Like “Easter Egg” or “Sandbox” the term “Knowledge Management” is defined by the generation using it. In the 1990s, as the internet solidified its place in Corporate America, training leaders and business leaders alike viewed knowledge management as a storage repository–a one-stop-shop for seamless access to information on demand. Add to the repository a search capability (even a 1990s search capability), a engaging user interface, and some well though-out logic to organize the information and, voila, knowledge was there for the taking.
Once these repositories were established, it did not take long for knowledge management to become a staple in IT, HR and Operations strategy. A senior call center executive at a large mutual fund company saw knowledge management as a way to reduce training classroom time and improve productivity. He used to say “concepts in the head, facts in the box,” meaning don’t spend valuable time in the classroom teaching facts like “fee amounts” and “policies” but instead use classroom time to teach why fees existed and why certain policies were in place. He insisted that learners be taught to build confidence in the knowledge management system and be tested not on their ability to access their rote memory, but rather access the information they needed online.
As the 1990s became the 2000s, cultures took hold of knowledge management. HR leaders reveled in building learning cultures in which employees were rewarded for their free exchange of ideas, either inserting their knowledge into the system or commenting on what was already there. Of course, these were the days when legal and compliance and yes, HR, soon picked their heads up to see that the information being shared and accessed via these robust searchable knowledge management repositories was not necessarily accurate. Colleagues would share best practices, “this is how I do it,” but they would drift into some dangerous regulatory and ethical grey areas that were now legally discoverable online. And so, governance was born.
As technology improved, so too did knowledge management utilities. Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) were born to help individuals perform tasks without ever really learning how. A large copy machine company developed an EPSS capability in hand-held devices operated by copy machine repairmen. As the repairmen looked at the machine, they would enter information into their device, e.g. the model number, what error code was flashing and more. The EPSS would provide specific instructions on how to fix the machine on the basis of these inputs. With this new technology, machine repair training was altogether eliminated. Product management could release new copy machine models and simply update the EPSS software.
Mike Glass, VP Talent Management & Development, Thermo Fisher Scientific
No need to bring the repairmen back for training.
By 2010, a new knowledge management challenge emerged. Generation Xers were innovating with their new technologies, and for their more seasoned Baby Boomer managers, this posed challenges. Remember that call center reference earlier? An incident occurred that shined a bright light on what one could call “knowledge management generational bias.” A seasoned manager approached a phone representative whose computer screen was filled with 10 instant message windows scattered neatly across their screen. Irate and convinced that, like his teenager at home, this phone representative was “fooling around” instead of working, the employee was quickly sent home for disciplinary reasons. A follow up discussion would later reveal that this representative had built a knowledge network; that is, had identified 10 experts in the company that could help him quickly attain the information he needed to perform their job real-time. Knowledge management to this representative was not accessing a static repository, but activating a network of knowledgeable trusted individuals who had answers to difficult questions.
Like ‘Easter Egg’ or ‘Sandbox’ the term ‘Knowledge Management’ is defined by the generation using it
Through all of the years, knowledge management’s common goal has been enablement. With 2020 approaching, and another decade soon to follow, company growth strategies depend on IT to enable the easy transfer of knowledge.
As each business and sector developed their strategies and governance for Knowledge Management, behind the scenes the “back bone” of the technology stack was changing real time. New technologies and companies were emerging and more traditional software companies were finding that their traditional systems were no longer capable of meeting the needs of this new generation of Knowledge Management leaders and consumers.
First there was a shift from Knowledge Management as a bolt-on to an application domain. This opened up new verticals that had traditionally been covered by the larger software companies as a second tier priority. The second shift was from traditional computing to the cloud. This enabled these smaller players to quickly reach the level of scale of larger players at lower cost points. With this came the enablement of mobile and other platforms that created an operating environment that was on par with most of the enterprise applications. The final shift in the technology journey has been in the area of integration. The technology stacks now enable integration with traditional enterprise applications as well as other less structured sources like document repositories outside of the company. As we look into the future, The Internet of Things will also open more integration opportunities from devices and sensors.
As an example in our world, a scientific application may have access to internal technical references but may also seamlessly search material globally from sources like the National Institutes of Health or another institution. This opens up many opportunities for scientific collaboration and innovation. As you can imagine, research happens globally and these more tightly integrated capabilities can now reach and connect individuals with common goals. Within the company, HR’s perspective is that our knowledge is a valued currency that connects experts across the company. This is a key component to advancing our innovation capabilities and directly drives the values to our customers and shareholders. This has positioned knowledge management as a capability that is now integrated into our standard workflow, instead of just a data repository.
Today in partnership with the business, the IT and HR functions are enabling integrated Knowledge Management capabilities that are seamless in their integration with our workflows and external sources.