The Changing World of Knowledge, Let’s Talk About It

Knowledge Management never worked.

In the past 25+ years I must have tried a dozen or more different models of knowledge management and collaboration .  In spite of the relative success of most of them – I will claim to have not succeeded 100% of the time by my standards, even if the client got what they wanted – none of them really worked.  I’d be surprised if even 15% of them were still operating today; even if they were, they would be very, very different from what we implemented back then.

True, all enterprise systems evolve both in needs and technology used to accomplish those needs – but this is the not the case here.  Knowledge Management is not about technology; it is about what to do with the knowledge.  The technology simply makes it more available – faster and easier.

Ever since Peter Drucker told us about knowledge workers in 1959, we have been frantically trying to “productize” knowledge and its management.  I cannot say we succeeded, not sure if we ever will – the chief mistake we are making is thinking of knowledge as static product with unlimited shelf-life as opposed to what it really is: a constantly shifting element of all enterprise systems that must be used when and how it is best done, not stored and searched when we think we need it.  The answer to knowledge lies in its usage, not in its storage as we have done until now.

I have been exploring knowledge management for the last couple of years and looking for the new models that will make it work in the organization.  Notice i did not say CRM or Customer Service, rather the organization – this is one of the key elements i am finding — but don’t want to get ahead of myself.  The “results” of my research and thinking are going to be published every three weeks or so throughout this year at the blog of my good friends (and clients) at Stone Cobra (with whom I had many interesting conversations about this as well).

Here is the introduction post (which was posted before Christmas, and therefore ignored by most of you), and here is the first of my musings: Five Benefits of Using Collective Knowledge (notice it is not social knowledge, social intelligence, or even tribal knowledge — the reason why is part of the post).

Care to join me in this journey?

2 thoughts on “The Changing World of Knowledge, Let’s Talk About It”

  1. Nice One Esteban. Them are fighting words – especially for traditional KM vendors, but at KANA we would agree with you that traditional KM implementations have had a lot of pitfalls. And, of course, we’ve been working hard at fixing the failings of traditional KM systems.

    some questions we have thought about (granted our view is customer service centric , but it applies to the type of issues you have raised).

    Lets start with the perennial favorite, “What is knowledge?”
    Traditional KM vendors have limited the scope to “authored” content. Some have extended it to “spidered” content. but “answers” within an enterprise reside in a whole host of systems such as transactional systems (billing, order mgmt), CRM systems, communities or other collaboration tools. Knowledge isn’t “enough” if it doesn’t tap into ALL of these sources.

    How should knowledge be used?
    Traditional KM vendors would say, knowledge is accessed primarily through search. The agent must choose to go to the knowledgebase, and then must search for what they are looking for. In KANA, we use the message ‘Search is an indication of failure.’ Search should be the last resort when the system does not proactively provide what you need. Since knowledge is core to everything else going on in the application, the contextual awareness allows the system to dynamically present the right knowledge without search.

    How should knowledge be managed?
    In KANA, knowledge is a living entity. The theory is that since knowledge is used to handle every call, it must always be kept up to date. There are extensive capabilities to change templates, provide suggestions, approve changes, track revisions, and curate knowledge from communities, etc. Within traditional KM systems, knowledge is much more static.

    good luck on the journey.

  2. Hi Estiban

    Interesting thoughts, indeed! Definitely care to join.

    I think the least interesting problems are the source and storage; there’s dozens of ways to store information and they are not relevant other then in a technical way. Sources are easily extracted nowadays and are irrelevant other than the credibility of them.

    Let’s start with one other consideration: How can we make KM work in a cost/time efficient manner? Vendors and consultants tend to talk about great systems, big procedures and more options, but if it’s not used or constantly done half-way, we’re missing the point. If it’s not achievable by the organization managing it, they are going to be happy, will not be engaged in the long run, and drop the system. There’s numerous examples in the enterprise space with exactly that reason and it’s a shame given all the investments that are inevitably part of setting up proper KM ecosystem.

    The main question is of course ‘what is Knowledge’ and the answer is and has always been a hard one. At Selfservice Company, we’ve learned a lot from our Virtual Assistant implementations and come to a hard but practical conclusion: Knowledge is the information that you need, in order to answer a question, fix a problem, finish a process, etc.
    And thus, there’s only one way of establishing what this is then: from the end-user’s interaction or questions, which is not the answers shown or clicked; and not what a product owner pushes to the system; and not what the KM team think themselves. We believe in a focus on what the user’s needs. Use the (always) limited maintenance hours on that information, since it will have the most effect for the end-users. That’s the value-based model we believe in and we prove it works.

    So we are now able to group these interaction and extract the relevant once, seek out the non-relevant stuff and park it (to be deleted, let’s do maintenance on information not needed). Additionally, you’ll need feedback all the time and develop it in a way to get real feedback (I mean, a little more than just ‘was this answer helpful y/n’). And automatically seek out the info that probably needs a revision or confirmation (given the mentioned half-life).

    Your mentioned SMEs can help shape knowledge and could optimize this value model greatly, although the KM Team will have to decide who’s an SME and who’s feedback is just nice. I’d like to see SMEs as people that are part of the KM team with maybe different levels of engagements that will form in time. One person giving a great reply on a forum is not what I have in mind; I’d like to maximize the output of these experts, more than just ones, get them involved. I’m sure it can be done with one powerful incentive for SMEs being available at all times: acknowledgement of their contributions (in whatever way). I think that will keep them engaged, although I haven’t seen cases where external SMEs are actually ‘part of’ the KM team or process. It’s an interest to make the KM more social, and to strengthen the capabilities of the KM team building a great KM system.

    There’s one more thing to the KM definition though, which makes it harder: there’s not one ‘knowledge’, not one answer; the contextuality demands different information for different people at different places in different journeys. So now you need to add and maintain even more! But again, I prefer that trade-off: let’s focus on what’s important and then do it right for the various end-users.

    Which leads to maintenance, why we have a KM system in the first place. Ideally, you would just add information to it, and the system would automatically do the structuring, meta-data / tagging etc. We’re not there just yet but at Selfservice Company, we’re getting a long way with our digital chief editor. He checks style, relevance, (near) duplicates, quality of information, value to the whole KM, etc. I foresee a future where anyone in or outside the organization can add or change information and the system will handle it.

    The KM team that actually does this maintenance, is now and then the major force in the KM process imo. They decide what information should be shown when and where, across channels and context, consistent and relevant; they get everyone involved (including the SMEs), and extract and shape the information coming from all around. A digital chief editor helps where he can, suggest the proper information, discover problems, etc.

    So, talking about how to drive success, besides trying to have a company embrace a KM system, let’s give these teams some leverage, a decent budget, some power to make things happen (e.g. change), and tools to make their lives easier. Whatever system an organization is using, without these guys, it’s not going to work at this point in time. Yet, if they are empowered since we help them demonstrate success for end-users, with a clear business case, it’s going to be continued success for all.

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