Any Gartner analyst knows that interest in particular topics waxes and wanes, sometimes for discernible reasons and sometimes we don’t know why. This week’s topic was knowledge management, or as the aficionados call it, KM. The first client call was a review of a KM strategy and then other discussions progressed from there. What comes up frequently – and did again this week – is a confusion over KM, collaboration and social media. What do these terms mean, how are they different, or are they even different?
I’m not known for engaging in definitions debates. While it is important to be clear and accurate in one’s communication, I derive little joy from discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. What is important is not what term is used (as my friends in the mid-west say, “it don’t make no never mind”) – but clearly defining the value you expect to get from the initiative. The critical questions that need to be answered are “what do you want to achieve?” and “how will this make your target constituency’s life easier?” Both of these questions must be answered with a very high degree of specificity if the initiative will be successful. (Gartner clients may want to read my research note describing a process for doing this.)
In most cases when I talk with clients about KM, collaboration or social media, what they want to gain is similar: they want to get more benefit from the information assets inside or outside their organizations. The complication is that as the problems they are hoping to solve by applying these knowledge assets increase in complexity, so does the likelihood that the knowledge needed to solve them cannot be neatly codified.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I’ve been a member of the Boston KM Forum for more years than I care to think about. The KM Forum is ably guided by Lynda Moulton and Larry Chait. Periodically we will discuss whether a name change for the group is required. After all, KM has certainly changed a lot over the past decade. But somehow we just haven’t come up with a better term and so we stick with what we have (and then of course there would be the expense of changing all the fancy stationery (grin)). And we acknowledge that topics that fit under the KM banner include content management, learning, innovation and collaboration.
So don’t worry too much about what you call that project that aims to get more value from information assets. Instead, spend the time looking for ways to get people better connected and allow them to filter out the useful knowledge from wealth of information that surrounds them.
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