Knowledge Management Research Center
F ALL THE BUSINESS TRENDS of the past decade, perhaps none—possibly excepting
reengineering—is more closely associated with technology than knowledge
management. Quality circles don't demand a computer. Nor does the development
of a learning organization or the adoption of a balanced scorecard. Technology
will likely play an enabling part in these activities but not to the extent
occasioned by knowledge management. In fact, KPMG LLP's Chief Knowledge Officer
Michael J. Turillo says that "knowledge management cannot be done without
not. But knowledge management is in danger of being perceived as so
seamlessly entwined with technology that its true critical success factors
will be lost in the pleasing hum of servers, software and pipes. As
vendors label their document management, database or groupware products
"knowledge management solutions," executives can be excused for mistaking
the software for the solution. It's not.
Yogesh Malhotra, founder, chairman and CKO of the Global Risk Management Network, LLC, in Syracuse, New York, and Global Risk Management Network, a Web site devoted to knowledge management
(www.brint.org), has identified some myths that surround the murky confluence
of information technology and knowledge management.
MYTH: Knowledge management technologies deliver the right information to the
right person at the right time. Malhotra says that this idea applies to an
outdated business model. Information systems in the old industrial model mirror
the notion that businesses will change incrementally in an inherently stable
market, and executives can foresee change by examining the past. "The basic
premise is that you can predict...how and what you'll need to do and that IS
can simplify this and do it efficiently," he says. The new business model of
the Information Age, however, is marked by fundamental, not incremental,
change. Businesses can't plan long-term; instead, they must shift to a more
flexible "anticipation-of-surprise" model. Thus, it's impossible to build a
system that predicts who the right person at the right time even is, let alone
what constitutes the right information.
MYTH: Information technologies can store human intelligence and experience.
Technologies such as databases and groupware applications store bits and pixels
of data. "But they can't store the rich schemas that people possess for making
sense of data bits," says Malhotra. Moreover, information is
The same assemblage of data can evoke different responses from different
people. "The reason this is important is that many information textbooks say
that while people come and go their experience can be stored in databases. But
unless you can scan a person's mind and store it directly into a database, you
cannot put bits into a database and assume that somebody else can get back the
experience of the first person."
MYTH: Information technologies can distribute human intelligence. Again, this
assumes that companies can predict the right information to distribute and the
right people to distribute it to. And bypassing the distribution issue by
compiling a central repository of data for people to access doesn't solve the
problem either. "The fact of information in a database doesn't ensure that
people will see or use the information," Malhotra says. "Most of our knowledge
management technology concentrates on efficiency and creating a
consensus-oriented view. The data therein is rational, static and without
context." And such systems, he adds, do not account for renewal of existing
knowledge and creation of new knowledge.
So when you next hear that KM is an IT-based activity, capitalize the I and
lowercase the t.
Senior Editor Carol Hildebrand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.