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Choosing the right KM tools

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Effective knowledge management has always represented an almost mysterious mix of theory, practice and technology. KM theorists and practitioners alike quite properly point out the fallacy of focusing too much on the technology part.

Yet, effective technology deployments seem essential to KM success. One challenge, of course, is that there is no such thing as a "KM tools" marketplace. Depending on the application, knowledge management can span multiple different types of technologies, comprising many diverse (if often overlapping) market segments.

Today, KM leaders need to follow more technology developments than ever. Don't just take my word for it. The inquiry calls we get from KM leaders among Real Story Group subscribers have blossomed in recent years not only in numbers, but also in the breadth of topics on which they seek counsel.

An expanding set of technologies

For many years, the main platforms for digital knowledge management revolved around searchable knowledgebases and discussion forums. Enterprise portals emerged, haltingly, to try to expose enterprise information via a single dashboard. That didn't usually pan out so well, although portal technology still plays a key role for many use cases today.

Likewise, enterprise search held the allure of turning all your enterprise content into a "defacto über-knowledgebase," with the right information easily retrievable through simple queries. Here again, the results were usually mediocre, even if search technology likewise still plays a critical role in many application scenarios.

Now KM leaders have to take into account a wide range of repositories and applications, from enterprise video to social media monitoring and intelligence. Over the years we've tried to chart those technologies using a subway map motif (see chart on page 16, KMWorld February 2013, Volume 22, Issue 2 or download chart here), and to be sure, the grid is starting to get crowded. Yet, the proliferation of subway lines on the chart indicates the growing diversity of technologies in the modern KM toolkit.

The changing knowledgebase

Of course, knowledgebases still remain important, but the way we build and manage them has changed dramatically:

  • Wikis now power some of the most definitive knowledgebases within and beyond the enterprise.
  • Sophisticated social Q&A applications are generating impressive, demand-driven knowledge sets in many environments.
  • Digital community spaces are not new, but richer community platforms with increasingly important facilitation features have made them far more accessible in the enterprise.
  • Ideation (a.k.a., open innovation) applications are also coming of age, amid much healthy experimentation.

For KM leaders, this means mastering a new set of technologies to address old problems. But the converse is true too: Some older technologies are finding new prominence within the enterprise.

Old technologies, new approaches

Digital asset management and media asset management platforms are far from new technologies. What's changed is their increasing adoption within broader enterprise contexts. More and more of our digital knowledge isn't textual anymore.

Much of our textual knowledge that does remain still resides in files—files waiting to get more liberated. Hence the meteoric rise of file sharing services, most of them based in the cloud, and many of them now targeting enterprise scenarios (albeit with mixed success).

Finally, the rise of social media monitoring and intelligence has given new life to the field of text analytics-even while exposing the limitations of individual analytics engines.

To be sure, not every enterprise needs all those types of tools. But the savvy KM leader can help guide his or her colleagues to the appropriateness of each kind.

SharePoint and its discontents

Very often over the past decade, when KM leaders began new projects, the preferred solution was Microsoft SharePoint—an omnibus information management and portal platform that seemingly could do it all.

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