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The $60 billion challenge

The challenge facing vendors of knowledge-sharing and collaboration tools (representing a $60 billion market in the aggregate) is in helping their customers move from an industrial age mindset to a knowledge economy mindset.

It's actually not a challenge, it's an imperative.

What if a factory owner were to update all his production tools, but continue to manage as if the old ones were still present? Unlikely, illogical, unproductive--those terms all come to mind. What if it were not just one factory, but companies with as many as 56 million employees in the aggregate? Such is the challenge of managing in the knowledge economy where, in the past 10 years, the vast majority of the tools used by knowledge workers have been replaced. The only problem is we still practice management as if our old tools were still in place.

As a result, the situation in many companies today is similar to automating a bad manual process; you get the same problems but they occur at a faster rate.

Perhaps we have, along the way, forgotten what management actually is. Management is the process of leading and directing all or part of an organization, often a business, through the deployment and manipulation of resources. In the knowledge economy, the majority of resources are human.

It was only 25 years ago that a majority of the work force in the United States was comprised of industrial workers. Management practice was steeped in Taylorism, the management science based on the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor. In the latter part of the 19th century, his time and motion studies turned management into a science.

Unskilled labor comprised 90 percent of the work force at the turn of the previous century; in the 21st century, that figure is closer to 20 percent.

Today, a plurality of the work force is comprised of knowledge workers--yet management still clings to its Tayloristic roots. Incredibly, that is even the case in many organizations that were never industrial to begin with, such as financial services firms and professional services firms.

Our view of productivity is caught in the same time warp. In a factory, productivity is measured by how many widgets fly out the factory door. Close your eyes and try to envision the opening scene of Charles Chaplin's prescient movie Modern Times. Echoing the 1930s industrial obsession with time, motion and automation, the Tramp performs his duties with clockwork precision. (This scene was echoed in the I Love Lucy episode "Job Switching" where Lucy and Ethel work in a candy factory.) That is the imagery that comes to mind most often when people think of productivity. But that is not how knowledge work takes place.

A knowledge worker, sitting at a desk, staring out the window pensively, does not conform to Taylor's image of productivity. Clearly, what worked for the widget factory does not apply to the knowledge factory. The same metrics simply cannot be applied here.

Thanks to today's collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, a knowledge worker--without leaving his chair--can send e-mail halfway across the globe, attend an online meeting while on an aircraft, and search a database containing millions of documents.

This represents significant progress over the time when the term "cc" literally meant to send a carbon copy of a letter typed on an IBM Selectric, and is nothing less than a sea change that has caught most managers unaware.

Outdated management practices have become a huge headache for tens of thousands of businesses. They also present a challenge to vendors of knowledge sharing and collaboration tools (in total, a $60 billion market supersegment we refer to as collaborative business knowledge), because it means that their customers are largely using those tools with an industrial-age mindset.

In such instances, when the customer doesn't use the tools properly, he or she certainly doesn't come close to deriving the benefits that should accrue from the correct use of the product. In many cases, the customer may come away convinced that the product or concept is bad, rather than realize that the software was either not used or managed properly. The result is an unhappy and possibly former customer

This in turn creates a conundrum for vendors of knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. How do they not only get companies to purchase their wares but get them to actually use them in ways appropriate to the information age?

The onus is on IT vendors--presuming they want to continue to sell their products--to change how they communicate the benefits to their customers and how they describe their products. In part two of this article, we will present some suggestions for the best way to proceed.

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