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Eras of KM addressed at conference

By Jane Dysart

The three generations of KM were discussed by Dave Snowden, director of the Institute of Knowledge Management at IBM, during a speech at the 5th McMaster World Congress on Intellectual Capital in Hamilton, Ontario, Jan. 16 to 18.

Snowden said the first generation of information management, decision support and data warehousing was stylized by the phrase "the right information in the right place at the right time," and ended around 1995. In the second generation, people were brought back into the equation along with their knowledge assets, and it was believed that knowledge could be captured and codified. Then, sometime around 2000, people began to realize that not all knowledge could be made explicit, Snowden said.

He focused on three rules of knowledge management:

1. Knowledge can only be volunteered. That happens only in a community of trust, and that trust is built over years and lost in seconds. There are many reasons for not sharing knowledge but fear of abuse and lack of time are two of the most common, according to Snowden.

2. I only know what I know when I need to know it. That is contextual. When people say, "I'll sleep on it,” they are often synthesizing what they know in order to create new knowledge in context, or when they need to know it. When we make decisions, we grasp the first pattern from our experience that appears to fit and then try to extrapolate it.

3. I've always known more than I can say, and I will always say more than I can write down. It is much easier to talk to someone than to write down everything we want to convey. And when it is written down, it often loses context.

Separating those issues is at the heart of the third generation knowledge management, Snowden said. He labels managing what's in our heads as context management, which includes the linking and connecting of people.

Managing what we say is narrative management and managing what we write is content management, according to Snowden. He suggested how to build context so that knowledge can be exchanged, how to capture narrative and how to create a high structure index so that knowledge can be accessed when needed. He also talked about complicated, complex and chaotic systems and our need to understand them in order to find creative and innovative solutions.

He described how to build context filters by gathering stories of historical importance and creating alternative histories. For instance, using the War of 1812 to learn something about 9/11, and seeing events in cultural context through someone else's eyes.

Greg Searle of Tomoye illustrated the technology he sells for building communities by discussing One Fish, a worldwide community of fish researchers. Participants share knowledge and rosters of expertise, collaborate on proposals and interact through the Web-enabled community. Using Tomoye technology allows rapid deployment and the use of taxonomies from existing communities, Searle said. It’s can be handled by non-technical staff, and is managed by the experts/participants within the community. A chief editor approves the content and keeps the front page refreshed with rich new content.

Howard Deane, national director of Knowledge Management with KPMG in Canada, discussed practical and difficult lessons learned in an enterprisewide KM initiative at KPMG. In 1995 the organization had multiple country intranets—separate, distinct and involving different technology. In 1996, many of the European country intranets focused on people systems and added resumes to the intranet content. In 1997, the organization created a global vision for KM, and in 1998 it focused on the technology and content to support that vision. From 1999 through 2002, there was a great deal of friction, fission and "great gnashing of teeth," as Deane described it. That created a wealth of feedback and KPMG is now pursuing a robust global strategy for KM that focuses on people and processes. He shared lessons learned with the audience:

  • Set guiding principles.;

  • Define the enterprise.;

  • Address and balance people, process, content and technology.;

  • Connect people to people.;

  • Define taxonomy and leverage it carefully, particularly with respect to navigation.;

  • Obtain and manage content strategically.;

Patrick Whyte, president and CEO of Comtek Advanced Structures, discussed company culture as a competitive advantage. He described his organization and the strategies it is pursuing to transfer knowledge, build a strong culture and succeed in a turbulent world.

Calvin Stevens of Intel's Corporate University discussed blending technology and media to improve learning techniques and develop intellectual capital for business success. He emphasized that learning is intellectual capital and that intellectual capital is core to business success. He talked about:

  • face-to-face (F2F) synchronous environments like classrooms, conferences, mentorships, small work groups and communities of practice in F2F environments;;

  • virtual synchronous environments such as teleconferences and conference software; and ;

  • virtual asynchronous environments using collaboration software.;

Stevens said that at Intel they supplement two days of F2F learning with a series of half-day virtual events during work time. They use asynchronous technology such as eRoom to allow collaboration.

The conference on Intellectual Capital, organized by students at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Business, is in conjunction with the 23rd Annual McMaster World Congress. For more information visit http://www.worldcongress.mcmaster.ca/ic_agenda.htm

Jane Dysart is a principal in Dysart & Jones Associates and co-chair of the KMWorld 2002 Conference in Santa Clara Oct.29 to 31, e-mail jane@dysartjones.com

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