For fifteen years we’ve been speaking about knowledge services as a management concept.
We first came to our understanding of knowledge services back at the end of the 1990s, when we realized that in many organizations senior management and enterprise leadership had trouble grasping the concept of “managing” knowledge, despite the fact that we had been dealing — pretty successfully, too — with knowledge management since Tom Stewart came up with his ideas about intellectual capital some years earlier.
But knowledge management (KM) just didn’t cut it in many companies and organizations. “Too remote,” some folks said. “Too removed from the daily workplace challenges.”
OK. Perhaps that was the case but there were still management and organizational leaders who understood the value of successful knowledge sharing within their organizations. And plenty of people were trying to figure out how to describe the benefits of managing knowledge well. Lots of good work was done, by individuals as well as through professional organizations and companies (most notably through APQC and Gartner, for two good examples). But how to convince the nay-sayers (or simply those who had no experience with and thus did not understand KM)?
That was when we got into the picture, since we had been dealing with disciplines like KM and strategic planning for the information services community. It was sort of a natural “leap” (you might say) for us. Through our work — and that of many organizations and clients with whom we worked — we found ourselves coming up with the concept of knowledge services. Obviously we don’t claim to be the first to use the term (it’s a pretty easy phrase to work with) but we do believe we were the first to use the phrase to demonstrate how activities related to knowledge sharing could link to knowledge value and have that link recognized by organizational management. In an article describing our take on knowledge services, published in Information Outlook in June, 2001, the excerpts in a sidebar made it clear that knowledge services could have serious impact on how work in the knowledge domain could be important to a company’s success:
Knowledge Services is a management approach to the use of information in which knowledge development and knowledge sharing are basic to every transaction and every interaction that occurs.
Knowledge Services recognizes that the most critical asset in any group or environment is what its people know.
This knowledge — this intellectual capital — is the organization’s primary competitive asset.
As a management methodology, Knowledge Services provides the tools for ensuring that this intellectual asset is captured, organized, analyzed, interpreted, and customized for maximum return to the organization.
And of course we came up with a definition:
Knowledge Services is the management and service-delivery methodology that converges information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning.
With our colleagues we were soon discussing the value of knowledge services — how it leads to knowledge development and knowledge sharing (to which we hooked the acronym KD/KS) — and a little later, thanks to the contribution of one of my students, we added a third successful product for the knowledge-sharing process, that of knowledge utilization (and our little acronym grew to KD/KS/KU).
We left it at that for several years, through our work with consulting clients and conversations with colleagues, through our many strategic learning assignments for clients and professional associations and, beginning in 2011, in the university classes I taught, working with graduate students learning in their academic studies how to develop knowledge services strategy. And of course in the workplace (for students who were employed while they were engaged in their graduate studies).
It wasn’t long, though, before new ideas came into the knowledge services construct. For one thing, we (and our colleagues) began to find ourselves going back to our earliest definition of knowledge services when we spoke about the three elements of knowledge services as information management, knowledge management, and strategic (performance-centered) learning. It was that last “element” (we might call it) of the jokingly referred to “three-legged stool” of knowledge services that seemed to get neglected. Indeed, we even — for some years — dropped the parenthetical adjective and just referred to “strategic learning” but that wasn’t smart. We needed to state that there was a result to strategic learning, that there was a product or outcome that would certify that strategic learning — as an element of knowledge services — would be equal to information management and KM as knowledge services success is realized.
We also began to recognize that our first element — information management — wasn’t just the “soft” side of information and knowledge sharing. It also incorporated the technology that enables knowledge sharing in the 21st-century organization. So we decided it would be appropriate to recognize that information management incorporates technology management as a critical component, and if we are going to speak of information management, we must include technology management.
All of which gives us good reason for re-defining knowledge services (given that all those participating in knowledge services activities, organizational business units called “knowledge services,” and studies in the field), recognizing that knowledge services can now be best defined as follows :
Knowledge Services is the management and service-delivery methodology that converges information management (including technology management), knowledge management, and strategic (performance-centered) learning into a single, over-arching operational function, ensuring organizational success by matching intellectual capital management with the corporate or organizational mission.