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KMWorld 2014: Enterprise knowledge & customer value

Right up to the last minute, attendees at KMWorld 2014 were enthusiastic and engaged. The conference, held in November in Washington, D.C., offered an array of options, featuring its traditional combination of intensive pre-conference workshops, three knowledge management tracks, Taxonomy Boot Camp, Enterprise Search & Discovery, and SharePoint Symposium, along with new exhibits such as an interactive showcase that presented a knowledge management system under development.

The opening keynote speaker offered a broad take on transforming the digital workplace to optimize the business value of information. Dion Hinchcliffe, chief strategy officer of Adjuvi and an expert in social business, highlighted activity streams as the new layer where value resides. “The potential of this information is not yet being fully realized,” he said. “It should be stored, used in collaborative activities and made discoverable.” The use of technology, which is proliferating with many “bring-your-own” solutions, needs to be balanced with a recognition that the most important change in creating a knowledge enterprise is that of the workers, not the addition of a new platform.

Search has been a core component of knowledge management since the emergence of the discipline. A keynote delivered by Diane Berry, chief knowledge officer and senior VP of market strategy at Coveo, addressed search-driven insights for anytime/anywhere access to information. “Search needs to capture information proactively in the flow of work, to display what is relevant to the user at any given time,” Berry said.

Customer experience is at the heart of many knowledge management initiatives—how to get the attention of prospects, then move them to become a customer, and finally, keep them happy as customers. In his keynote, Seth Earley, CEO of Earley & Associates, discussed the importance of context as it relates to customer experience, and highlighted the technical challenges of doing so effectively. “Companies know what they want to do for customers,” he said, “but the ecosystem of information is complex, with many touchpoints. A smooth customer experience requires an integrated back office, and that is not easy to do.”

Electronic hoarders

The first day’s tracks focused on KM strategies, the digital workplace and enterprise content management (ECM). Cheryl McKinnon, principal analyst at Forrester, revealed that “electronic hoarders” may finally have been vindicated, because the advent of big data has allowed longitudinal analyses of vast storehouses of data that were previously dormant.

“Despite retention rules that would allow deletion of this data, some organizations are now rethinking their current practices,” McKinnon said, “because valuable information can be extracted from information that has been stored over many years with modern analytic tools we didn’t have access to just a few years ago. The collision course that I see is between traditional retention policies and the rise of big data analytics. Items that had little or no business value on their own now may contribute to a bigger value in the aggregate.”

KM consultants and advisers often see the same mistakes being made over and over by companies implementing various elements of the digital workplace. Jarrod Gingras, analyst for the Real Story Group, delivered a session designed to save organizations from those mistakes. At the top of the list were two that will be familiar to knowledge management veterans: neglecting the business case and focusing on the technology rather than on the user experience.

“Despite hearing the message that software solutions should not prioritize ‘systems over screens,’ people still assume that technology is the solution,” Gingras said. “Yes, technology is important, but it’s important to look at the system from the user’s viewpoint.”

Social vision

Social media, learning and KM tools were the focus of one day’s conference tracks, and led to many discussions of how to be a learning organization and how to retain knowledge as the Baby Boomers retire. Stan Garfield, KM community evangelist at Deloitte, provided a candid analysis of a plethora of social media tools, commenting on which ones had value for knowledge management and which did not. He distinguished the purpose of internal and external social media (knowledge sharing versus marketing), provided examples of established and emerging social media tools, and noted the importance of video as a social channel, especially for the younger generations.

The conference also offered many case studies and lessons learned, including a presentation by Gloria Burke, CKO of Unisys, who described her company’s vision for bringing social technology into the business environment. “With 23,000 employees throughout the world, knowledge had become siloed,” said Burke, “and the right subject matter experts were sometimes difficult to find.” Using Yammer, the company created a collaboration platform that enabled connections among people and enabled mentoring on a one-to-many basis to leverage corporate expertise.

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