Sometimes it seems a little too easy, doesn’t it? A little too simplistic. And, yes, in our work we are often asked: cannot knowledge management do the job? Why must KM converge with information management and strategic learning in this discipline called knowledge services?
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 those “silo” or “stovepipe” issues we hear so much about. For many years (decades really), leaders in these three disciplines have been doing a good job of establishing their credentials and working in their particular areas of expertise. Engineers and technical professionals, for example, made great progress in resolving the issues connected with information management (with no small assistance from many, many intellectual leaders in other disciplines, it must be noted).
And when KM came into the picture and was recognized (and often characterized) as intellectual capital, KM, too, created its own body of practitioners. OK. So sometimes it was a confused and amorphous coterie, people doing their best to bring some level of order out of the KM chaos, but whether they were successful or not, a message that continued to come through was that intellectual capital is too important for knowledge sharing to be left to chance.
It was the same with strategic learning. In many fields, 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.
Because organizational managers, corporate executives, and even leaders in organizations and institutions that were not necessarily business-focused required a unified approach. For efficiency and effectiveness, they needed an enterprise-wide knowledge strategy that addressed and sought to connect all strategic knowledge, to enable the enterprise to access and deliver any content connecting to any part of the organization and, not to be dismissed, to its success. These organizational leaders wanted a practical approach to managing knowledge. And since they could not grasp the idea of managing knowledge – quite understandably since most of us can’t – they had to be given something they could understand, a framework for servicing the knowledge-sharing needs of their employees, partners, affiliates, and anyone else with a reasonable interest in 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 and included in that framework – as part of the cost of doing business – or contracted out. So it made sense for them to respond to the idea of services for knowledge sharing. Since they understood the purpose and function of, say, legal services, or accounting services, or HR services, they could understand the purpose and function of knowledge services.
At about the same time, management leaders also began to recognize that enterprise-wide knowledge sharing doesn’t take place through the outputs of discreet functional entities, and this brings us to the second reason why KM alone cannot do the job.
With the build-up of 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 – organizations 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 archives, staff training and learning units, even information technology departments being created and put into place as individual and separate operational entities, no one was looking after enterprise-wide knowledge development and knowledge sharing. No thought was given to an institution-wide knowledge culture, one that would engage not only the usual knowledge-focused units of the organization, but all functional units (since they were all challenged to develop and share knowledge). The entire organization needed a practical way to deal with knowledge, to establish some sort of efficiency in each section and to be of benefit to the larger enterprise.
So knowledge services came on the scene to meet those needs.
Of course it didn’t happen immediately, or quickly. Indeed, the first suggestions about knowledge services as a practical approach to managing information, knowledge, and strategic learning didn’t fall into place until 2001 or so (as far as we can tell). Once identified and articulated, though, this particular refinement of KM caught on, and now we have many organizations using and indeed exploiting (in the positive sense of the term) knowledge services as the management methodology for knowledge sharing.
Remarkably, as enterprise leaders began to focus on knowledge services, very important things happened. Among these has been – and continues to be – a new emphasis on workplace roles associated with knowledge sharing. There are still strategic knowledge professionals (specialist librarians, records managers, archivists, and the like) identifying and organizing knowledge “artifacts.” Much of the substantive work of knowledge services, though, is now being done by people far removed from these fields, people with titles like “director, knowledge strategy,” or “knowledge coach,” or “knowledge thought leader.”
Their range of activity has enlarged, too, as knowledge services re-focuses organizational employees and affiliates from reactive or even pro-active interactions with one another and positions them as integrated and interactive knowledge sharers. In this workplace, people no longer wait to be asked to offer an opinion about how knowledge can be developed – or shared. It’s a whole new world, this knowledge-centric workplace, and it now includes the attributes associated with the organization or the institution as a knowledge culture.
It’s turned out to be a fascinating journey after all, and what it’s led to – not surprisingly – is the turning point corporations and organizations are experiencing today, the move to incorporate knowledge strategy into the organizational management framework and, supporting and implementing the enterprise-wide knowledge culture that ensures success, a new version of KM. “KM 2.0” we might call it, but since there is already a “KM 2.0” out there, I’m just as comfortable with “the new KM.” We’ll start drilling down into the new KM in up-coming posts. This, too, should be a rewarding journey.