About a decade ago Knowledge Management (KM), was the focus of business and technology leaders alike. But after only a few years in the limelight, KM all but disappeared. The advances of modern enterprise collaboration bring this subject back to the fore.

Knowledge management morphed, to a series of related applications, technologies and practices.  Among these are/were portals, intranets, BI, collaboration and two that are enjoying much attention of late Web and Enterprise 2.0. With these newly defined applications as arsenal, knowledge management is rising like the phoenix, though some do not recognize it or label it as such.

But be forewarned, the focus of these applications may obscure the underlying complexities that still belie knowledge management.  Too many think their applications de jour are so new and revolutionary that they have nothing in common with the past. For those with such a perspective, they are destined to make mistakes already made and not benefit from lessons learned.

A knowledge management implementation, under any name, is, at best, only partially about technology.  This is particularly the case with initiatives that fall under the 2.0 umbrella. Definitions and discussion all too often focus on technology. The inclusion of a technology focus provides a direction, however, you must still define the business imperative behind your initiative.

What are the business goals for the initiative and how will they be measured/justified?  I continue to be amazed at the number of KM initiatives (aka Enterprise 2.0), I encounter that fail initially for this very reason.  Indeed, my last client, a major financial institution in New York, had put in place an E 2.0 team and program over a year ago. 

Despite the good intentions of business and technical staff, the program never came to fruition.  It took me less than a day to realize the root of this failure.  There was no consensus on what the purpose of the initiative was, the direction in which it would take them, its primary benefactors, and the goals it would achieve -- beyond “make us more collaborative, smarter and more aware”.

So, as I look back on the lessons learned as a KM consultant and practitioner, I do believe there is much advice that can be offered. Here are 2 important lessons learned.

Lesson One:
Clearly define the intended community and become intimate with its purpose and attitudes regarding knowledge sharing and innovation. Will the initiative allow users to function in a personalized manner, or be the foundation to building community and establishing common practices? Will knowledge production and sharing be viewed as a universal obligation or the domain of a few? Will the opinions and attitudes of some be drivers or magnets to the community? Is security necessary to regulate the community?

Consider that the 2.0 Adoption Council, for example, is heavily policed. Admission requires passing the scrutiny of leader Susan Scrupski. This “exclusionary approach” seems to fly in the face of the mantra of E2.0 zealots, “open, transparent and user driven.”

But Scrupski regulates community membership for good reason. Scrutiny of community can immediately determine if the practice is a case of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, which leads to, typically very different goals, objectives and approaches. 

Some time ago I blogged about a Web 2.0 collaborative site, Sermo, that similarly policed admission and participation. The post is worth a (re)read – the community, eventually opened the doors to “outsiders”, but only under strict regulations that included obvious and clear identification of any and all content submitted by these “outsiders.”

Lesson Two:
Take inventory of the knowledge sources the community uses/seeks, and those they do not use/seek. Challenge the validity of these assumptions and inclination. Identify each knowledge source as explicit or tacit.  Determine the best means to organize the collection of explicit knowledge and make it assessable. 

Whatever approach is taken to collaboration and knowledge exchange, capture the knowledge in as much a facilitated fashion as possible and tag it appropriately. The value of the exchange will hopefully have a very long tail -- well beyond the initial exchange. But remember knowledge captured but not findable is captured in vain. The goal should not just be to make it accessible however, but to shed light on its history, validity -- its context. This is where understanding how community members place emphasis, faith and value on content is critical -- aka context is critical.

Several months ago I was called into a company in the Boston area, Impassioned by the market promises of social collaboration inside the firewall. Using a popular (unnamed) product, they had a collaborative online community up and running in 15 days. But, this success quickly turned to failure when the user community abandoned it as quickly as they took it up.  The site lacked a clear objective, had a poorly defined audience (“everyone”) and mostly consisted of random content.  It was a technology success -- but a business failure.

Despite the fire that has re-ignited KM, ala Web and Enterprise 2.0 initiatives, an effective KM initiative (no matter under what rubric it is brought in) requires the coordination of the cultural, technological, strategic and personal facets associated with a well-defined organization/community. The truth today is the same as it was 10 years ago: for knowledge to be managed it needs to be defined and quantified.