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KM: The World Changer We Love To Hate
You’re Probably Already Doing It; You Just Don’t Know It Yet

“One potential road map is to do as one of our customers, Genentech, did, which is to put in a test deployment, then as you become more comfortable, roll it out across the entire organization in a planned way. In this way, you can solve all these challenges surrounding knowledge management without making it the primary goal from the start,” he answered.

Is KM For the Elite?
Despite an almost universal reluctance to describe anything as “enterprisewide,” enterprisewide is exactly what it needs to be. A great example appears in this white paper, in the article by Chris Hall from InQuira. He talks about a hypothetical case where a company is offering a 50% discount to consumers who switch to their service from a competitor. “This offer must be communicated and supported by every customer channel,” he writes, “including the contact center, retail locations, website, VRU, Facebook page and even your field service technicians.” With an enterprise KM system in place, he concludes, the company can thus have “just one source of knowledge... the offer is not only delivered in a unified, consistent and accurate manner everywhere the customer goes, but it can also be implemented far faster than if you had to wait for every channel to be updated individually.”

This is where I think the “purists” and “philosophers” miss the point: accomplishing a complex task such as that requires technology as well as well-honed practices, training and cooperation from the participants involved. You can talk all you want about “story-telling” or “evangelizing innovation” or whatever. But the business world is seeking solutions to their points of pain. And Chris describes that one beautifully.

However, I will concede that some of the touchy-feely stuff has been, and should be, absorbed into the organization strategy... and then put to good use. “We’re spending more energy connecting information from both within and without the organization, and providing a more ‘social’ search,” said Ashley. “For example, how do you find people within an organization who have particular expertise? Our approach has been to provide ways for users to rank pieces of information, and allowing certain ones to be considered more useful than others.”

Selling that kind of non-specific, but good-sounding, strategy has always been a challenge for KM vendors. Ash said that his company’s sweet spot is “the forward-thinking, technologically oriented, very collaborative organizations who are conscious about doing things at a large scale and a low cost.”

(Well, no kidding, I thought. I would have guessed, “the slow-minded, tradition-bound, Dunder Mifflins of the world who want to spend more than they should and get less they want.” Oops, excuse my sarcasm there.)

But Ash is exactly right. The organization that is considering anything remotely related to KM has to be 180 degrees opposite a Dilbert cartoon. “They need to be open to trial... willing to try something new,” he said. “We appreciate these are big decisions. We’re willing to say: how about trying it in a single department first? Or we might say, try a cloud solution for part of your problem, then maybe down the track try some more across additional functions. We’d rather wait until customers feel comfortable first, rather than shove it down onto them. It is a big shift in paradigm.”

Is KM Changing the World?
Speaking of paradigm shifts, there are two game-changing forces at work right now that will alter—maybe transform—the KM world. One of them is “cloud.”

“Here’s how we analogize the cloud: A lot of businesses already have a lot of stuff in the cloud... HR data, for example, including social security numbers, bank account information. They’re more in the cloud than they usually think they are already. So taking that step—while it seems huge—might be more familiar than they originally thought. So the concept of moving email servers over to the cloud should not be that big a deal. They’ve already got information in the cloud that is as, if not more, sensitive than something like their email stores,” said Ashley. “But it still takes some persuasion.”

Tony Frazier and David Fishman, in an article in this white paper, put it this way: “Solving the knowledge gap begins with enhancing our understanding of who’s communicating and what they’re communicating about... It’s not about who’s who, it’s about what content they’re creating and determining whether it’s relevant to your work.

It turns out that the network is a pretty good place to process this information. Not only can it help you identify who’s working with whom and when they’re on or off-line, it’s also possible to see what topics they’re discussing—whether it’s text-based or not.”

Which leads us to the other game-changer: Social networking. “A lot of companies have access to a Twitter feed, and you can see if anyone’s talking about your organization. If you see a high number of feeds from a single organization, you can choose to respond to that customer more rapidly. Only a small number of savvy organizations are doing things like this now.But it will be an increasingly important path to market; the ones doing it have been very successful,” said Ash.

The whole conversation about enlightened versus tradition-bound organizations reminded me of what Lester S. Pierre of the Wall Street Network wrote in his article in this white paper: “The quality of information is often lost due to the filtered stages of communications in traditional organizational structures. Many organizations fail to capitalize on the wealth of knowledge scattered across their organization, because they rely on top-down decision making, centralized knowledge management systems and technologies. While analytics and data are very important, the interpretation of this data—which can only come from a person—can be more valuable to an organization.”

“Only come from a person...” That’s one of the strongest statements of knowledge management I’ve heard yet.

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