The relevance of knowledge management today


This Friday I’m doing a lunch presentation titled Knowledge, Networks, and Social Media in Melbourne to the KMLF (originally known as the Knowledge Management Liberation Front), a group of knowledge management practitioners, and the Victorian Public Sector Continuous Improvement Network. Details on the event are here – the organizers say all are welcome. The description of my presentation is:

Knowledge management has provided a foundation for many of the most exciting developments in business today. Network approaches, including social networking platforms, organisational network analysis and industry network development, are proving to be fundamental business tools. The media landscape is being transformed by social media, including blogs, podcasts, photo and video sharing, user filtering and how user content is being integrated into traditional media.

Enterprise 2.0 is the term being used to describe how enterprise blogs, wikis and other collaborative tools are transforming knowledge sharing and co-creation in the organisation. Those with a deep background in knowledge management are eminently qualified to apply their experience and skills to these transformative domains; they represent massive opportunities for KM practitioners to create value.

Back in the 1990s I was usually identified with the knowledge management (KM) movement (though I always disliked the term). From the beginning of this decade actively sought to disassociate myself from knowledge management, because I felt the term had already become archaic, and it certainly didn’t encompass the scope of my interests. In an article on The Future of Knowledge Management published in KM Review and other publications in 2004, I explained why I felt it was time to move on from knowledge management, at the time identifying five successors to the movement: social networks, collaboration, relevance, workflow, and knowledge-based relationships. Moving on, this year I have found a large proportion of my energy spent on the future of media and media strategy, closely linked to my work on social networks, both inside organizations and in technology-enabled social media.

What has struck me over the last years is that while knowledge management is not perceived as a highly dynamic space, the skills and capabilities that were developed in the 1990s and beyond within the knowledge management movement are immensely relevant today and in the future. The KM label is unfortunate, yet the issues practitioners have been grappling with for a long time now, such as fostering collaboration, virtual work, enhancing social networks, serving relevant information, reducing overload, and so on remain absolutely central issues. The terminology and tools have substantially moved on, yet the fundamental problems are not new. As such, the wheel does not need to be reinvented, and those who have been in the knowledge management space can apply their expertise with enormous relevance. The language has changed, and I personally don’t regret that KM has been largely sidelined as a term. Yet there are big opportunities for the people who can adapt the knowledge organization skills they have developed over the years, and the organizations who apply them.