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The knowledge imperative

Helping customers move from an industrial age mindset to a knowledge economy mindset is imperative for knowledge sharing and collaboration software vendors. Instead of clinging to outmoded ideas, management in this $60 billion market must move forward. The second part of this two-part article focuses on what vendors can do to meet the challenge.

To propel companies into the knowledge economy and advance management thinking, one step that vendors can take is to fund research designed to develop best practices and courseware. This is critical because business schools fail to equip students with the tools they need to create an environment in which knowledge workers are most productive.

To fill that vacuum in the interim, managers can follow these seven steps toward success in the knowledge economy:

  • Focus on process.
  • Respect work practices.
  • Manage delicately.
  • Promote use of technology where appropriate.
  • Set clear objectives. • Provide a learning environment.
  • Know what everyone else knows.

One hallmark of the knowledge economy is storytelling. People learn through the experiences of others, and stories are an excellent way to convey that knowledge. But few companies use this relatively effortless methodology to move managers into the knowledge economy. Indeed, the research has been theoretical and academic in its approach and lacked practical applications that would appeal to a typical manager in a midsize or large organization.

Another way to solve the problem is to allow buyers to see a more holistic view of how the various software tools for knowledge sharing and collaboration fit together. Instead of looking at 22 separate markets (document management, search, community, knowledge management, unstructured data management, etc.), Basex (basex.com) puts everything under the umbrella of a market supersegment called "collaborative business knowledge."

That helps buyers understand how to avoid redundant systems that limit the utility a company can derive from an investment. CIOs and CKOs at organizations with five content management systems, three or four document management systems, multiple search systems and several e-mail messaging systems know exactly what I mean. It's a wonder their employees can find the water cooler, let alone a document.

Message heard, but not received

Studying the messages that companies send out to their customers is interesting. Some are successful (Volkswagen's "Think Small" program was possibly the best advertising campaign of the 20th century), and some are not (United Airlines' "Rising" comes to mind; what is a plane supposed to do, fall?).

Buyers don't think in a vacuum. By the time a message reaches a buyer, it has to fit in with all of the other ideas that person has accumulated over the years about a category. If it doesn't fit it, it is rejected. A new word processing brand, for example, would have to fit in with everything the IT buyer thinks about Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and possibly others in the category.

Now, imagine the challenge that companies in the collaborative business knowledge space face: Not only do they have to get their individual message across but they have to educate the marketplace about what the knowledge economy is, how companies should manage in the knowledge economy and how their offerings fit into all that.

So how exactly do managers catch up with what they need to know, let alone prepare for the course ahead? (The managers to whom I'm referring are not KM specialists but the other 99% of the world of managers who don't live and breathe KM.) Surely there must be dozens of books on the subject of how to manage workers in the knowledge economy, but there aren't.

For now, I would recommend a grass-roots approach. Find other managers in similar straits; form a community of practice, however informal, and get together to discuss issues and share best practices. Seek out local events relating to the topic and participate in the many fine discussion forums on the Web that focus on KM issues. The future bodes well for managers who can manage both knowledge and creativity. Those who focus on mere quality and production issues will be left behind. 

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