Delivering a keynote address next week to an international conference on Transformational Research for Sustainable Development.
Have been asked to supply a little history about knowledge services, and happy to do so. Now that SMR International is about to observe the 10th year since we introduced the concept (at least we think we did – we hadn’t heard anything about knowledge services until we started talking about it), this is a good time to think about how knowledge services came about.
So here’s what I’m going to say:
We understand now that it is in the convergence of information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning that we create knowledge services, the underlying foundation for the knowledge culture. Naturally we’re asked: cannot knowledge management (KM) do the job? Why must KM converge with information management and strategic learning to support enterprise success?
There are two reasons. The first is that in today’s business and research environment, the management of information, knowledge, and strategic learning as unconnected activities (even when these activities are recognized as related) is insufficient. The problem has to do with the standard “silo” or “stovepipe” issues we hear so much about. For several years, leaders in the three disciplines (and, we’re discovering, in other disciplines as well) have been doing a good job of establishing their credentials and proving the viability of providing an organizational focus their particular area of expertise.
With these three, for several decades we were able to see the engineers and technical professionals making great progress in resolving the issues connected with managing information (with no small assistance from many, many intellectual leaders in other disciplines, it must be noted). KM, too, when it came into the picture as intellectual capital, created its own body of practitioners although, as we’ve noted, it was at times a confused and amorphous coterie of people doing their best to bring some level of order out of the KM chaos. Similarly and throughout many professions, the development and provision of strategic learning as an operational function was given attention and very successful tools and techniques for managing strategic learning were created and implemented.
But these efforts were not enough. Why? Because organizational managers, corporate executives, and even leaders in organizations and institutions that were not necessarily business focused demanded a unified approach. They needed an enterprise-wide knowledge strategy that included all strategic knowledge and would enable the enterprise to access and deliver any content connecting to any part of the organization and, not to be dismissed, its success. They wanted to see a practical approach to managing knowledge.
And since they could not – quite understandably – grasp the idea of knowledge management, they had to be given something they could understand, a practical approach to servicing the knowledge-sharing needs of their employees, partners, affiliates, and anyone else with a reasonable connection to their organization’s effectiveness.
One thing executives did understand was the concept of services, enterprise support activities that are part of the organizational financial framework, included in the organizational financial framework – as part of the cost of doing business – or contracted and paid for. So it made sense for them to respond to the idea of services in support of knowledge sharing. Since they understood the purpose and function of legal services, say, or accounting services or HR services or facilities-maintenance services, they could understand the purpose and function of knowledge services.
At the same time, management leaders in organizations and corporations began to recognize that knowledge sharing cannot take place within discreet functional entities, thus providing us with the second reason why KM alone cannot do the job. With the build-up of those many separate and distinctive disciplines for handling knowledge content over the years – along with the concomitant growth of academic or academic-type education and training in support of those disciplines – the organization became flooded with functional units that were theoretically supposed to be about knowledge capture and knowledge sharing.
In reality, exactly the opposite happened. With functional units such as records management departments, specialized libraries, corporate or organizational archives, staff training and learning units, even information technology departments being created and put into place as separate operational entities, no one was looking after enterprise-wide knowledge development and knowledge sharing. There was a need for an institution-wide knowledge culture, one that would engage not only the usual information-focused units of the organization, but all functional units as well, including such critical administrative operations as executive services, financial management, HR, research and development, marketing, sales, legal services, and, yes, even facilities management. They all needed a practical way to develop and share knowledge, for the benefit of the organization that employed them, and knowledge services appeared on the scene to meet their needs.