Technology is a critical factor in knowledge management, but according to expert speakers in a session at today`s Gilbane Boston 2012 Conference, the human element is actually the most important element of all.

Larry Chait, Managing Director of Chait and Associates and Lynda Moulton, Analyst/Consultant, LWM Technology Services discussed the role people play in "Technology Connectors for Knowledge Sharing." 

Change is in the Air 

"Only people can determine the fit between technology and a knowledge initiative," said Chait. "There is a bias toward user communities making the decision."

However, Chait cautioned that changes in the wider environment change the fit between technology and knowledge management. "For example, changes in case law and litigation discovery require corporate email retention." Chait said the Enron case, which initially surfaced around wrong doing revealed in corporate emails, helped drive these changes and is an example of how quickly events can drive environmental change.

"I'm not sure requirements have caught up to technology," he said. "It's a moving target."

Check Your Guts

Chait and Moulton both advised organizations preparing to launch a knowledge initiative to first conduct a "gut check" to determine important factors such as what knowledge and competencies are needed and who the key stakeholders are. "What will the initiative do and how will it provide value?" asked Chait. "How big is the initiative and how much of it falls into whose domain? What can it really accomplish?"

IT Not a Critical KM Leadership Skill

Interestingly, preliminary results from a survey Chait and Moulton are conducting with businesses running knowledge management initiatives show that IT is considered the least important skill for knowledge management leaders. Deep business knowledge is considered most important, followed by excellent communication skills and trust from others.

"A decade ago, the results would have been different," commented Chait. "People thought IT was how you managed knowledge."

For knowledge management team members, IT is considered to be of moderate importance, while subject matter expertise is the most preferred skill by a wide margin. Moulton said that in knowledge management, users are drivers of action and IT provides response to let the action happen. "Users define knowledge management needs and functions," she said.

KM Initiatives Receive Respect

Preliminary survey results also indicate knowledge management initiatives are generally taken seriously by the organizations conducting them. Forty-two percent of knowledge management initiatives covered in the survey are part of structured programs and another 30% are approved "one-off" projects, meaning only about one quarter are unofficial "skunkworks" projects.

In addition, 68% of knowledge management initiatives in the survey have been running for three years or more, with 40% in place for five years or more. "You wouldn't have seen these numbers 5 to 10 years ago because the initiatives were too new," Chait said.

Editor's Note: Check out our Gilbane Boston conference coverage in our special events section.