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From Knowledge Management to Knowledge Commerce
David J. Skyrme
This article was first published as an invited contribution in the feature: 'Your Say: The Future of Knowledge Management', Knowledge Management, p.29 (December 1999).
To consider the future of knowledge management we need to look more closely at the past and present. In the past many organizations were practicing knowledge management in some form or other, but did not call it that. Other pioneers took a more strategic approach and created formal knowledge initiatives. Today many organizations have formal KM programmes. Few, if any, have completely institutionalized it as a widespread practice or fully integrated it into their main business processes and management decisions. The future, therefore, will still see many organizations in what knowledge pioneers regard as the past and present, with many unfinished agendas.
Beyond that, innovative opportunities will be created through ever improving technologies and software solutions. Knowledge will be more portable and packaged, with exploit knowledge and knowledge worker support aids carried around in hand-held devices. Artificial intelligence will allow computers to act as symbiotic partners with knowledge workers, adapting their actions to user behaviour by predicting and collecting in advance information they are likely to need.
Overall, the main shift will be a move from a predominantly inward looking perspective of better knowledge management within organizations to an external focus in which organizations seek better ways to productize and commercialize it. Manufacturing companies may well earn more from licencing intellectual property and providing advisory services such as training and design. Knowledgeable individuals, as well as consultancies, will make more of their knowledge explicit for wider distribution and sale over the Internet. The knowledge market, iqport.com, is a precursor of how knowledge may be marketed. It can be bought as packaged information, community participation, online advice, or online master-classes. What's more its micropayments system can handle fairly small units of sale and allocate revenues directly to different contributors to end value, including content creators and quality accreditors. Such integration of e-commerce with knowledge (either in the form of knowledge objects or access to knowledge networks) is resulting to a whole new field of k-commerce (knowledge commerce). For me, this is an exciting development that allows individuals and organizations to exploit their knowledge assets more effectively and globally.
While k-commerce will be the new frontier, many organizations will still be grappling with today's issues. Many still continue to view technology as the primary approach to knowledge management. I recently came across one organization that dismantled its knowledge centre, since everything was now on the intranet. But could users easily find what they sought, compared with information specialists? No! And what about all their tacit knowledge? A lesson from the past is that successful implementation of technology-based projects requires close attention to human and organizational factors. This applies equally to knowledge management. While enhanced by technology and attention to process, effective knowledge management depends above all on the motivation and management of people. The future of knowledge management will be more fun and colourful by putting people first and allowing them to express their personalities.
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