“The reports of my death are an exaggeration,” the great Mark Twain famously remarked in 1897 upon hearing accounts of his own passing.

I’ve been fascinated by recent posts here on CMSWire assessing the health (or lack thereof) of “knowledge management” and debating whether it is dead, dying or will morph entirely with what most people in the CMSWire community have come to label and know as “social business.”

As some have noted, one of the underlying challenges associated with even having this discussion is that definitions around the terms “knowledge management” and “social business” are broad, fluid and in regular flux. That being said, the ongoing debate has been interesting to read and I wanted to throw my hat in the ring, based on some direct perspectives from the front lines:

Within the enterprise, it is becoming impossible to have one without the other

Regardless of exact definitions, as companies try to find their way and their place in the social space, knowledge management and the need for it is NOT going to die. In fact, I believe the needs will only increase as more employees have access and curiosity develops for more information via the continued growth of social collaboration solutions.

At a base level, this means enterprise search becomes an even more critical part of both knowledge management and social business -- empowering employees at all levels to easily and efficiently find the information they’re looking to get. From there, they can deploy this knowledge toward what they do each day.

The perceived decline in knowledge management has happened because of accessibility and because of poorly designed solutions, pure and simple. Rank-and-file employees and even those who specialize in knowledge management cannot easily find the tools, data and documents they need to share information -- or worse yet, to function more productively within the enterprise.

So for those of us on the social business side of things, there is considerable opportunity -- and even a responsibility -- to develop solutions that enable employees to more easily search for and find what they need and collaborate more effectively with, or based on the knowledge at-hand. Not to be a broken record, but user experience really matters and this is yet another example of why.

Social business should be about making knowledge management better, not killing it

Just like Microsoft Office made it easy and efficient to bounce between Word and Excel, there is a critical need to make it easier and more efficient for people in the enterprise to access and use knowledge, regardless of platforms.

As things stand in early 2012, there remains a fundamental inability and challenge to connect-the-dots with and among all different platforms: Yammer, Jive, SharePoint, and others provide so much promise, but the difficulty in navigating or understanding all of them at once can intimidate the most seasoned knowledge management worker, let alone rank-and-file employees. For example, there are a lot of employees who don’t understand how micro-blogging, activity feeds and communities make them more productive, as many rightly see it as a potential distraction to their work at-hand.

The promise for productivity will lie in being able to pull all of these solutions together in ways that make sense and make knowledge sharing and management more efficient and effective than before. There are some promising areas within SharePoint and elsewhere, so we as an industry should be scoping out these possibilities rather than drafting obituaries. It is difficult to imagine how point solutions will fare in the new world of work if they don’t easily communicate with already installed productivity solutions -- ie: Office, SharePoint, Lync and Exchange.

Knowledge management got a bad rap

Although knowledge management has been around in name for at least a couple of decades, it has been marginalized somewhat in recent years by people who’ve assumed that it just isn’t necessary any longer, especially as social applications have proliferated inside and outside of the enterprise. I think this is a short-sighted perspective and again maintain that not only is knowledge management necessary, but that it can and should be an important part of an enterprise’s social solution and plan.

As noted above, one of the main reasons knowledge management got a bad rap is that people couldn’t find what they needed quickly and easily. The good news here is that this will change, especially as enterprise search becomes more powerful and the ability to quickly find information and share it with colleagues becomes second nature.

Knowledge management can and should use social business to get better

Stating the obvious here, but social solutions can add to information accessibility and with this comes the opportunity to have more knowledge as well as ways to deliver it -- or better yet, enable collaboration. The two can and should work together.

Put another way, social has allowed people to connect, but if you’re not making your workers more productive, you’re going to be obsolete next year or sooner. We have seen social initiatives fail when they aren’t connected to the knowledge management side of the business. As we all know, social initiatives without focus and business purpose can become a break-time distraction instead of a tool for productivity.

I believe that as companies try to find their place in the social space, knowledge management will never die, but will become more important than before. There are better ways to access it and we can mitigate its potential decline by ensuring that accessibility levels continue to grow within the enterprise. You had better make it easy and intuitive for your team members, or your solution will fall apart under the weight of its own poor adoption.

As noted before, my article for March will focus on being more productive. So much is written about productivity and how social drives productivity. Well, your social collaboration site better be more than what’s for lunch. This is a big deal in corporations: the social frontier is a new one and for the most part, legal and finance departments have allowed the “Wild West” to happen -- but if there is no value being demonstrated, your time in social paradise will be short.
 

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