Rain, Steam, and Speed (J. W. M. Turner, 1844)
Has KM Been Done? Part 1
In March of 2004, David Pollard served as the Star Moderator in the Association of Knowledge Work's (AOK) Star Series.
Many subjects were covered during the very fruitful exchanges of Dave's
tenure. One of my posts (message 1484) was a commentary on one of
Dave's blogs called "Social Networking, Social Software and The Future of Knowledge Management."
In this blog, I'll first reproduce (with a few minor revisions) a good
part of my commentary, then supplement it with another post (message
1498) recording an exchange between Dave and myself on KM Value
propostions; and then I'll discuss the significance of these posts in
suggesting the question: "Has KM BeenDone?" This first of three
installments will cover the portion of my commentary dealing with the
issues of "KM's failure" and Dave's proposal to reinvent it as Social
Commentary on Dave Pollard's Blog on Social Networking
In your blog on "Social Networking, Social Software and The Future of Knowledge Management." you said:
most organizations KM is epitomized by the corporate intranet, the
extranet, community-of-practice tools, sales force automation tools,
customer relationship management tools, data mining tools, decision
support tools, databases purchased from outside vendors, and sometimes
business research and analysis. In other words, it's certain specialized
technologies and information processing roles, with a thin wrapper of
"knowledge creating" and "knowledge-sharing" processes.
Most of the organizations that have implemented KM bemoan their people's inability
to find stuff, the lack of demonstrable productivity improvement, the
complexity of the technology, and the absence of significant reusable
'best practice' content."
agree with this characterization, except that I would replace the word
"epitomized" with the phrase "perceived as epitomized". The difference
is that whatever the perception may be, these tools are not KM tools,
either singly or in combination. And their identification as KM tools
has been due to a failure among KM practitioners to clearly specify the
key concepts and scope of our discipline and its precise relationship to
various tools and techniques associated with it, by those who seek the
"halo effect" of KM.
Some of us have been warning for at least 5
years now, that continued failure to carefully specify the central
concepts and scope of KM as a discipline would lead to its discredit due
to just the sort of misperception you¹ve described. But throughout this
period,"practical" people have contended that theory wasn¹t necessary
and that what we should be doing is to get on with the use of
the"practical" techniques and tools of KM, without bothering to
consider whether they are, in fact, KM tools and techniques at all.
I disagree with the view that you expressed in another of blog
advising people not to worry about what they mean by "knowledge"and
"KM", but to be concerned only with the impact of theirinterventions on
the effectiveness of knowledge workers. It is exactly this sort of view
that has led "practical" people to identify the above tools and
techniques with KM, and to bring KM into disrepute due to people¹s
association of it with the often less than impressive results of
interventions using them. KM should be associated with the performance
of policy and program interventions that reflect a careful
conceptualization of what it is and what kinds of interventions it
involves. It should not be associated with interventions that use the
latest "flavor of the month" IT fad in thoughtless ways, while labeling
such interventions KM.
KM is More than Social Network Enablement and Its Needs Exceed the Capabilities of Social Software
You then said:
along comes Social Networking and Social Software, also with its
adherents from academia, consultancies, and IT. Beneath the torrent of
hype and theory, it may reveal an important truth about KM, business,
and how we learn: Social networks can provide the essential context
needed to make knowledge sharing possible, valuable, efficient and
What are 'social networks'? They are the circles in
which we make a living and connect with other people. . . . If we were
to 'reinvent' KM as, say, Social Network Enablement, what would change?"
I believe in the importance of social networks and social software. The foundation of much of KMCI thinking on
KM is a complex adaptive systems framework that emphasizes the
transactional and social networking character of the organizational
system (See, for example, Excerpt #1 from the Open Enperprise).
We believe that it is in the context of such networks that
organizational behavioral processes, including the knowledge processes
of knowledge production and integration (including knowledge sharing),
arise. In addition, I also agree with you that "Social networks can
provide the essential context needed to make knowledge sharing possible,
valuable, efficient and effective."
spite of my agreement on these two points however, I don¹t agree that KM
should be "re-invented" as "Social Network Enablement". I¹ll explain the
reasons why I think your suggestion goes too far below, beginning with a
consideration of your analysis of what would change. You say:
"Intranet as connector and link harvester: The intranet would become a people-to-people
connector instead of a content repository. It would become a 'link
harvester', scanning all traffic across it and dynamically identifying
connections to people and their knowledge. New tools would be needed to
allow such functionality."
change is certainly positive, and when someone has a problem, it is
useful for acquiring information, to be able to identify the people who
are propagating knowledge claims and who will be able to provide you
with other valuable knowledge claims if you make contact with them. But
upgrading our ability to acquire information is only a first step in
generating new knowledge and solving problems. Furthermore, to be really
useful for making new knowledge, our knowledge claim "harvesters" need
to go beyond merely identifying connections to people. They also need to
harvest the knowledge claims and meta-claims about their performance
that are associated with the people and their previous activities.
being able to access the content of knowledge claims and the record
associated with their continued use, we don¹t have what we need for good
Knowledge Claim Evaluation, and without good Knowledge Claim Evaluation
we cannot have effective KM. In my book, Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management (EIPKM), KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003,
I¹ve outlined the requirements and architecture for the Enterprise
Knowledge Portal (See,Chapters, 5, 6, 10-11, and 13), an IT application
that would provide the sort of "intranet" functionality needed. You say
"Decentralized content, with blog as surrogate for the individual:
Content would shift from centralized, shared databases to personally- or
team-owned databases, journals and stories, where the owner(s) provide
essential context. (See my post on The Weblog as Filing Cabinet ). Each
individual's subscribable, personally-indexed Weblog would be a
surrogate for the individual when s/he's not available personally.
while you¹re on the right track here, blogs are too low in functionality
to fit the requirements of KM. The kind of surrogate we need to support
knowledge production and knowledge integration is an"avatar", an
intelligent agent representing the individual to the organization. The
avatar would not only maintain the individual¹s sharable content, but
would also maintain cognitive map representations of the knowledge claim
networks expressed by the individual. The knowledge claim networks would
also record the meta-claims about the knowledge claim networks expressed
in previous work. It goes without saying too much, I hope, that the
content maintained by the avatarwould provide all of the context for
knowledge claims we could possibly ask for.
Avatars would not
only represent individuals to their social networks, they would also be
in constant communication with those social networks. Their analytical
functions, combined with those of other avatars and with widely
distributed intelligent server-based Artificial Knowledge Managers in
the organization, would analyze and produce models of the patterns of
knowledge claim networks and meta-claims of teams, groups, communities,
and the organization. The results of these analyses would be available
to every avatar and every individual to provide context for their own
decision making, which in the end would be based on their own cognitive
maps and values and their interpretations of their organizational roles
and obligations. Again, I¹ve described the requirements and
architectural considerations for such avatars in my EIPKM book (Chs. 6,
10-11, and 13).
Avatars would also provide the ultimate
functionality, for "having it your way", as you¹ve advocated in another
blog. That is, the individual¹s own cognitive map, always maintained and
updated bythe avatar could be used as the navigational interface for
the individual. What the avatar represents, of course, could be
immediately edited by the individual, if he/she thinks the avatar is
mistaken in its representation.
You then said:
security, organizational boundaries blurred: Organizational boundaries
become irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether the person you are sharing
with is a work colleague, a supplier, customer, friend or advisor, an
individual or a team, inside or outside the company. You share what you
know with those you trust, the same way regardless. Security would be
provided at the individual level, not managed by the enterprise. The
same way employees know what hard-copy documents can be shared with
whom, they set up subscription access to their blog categories
very much agree here and also note that such security capabilities are
envisioned in my EKP construct (see chapters 10-11 of EIPKM).
enhanced weblog functionality, emphasis on access: Today's blogs are not
nearly enough to fully enable social networks. They need much more
connectivity functionality. A user should be able to call up a visual of
their own network, or the network of expertise corresponding to a
particular subject. The tool that does this would operate much like a
search engine except it would retrieve people (and links to people)
instead of documents. It would also have to aggregate various means of
access to those people: e-mail, voice-mail, video and whiteboard,
meeting scheduling, IM, weblog subscriptions and commenting, and new
means of access just being developed. And it would need some mechanism
to create a 'biography' of the user by automatically summarizing the total content of their weblog."
agree as far as you go. But, as I¹ve indicated above, I think we need to
go further. The visuals must be of knowledge claim and meta-claim
networks, which, of course would include social networks,workflow
networks, and any other knowledge claim networks expressed in the
organization in question.
organizational change functionality: The exhaust from theincreased
connectivity could be browsed and canvassed to identify organizational
change opportunities. Popularity indexes could pre-sage emerging
business issues needing management attention, and could be used as a key
part of the performance evaluation and reward process, and to identify
de facto organizational thought leaders and potential strong recruits.
It could incorporate Tipping Point functionality to propagate important
ideas, Power Law analysis to identify and spell employees suffering from
'network overload', and perhaps even new "Network Traffic Analyses" to
identify communication logjams and disconnects. Intriguing, and perhaps
a bit scary."
useful, but again, not enough, and not enough precisely because
it doesn¹t deal with knowledge claim networks and their
associated meta-claims explicitly. Especially, in this last change, you
are not talking about KM but offering a hypothesis about the anticipated
effect of social networking enablement, completely apart from its
effects on knowledge processing.
In contrast to your
specification for SNE software, the EKP construct I've specified in my
book is Social Network Enablement Software Plus.
That is, the "Plus" includes support for all of the areas of
Knowledge Processing specified in KMCI's Knowledge Life Cycle
framework, including and especially Knowledge Claim Evaluation. In
addition it supports the main activities of KM identified in our KM
Framework as well. So my contention is that KM needs Social Network
Enablement Software Plus. And that an important part of the Future of KM
will be the development of a real EKP, rather than the EIP applications
that have misappropriated that label today; or, alternatively, the
same application using another name such as a Distributed Knowledge Management System (DKMS), or a Knowledge Base Management System (KBMS),or an Artificial Knowledge Management System (AKMS).
The name is ultimately not important, but the functionality for
supporting problem formulation, knowledge production, knowledge
integration, Knowledge Management and knowledge use, is.
My next blog will cover the part of my commentary dealing with KM, Social Network Management and Conceptual Drift.