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Evolution or transformation? Rethinking KM in the chaos of disruption at KMWorld 2023

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KM is a dynamically changing area of business, where, despite these constant changes, many are reluctant to give up traditional knowledge practices. This is further compounded with the rapid acceleration of new technological trends hitting the market; will knowledge practitioners rise to the challenge, or fail to accommodate the modern needs of KM?

Suzan Pickels, knowledge manager at CRB, led KMWorld 2023’s session, “Evolution or Transformation? Rethinking KM in the Chaos of Disruption,” to exemplify the ways in which CRB is leveraging new tech to prioritize knowledge efforts, address clients’ needs, and invest in AI analysis and application.

It almost seems that technology and KM are at constant odds, where changes in one area necessitate remarkable shifts in the other. However, CRB is managing to marry traditional and proven KM techniques with the evolving technological landscape.

Pickels explained that transformation and evolution are, fundamentally, the same—one is just quicker than the other, and neither is necessarily bad.

The quicker of the two, transformation, is often produced by rapid growth—which inevitably incurs some organizational chaos.

CRB experienced this sort of growth as a result of the Covid pandemic, and with this growth came knowledge losses and gains because of workforce shuffles. As a result, CRB launched a knowledge services program, or improvement facilitators who optimize process information and collaboration for better workflow and work product.

At the heart of this was understanding the hearts and minds of their enterprise culture, according to Pickels. Due to market changes and other economic factors, this knowledge initiative was served with a side dish of chaos.

Pickels offered these tips to help “pivot faster” in the event of inevitable change:

  • Find the new market makers; identify who “gets it” and who holds onto “the old,” and meet and message at every level of the organization.

“We targeted those pieces of the organization where our workflows work together. It made it easier for our executive managers that don’t care about knowledge management,” Pickels explained. “We were translating this for them so they knew why they needed it and how it would help us make money.”

  • Ask yourself, do you know what your business needs? Are you holding onto things that only worked in the past? Have you clarified your new purpose, per audience, and socialized it?
  • Prioritize your offerings; don’t do everything, follow the money. Understand the impacts both internally and externally.
  • Internally check the deepness of employee skills and where the organization needs them to go.
  • Don’t lose sight of the future; define meaningful use cases and don’t get lost in the sea of tools.
  • Ask yourself, what working solutions do you have that can influence the next? Are you networking outside your comfort zone? Are you keeping pace, running ahead, or falling behind business needs?

Disruption will inevitably mean that an enterprise will change, its goals will change, and its strategies will change. This change means that some methods and ideals will be lost to make way for better solutions.

One of the things CRB retained in the chaos, however, was the concept of client value. Ensuring that the organization was aligned with what their clients needed was critical for CRB’s success at a time of disruption. Additionally, CRB employed communities of practice (CoPs), though limited them in its number and its coverage. Small, focused CoPs helped bring in collaboration.

“The better they [the workforce] work together, the more collaborative they are, the better we could deliver client value,” said Pickels.

Furthermore, CRB held onto lessons learned, data governance, and data analytics as means to navigate an increasingly digital and data-centric world.

Pickels also pointed to the trend of throwing AI at everything, where, in reality, throwing intelligent tech at unintelligent content will never yield positive results. Tech, especially in the world of AI, is constantly changing. It isn’t new, it’s just faster, she explained, and its application should be meaningful.

Taxonomies will be critical in leveraging AI, where categorization will drive understanding of the trends that AI may surface.

“You need to put meaning in the click behind the report,” Pickels noted. “[With taxonomies,] when I point AI at this [content], it will have more meaning.”

Ultimately, Pickels explained that for a company that once did everything, they had to narrow down their focus, and admittedly, “it was heartbreaking,” said Pickels. “But we had to keep the central heartbeat going.”

KMWorld returned to the J.W. Marriott in Washington D.C. on November 6-9, with pre-conference workshops held on November 6.

KMWorld 2023 is a part of a unique program of five co-located conferences, which also includes Enterprise Search & Discovery, Enterprise AI World, Taxonomy Boot Camp, and Text Analytics Forum.

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