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Disruptions and KM

Every week I receive a list of the “most popular” slide decks on the LinkedIn/SlideShare service. On Jan. 1, 2015, I clicked on the listing and noticed Brian Solis’ “25 Disruptive Technology Trends 2015-2016.” The Solis deck had attracted 646,017 views.(See briansolis.com/2015/01/25-disruptive-tech?nology-trends-2015-2016.)

Solis is a principal analyst and author affiliated with the research and strategy consulting firm Altimeter Group. His “disruptions” are skewed to the external presence of companies. One disruption is “the future of search and search engine marketing lies outside of Google.” The point is a good one, building on the shift from traditional desktop, keyword search to app-centric strategy access.

Although Solis does not bring up knowledge management in his slide deck, if he is right, traditional KM may be disruptive. Most enterprise knowledge management systems are not designed for mobile access, and the KM systems with which I am familiar lean heavily on keyword search, links to related information and desktop functions such as viewing traditional documents on a large monitor.

Another disruption Solis highlights is that “messaging apps are the new social media.” The idea is that alternatives to SMS text messages delivered as a mobile phone service abound. Facebook owns WhatsApp and boasts 450 million users, according to Solis. He mentions other messaging apps with which I was unfamiliar. Wechat in China serves 272 million users. LINE in Japan distributes messages to 350 million users. There are smaller services with about 100 million users such as KakaoTalk and Viber.

Solis points out, “Asia and other foreign competitors will compete to gain share and push messaging forward … Chinese innovation is going to disrupt the U.S. from the outside in and the inside out.” That comment reminded me that Route 128, Manhattan and Silicon Valley are not the only centers of information innovation.


Solis calls attention to the increasing use of notifications. The idea is that the user does not have to open an application to view a message. The real-time display of new information appears on the mobile device even when it is not accessing a network. They are personalized and important push notifications that deliver the functionality that PointCast and BackWeb offered in the early 1990s (archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1996/11/25/218683/index.htm), updated for the 21st century.

Some KM systems provide collaboration tools. Authorized users can send an e-mail or a message to another user. That approach was state-of-the-art five years ago. But for new hires, who are comfortable with the Whatsapp approach that allows messages to be sent to users across mobile phone platforms, the old-school KM approach may pinch like a pair of too-small shoes. Solis does not discuss the implications of a new hire working around traditional e-mail and messaging systems, which is a possibility.

KM is not a disruptive force. The users of WhatsApp-style applications within an organization are the disruptive force. Traditional KM systems would be blind to those messages, and in some organizations, their use would constitute a security leak. Thus, traditional KM will have to integrate with next-generation firewalls. Those devices monitor internal and external traffic and take preventive action to keep certain information from harming the company.

Generational distinctions

One of the disruptions tucked in the middle of Solis’ list is the difference between Generation Z and Millennials. He presents the differences in tabular form to make comparing and contrasting those two groups easy. See image on page 12, March 2015, Vol. 24, Issue 3).

Three of those items, in my opinion, have significant implications for KM. Millennials are “tech-savvy and use two screens.” But the Gen Z individuals use five screens. After some thought, I hypothesized that one screen is a desktop computer, a portable computer, a mobile tablet like an iPad, a mobile phone and a television. Most KM systems focus on enterprise access, partly to manage security and partly from the on-premises nature of the software. The potential for a disconnect between user behaviors and enterprise systems, if Solis and theawl.com (one of his sources) are correct, is significant. Today’s KM systems are unlikely to support the access patterns of the Gen Z user.

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