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Fact or Fad? Ten Shifts in Knowledge Management
Beneath the KM fad lie substantive management practices
Increasingly questions about the future of knowledge management arise. This time last year, 47 per cent of managers in a study by Cranfield School of Management expressed the view that it was just a fad. Now, with the KPMG survey putting the figure at only two per cent, it seems that the future of KM is more secure.
To gain an insight on the likely future of knowledge management, it's instructive to look at how some earlier 'fads' have evolved. Few large companies today do not practice Total Quality Management, at least in some form. Quality has become embedded in all their products and processes - although you still frequently find companies who are not practicing what they preach. Similarly, most organizations have introduced some form of Business Process Reengineering, even if not restructuring as radically as Hammer and Champey defined it. The point is, that these concepts have matured into a set of desired management practices, that in turn have stimulated a thriving industry for experts, suppliers of tools and techniques, training and other services. One question that remains, however, is why many companies still deliver shoddy goods and services, or why BPR has frequently failed to deliver the desired improvements. However, just as you shouldn't blame the messenger, the success that many companies have achieved indicates you should not blame the tools and techniques. All depends on how well they are applied.
Knowledge Management Today
In just two to three years knowledge management has come a long way. It's becoming accepted and management interest in it as a potential 'Holy Grail' has encouraged much relabelling, not just by suppliers, but by many initiatives within companies that are dealing with knowledge (which is about all of them). Beneath the fad, many companies and individuals are genuinely trying to better understand the contribution of knowledge to business success. Of course, once they get to grips with it, they find that some 90 per cent is common sense and good management practice. Also, that not a lot is new - at least if you know where to look.
For each of the management fucntions within KM there are accepted disciplines. Its just that some of them need tweaking to deal with the intangible nature of knowledge, especially tacit knowledge. Also, what knowledge gives is a unifying perspective over many different aspects of management. So, whereas the nature of the fad is mostly relabeling, reframing and repositioning, beneath the fad are substantive management activities.
Ten Shifts in Knowledge Management
Back to the question: What is the future of knowledge management? Here are ten shifts that I think we will see.
1. From a Dimension of Other Disciplines to a Discipline in its Own Right
2. From Strategic Initiatives to Routine Practice
3. From Inward Focus on Knowledge Processes to External Focus on Knowledge Businesses
4. From Best Practices to Breakthrough Practices
5. From Knowledge Codification and Databases to Tradeable Knowledge Assets.
6. From Knowledge Processes to Knowledge Objects
7. From Knowledge Maps to Knowledge Navigators/Agents
8. From Knowledge Centres to Knowledge Networks
9. From Knowledge Communities to Knowledge Markets
10. From Knowledge Management to Knowledge Innovation.
David Skyrme is a strategist on knowledge management and innovation and collaborative technologies. He is the co-author of Creating the
Knoweldge-based Business and Measuring the Value of Knowledge, both published by Business Intelligence. He also edits the
I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION e-newsletter, a free briefing analysing developments in the networked knowledge economy.
Published in Knowledge Management Review, pp. 6-7, (July-August 1998).
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