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Having taken a couple of (essentially free) seminars on knowledge
management and created a KM site for a previous employer, I think some
inaccurate assumptions have been made about KM.
First, my informal definition: KM is intended to convert
data--information lying around in any number of sources--into knowledge,
meaning information that is in context and easily retrievable.
Data-mining is a closely related tool, though more widely used for
1) KM is directed at intangible but useful information that does not get
captured in normal documentation. I liken this information to the e-mail
sent out to a limited number of people: others probably would like the
information, too, but there's no way for them (or the original
recipients days later) to easily retrieve it. Another example is those
hallway conversations where someone say, "Hey, I just came up with a
neat way to do X..." and only the other person gets this potentially
It may be valid to say this SHOULD get documented, but it doesn't, and a
good KM system makes it easy for people to do so. Note that these bits
of info can be as small as a single sentence, and thus hard to document
outside of other related but nonsequential bits.
2) KM provides quantifiable results. As just one example, a major oil
company--I don't have my notes here, or I'd give you the name--saved
millions of dollars by setting up a system that helped oil field
managers share best practices easily in a contextual database. If you've
ever sought help from a software tips site, you've benefited from KM,
whether or not the site owner realized it!
3) KM is not the latest buzzword. Frankly I don't care what you call it,
but attempts to capture intangible information dates back decades. This
particular term goes back at least 10 years, and I took my first seminar
five years ago.
4) KM is not related to individual-specific layoffs, though it could
create efficiencies leading to broader layoffs. Without a new person in
place to use the knowledge, it does no one any good. Think for a moment
about all the things you know about your current job or project now that
you wish you had known when you started. Regardless, even if a company
was capturing intangible knowledge in order to fire you, it has a right
to anything you learned on the job, just like any other IP. It paid for
that knowledge. Beyond all that, the "hit by a bus" scenario is a valid
5) KM is not a proprietary term or system. No one explicitly said it
was, but I want to make clear that this is not a high-priced repackaging
of common sense. Some consultants make money by teaching basic English
to people who already had it in high school--that doesn't make either
the consultant or English unethical.
In short, KM can be misused for overpriced training or time-wasting just
like anything else. And it may be just the latest term for an older
concept. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. The
concept is a legitimate business concern that does not typically get
Disclaimer: PortalPlayer is not engaged in any business related to KM.
Technical Communications Mgr.
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