I once was worked at a company with a knowledge management system, and one day I was reminded we had it so I logged in. The most recent message was a couple of weeks old from our CTO. He had posted a single question: “Does anyone still use this?” I laughed to myself and logged out.
But are knowledge management systems doomed to fail?
In a reaction to recent posts on serious problems with document management and enterprise search, Stephen Fishman, in his article “The End of Knowledge Management is Already Here” in CMS Wire, argues for a resetting of the goal posts for knowledge management. Fishman’s argument is essentially twofold. First, he argues that knowledge management search can never compare with Google search. Second, he argues that members of the organization won’t use the tool simply because you built it because they lack the understanding that they “stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.”
It’s true that many knowledge management tools lack the sophistication of Google for a “simple” search, but some have very solid search functionality. Search should not be the only means of finding material in a knowledge management system. Better systems have means of tagging items, categorizing them, and relating them to other pieces of content that makes the acquisition of knowledge simpler and more relational. In fact, because the people that set up the system understand the company and its needs, proper categorization of materials should enable the searcher to find information relatively easily.
The second argument is the argument that I find most important and agree with. What I don’t agree with is the inevitability of the conclusion. As many who have used knowledge management systems in the past know, they are only doomed to fail if the tool isn’t powerful and easy – and if they organization fails to properly implement and care for it.
In his paper “Critical Factors In The Successful Implementation Of Knowledge Management” in the Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Chong Siong Choy provides tremendous insight into what’s necessary for a successful knowledge management implementation. Key among his findings are a series of eleven propositions Chong makes for successful implementation. Not surprisingly, the focus of implementation is on people rather than the technology or even process.
The 11 Factors to Successful Knowledge Management Implementation:
- Employee training
- Employee involvement
- Open and trustworthy teamwork
- Employee empowerment
- Visible top management leadership and commitment
- Information systems infrastructure
- Performance measurement
- Knowledge-friendly culture
- Knowledge structure
- Elimination of organizational constraints
Organizations that implement knowledge management with the right tool following the practices outlined above will thrive. With a proper solution, they can measure this through metrics of engagement. Good tools will have analytics and reports that allow you not only to measure employee activity but also to ensure the knowledge the tool contains is relevant, accurate, and important to the company.
Knowledge management isn’t dead. But it may be at a point of reckoning. We’ve tried installing systems with an implementation plan built on nothing but hope. Having learned that this doesn’t work, organizations need to find a system proven to get results — and to implement it according to a plan similar to the 11-point plan outlined here.