Is social software the future of knowledge management?

Dave Pollard, author of the How to Save the World Weblog recently wrote a discussion paper called “The Future of Knowledge Management.” In it, he explores some of the reasons why knowledge management (KM) has failed to deliver a return on investment for the companies that have invested in it. He also shares his vision […]

Dave Pollard, author of the How to Save the World Weblog recently wrote a discussion paper called “The Future of Knowledge Management.” In it, he explores some of the reasons why knowledge management (KM) has failed to deliver a return on investment for the companies that have invested in it. He also shares his vision on how the discipline of KM could be reinvented to incorporate “social software” — technologies like Weblogs, peer-to-peer networking and sophisticated data mining tools — that would function much more efficiently than today’s centralized enterprise KM systems. Pollard believes this decentralized model of KM may help corporations to realize their dream of increasing worker productivity, capturing knowledge and enhancing innovation and collaboration.

Click here to view Pollard’s report.

Here are several excerpt from this fascinating discussion paper:

Why knowledge management has not been successful to date: “The reason for this failure was the unrealistic expectation that human organizational behavior could be changed. Unfortunately, people only change their behavior with there is an overwhelmingly compelling argument to do so. Knowledge — of the market, the business, and customer and employee wants and needs — is essential to success. But in none of these things has knowledge management proven to be either a critical element or a key differentiator. It has not demonstrated any competitive advantage for the organizations that have invested in it.”

Why KM, in some form, is still needed: Pollard Quotes from management guru Peter Drucker, who believes that “the greatest challenge to business management in the 21st-century is, and will be, improving a personal productivity and effectiveness of frontline workers doing increasingly complex and unique jobs.”

The failure of the “industrial” model of KM: Pollard points out that business knowledge has traiditionally been transferred person- to-person. KM attempted to replace this with a centralized model where employees would contribute what they know to a centralized repository of knowledge. But, given the fluid nature of work and knowledge today, this rigid model was doomed to failure, he implies. “Every job today, every process, is unique, and therefore the expectation that KM systems could capture ‘best practices’ and ‘success stories’ and ‘lessons learned’ that could be reapplied by others again and again was unrealistic.”

A new vision for knowledge capture and collaboration: “The emphasis should be at capturing ‘know who,’ i.e., the granular identification of experts inside and outside the organization whose expertise can be quickly brought to bear to solve specific problems, and the best means of contacting those experts just in time.” The solution to this challenge could be something that Pollard calls an “expertise finder,” which he explains in his discussion paper.

Weblogs as a tool for knowledge capture: “A… challenge to personal productivity is personal content management, the capture, organization, recall and dissemination of documents, messages and other personal knowledge in an intuitive, transparent, automatic, personally customizable and simple manner. There is a new class of tools that achieve this objective, called Weblogs. KM could play a critical role in the introduction of Weblogs to organizations.”

Here’s how it would work, in Pollard’s proposed model: Employees would catalog knowledge that is useful to them in their personal Weblogs, which would be highly flexible and customizable. Other employees could subscribe to their Weblogs via RSS feeds, setting up a peer-to-peer knowledge link in the process. A new class of intelligent data mining technology could be used to index the contents, links and other knowledge in each employee Weblog. This would enable employees anywhere in the organization to quickly search for and find knowledge, no matter where it was located in the company.

The process of data mining sounds much like the way in which Google builds a centralized search index by “spidering” millions of Web sites on a regular basis – decentralized content, but a centralized search index. Once an employee located an expert within the company, he or she could make personal contact with that person, or could peruse his or her Weblog, which Pollard says would act as a “proxy” for that expert if he or she was not available.

Fascinating stuff! I continue to be impressed with Dave Pollard’s clear vision for social software, and the ways in which it could enhance collaboration and innovation in today’s organizations. I highly recommend that you read this important discussion paper!

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