It’s no secret knowledge management is a massive industry when it comes to the technology that supports the practice. The global knowledge management market will reach $1.1 trillion by 2026, according to Research and Markets.
Technology, however, remains only a part of effective knowledge management strategy for organizations that want to tighten up their programs in the digital workplace.
“Knowledge management has a long history by IT standards, but the methodologies defined by Nonaka and others in the late ‘90s still hold strong,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst of Deep Analysis. “But at its heart, knowledge management is the art of bringing order to chaos, to bring structure and efficiency to the sharing of organizational knowledge. Everyone needs access to organizational knowledge. We know it’s there, but often can’t find it.”
Knowledge Management vs. Information Management
The first step to a successful knowledge management strategy is recognizing what you’re working with, according to KnowledgeLake CEO and founder Ron Cameron. Defining “knowledge management” in relation to “content management” or “information management” is akin to defining “intelligence” in relation to “wisdom,” he said.
Cameron cited a Miles Kington quote: “Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
“In other words, intelligence is one’s capacity to store and utilize information while wisdom is more practical knowledge gained through experience,” Cameron said. “This same paradigm applies to knowledge management vs information management within the enterprise.”
Having the latest and greatest enterprise content management (ECM) and content services platform (CSP) in place is great, but how can enterprises leverage their business-critical content in tandem with institutional knowledge gained from interactions with customers, partners, suppliers and other key stakeholders in the business? “This is the challenge,” Cameron said, “as well as the value proposition, of getting knowledge management right.”
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Understand Knowledge Behaviors
Knowledge management is about delivering the right knowledge to the right person at the right time, according to Laura Pike Seeley, knowledge manager for HKS. To achieve this, a knowledge management program must center users and understand their knowledge behaviors, including the ways they seek, exchange and build knowledge.
“A strong knowledge management program is driven by knowledge strategy that is in lockstep with the organization’s priorities,” Pike Seeley added. “It’s not just about what we know, or who knows what. It’s about what we need to know as an organization to stay agile, relevant and competitive. Knowledge strategy seeks to drive and guide knowledge building and sharing activities within the organization.”
Ultimately, robust knowledge management ensures that an organization is able to effectively capture and leverage what is almost always its most valuable asset — the knowledge of its people, according to Pike Seeley.
Bringing Order to Organization — or by Department
In terms of knowledge management strategy you can go two ways: bring order to the entirety of your corporate knowledge or target a specific department or process, according to Pelz-Sharpe. “In the early days of knowledge management, it was the former; today in most cases it is the later approach,” Pelz-Sharpe said.
He cited the example of applying knowledge management to sales enablement, ensuring that in any situation a sales person has access to the right information to support their work at the right time.
“That goes further than providing them with a shared folder,” Pelz-Sharpe said. “It’s about enabling them and, where possible, pushing to them information and knowledge in context. The same is true in clinical or legal situations: where complex situations arise regularly and key insights from previous events can really help the clinician or attorney to provide the right information, again at the right time to the right person.”
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Be Proactive, Get Buy-in and Feedback
Cameron said organizations must be proactive about knowledge management, versus only thinking about it when an issue comes up. Further, when defining and deploying knowledge management initiatives, get the early buy-in of management and the user community. “Start by prioritizing workloads by value and implementation speed — i.e., grab the low-hanging fruit first,” Cameron said. “Allow users to be involved in the implementation, gather their feedback quickly and often, and then rinse and repeat.”
When the implementation is complete, the work is just beginning, according to Cameron. Manage the outcome carefully by being accessible to the users, and providing continuous training. “Most failures happen after implementation is complete, and then people move on to other activities,” Cameron said. “Preach — and practice — vigilance to key stakeholders involved in the knowledge management initiative to ensure success. Carefully measure the positive benefits of knowledge management and communicate it clearly throughout the organization.”
Recognize Changing Tech Landscape
According to Pelz-Sharpe, what has changed in the world of knowledge management is that historically this work was essentially manual. You had to build complex taxonomies and manually curate information and then tell people about it, usually through an intranet or corporate portal. “Today,” he added, “with the wide availability of cloud computing alongside AI and machine learning, you can automate much of that work and critically understand when and in what context somebody needs access to corporate knowledge. Microsoft Viva Topics is a good example of a tool that does this, as is Philadelphia-based startup Guru. There are plenty of others.”
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Understand Behaviors, Seek Solutions
However, don’t look toward tools and technologies to adjust and “fix” employee knowledge building and sharing behaviors, Pike Seeley said. Understand those behaviors and seek solutions that will optimize current workflows. “Alternatively, address behaviors that need to be adjusted through human and process — not technological — interventions,” she said.
“A team that is territorial over their knowledge resources won’t become less so if you merely give them a repository in which to store them. A culture of knowledge sharing has to be developed through communication, relationship building and alignment before technology solutions are considered.”
Start Small, and Start Strategic
Seek out initial knowledge management projects with high-impact potential and prioritize working with change-ready teams. This should likely start with an understanding of leadership priorities, Pike Seeley said, and that should reflect industry trends as well as the organization’s vision and mission. “Once potential projects are identified, seek out the teams with the appetite for knowledge management,” she added.
"Successes with knowledge management-friendly workgroups can help to establish proofs of concept that can encourage and inspire other teams to adopt better knowledge management practices.”
Incentivize Knowledge-Building Behaviors
Find ways to recognize and incentivize positive knowledge-building and sharing behaviors. This builds psychological safety, Pike Seeley said, while drawing attention to thought leadership within your organization and encouraging further knowledge exchange. “Ultimately,” she said, “you want your knowledge management efforts to focus on and reflect the best of your organization’s culture.”