as the tool (or tools) that will replace much of what used to happen naturally in the office while offering new and exciting ways to harness artificial intelligence is a great way to garner understanding and support.
The actual process of design and implementation, however, is more difficult. Our methodologies, and those we detail in the book, have heavy elements of human centricity. They require the active involvement and guidance of business stakeholders to talk about what they need and how they want it. These types of discussions and exercises are simply easier and more engaging in person. Though we’ve certainly innovated a great deal to be able to replicate these in a remote fashion, sometimes there’s nothing quite like being in the room with someone and drawing on a real whiteboard.
What are some of the least understood aspects of knowledge management?
There are many, and we actually have a whole chapter on this in the book, specifically around why KM initiatives fail. At present, the top three are likely these three:
First, KM isn’t solved by technology. Yes, we just wrote the book about KM technologies, but what you’ll get from it is that a KM systems implementation is a lot more than just installing and configuring software. Any true KM initiative is going to embrace the human- and content-sides of KM in such a way that the initiative (and the technology) are being used to form new connections. Second, KM isn’t any one thing. What we mean by this is that few organizations can make one change and solve their KM challenges. It typically requires pulling many different strings, making many different inter-related changes in order to begin impacting the state of KM for your organization. Some of these will be more about technology, others will be about content and content management, still others will be more process-oriented or people-oriented. It takes looking at all of these together in order to drive a true KM transformation. And finally, KM should not be done for the sake of KM. Too many times we’ve seen people taking overly academic and theoretical approaches to KM, instead of identifying the concrete business problems and analyzing how KM can help to address those problems. These initiatives lack an understanding and measurement of business value and fail to stick within an organization. A number of the KM skeptics out there have unfortunately only experienced this type of KM in the past.