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Knowledge Management — Time to Come Out of the Closet

by French Caldwell  |  October 11, 2009  |  8 Comments

What is the most important role of the IT department in managing enterprise risks?  Is it to just manage IT’s own risk, with a focus on security?  Is it to get better alignment of IT services to business needs?  Is it to advise the general counsel, the chief financial officer, and other business executives on the IT solutions that can help to improve risk management?  It’s all of the above, truly.

But the biggest and most impactful role for IT in enterprise risk management is to ensure the best alignment possible of information to business needs.  But for business alignment, don’t start with the technology infrastructure — start with the information.  Many enterprises have adopted and advanced knowledge management programs to just that.  We don’t hear as much about them these days, but there are many successful KM programs in successful enterprises.

I was talking to Mark Raskino the other day about his upcoming Cannes symposium Mastermind interview of the CIO of Shell.  I mentioned to him that Shell is one company that adopted KM early and continues to embrace it.  There are others in many different industry sections.  In government for example, the U.S. Army credits KM with directly impacting operations.

A lot of KM professionals though have not been getting the love for a long time.  Between the collapse of the tech bubble in 2001 and the economic collapse of 2008 they went into hiding — changing the names of their programs and projects — so they talk now about social networking, instead of tacit knowledge, or about being information-centric, instead of knowledge-centric.  These are all valid alternative terms, but by taking the common K-word away, many enterprises have diffused their information strategies and deflated the effort of an enterprise wide-approach for getting the maximum business value possible from their information.  The ultimate goal of an enterprise knowledge management program is to put a strong business focus on the alignment of knowledge to enterprise needs, whether that is the knowledge in someone’s head or the knowledge captured in a database.

All of us in the IT industry, whether we are vendors, service providers or users of IT, should quit avoiding the K-word.  Alignment of information to business needs is job one, and KM is the strategic discipline for putting the right focus on that alignment.  It is the most strategically valuable information risk management tool that is available to CIOs and other business leaders.  For all those KM professionals, like me, who have been in the closet for the last eight years, in these tough economic times our organizations need us now more than ever — let’s bring KM into the light again.

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Tags: knowledge-management  risk-management  

French Caldwell
VP and Gartner Fellow
15 years at Gartner
19 years IT industry

French Caldwell is a vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research, where he leads governance, risk and compliance research. Mr. Caldwell also writes and presents on knowledge management. His research includes analysis of the impact… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Knowledge Management — Time to Come Out of the Closet

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by French Caldwell. French Caldwell said: Time for KM again […]

  2. “But for business alignment, don’t start with the technology infrastructure — start with the information. ”

    Quite right. But unfortunately, the information often gets garbled the game of “telephone” that happens as it is transmitted to the IT folks.

    We address that part of the alignment gap with a Wiki for executable English. The information is in English, so it helps to ‘debug’ it by running it over sample data, and then inspecting English explanations of the results.

    Or, to put it another way, the above is a technical means to tighten the coordination between business and IT.

    The Wiki for executable English is online at, and shared use is free.

  3. Quite right Frank, we have been banging on the inside of the closet for some time now that we are starting to get a persecution complex and have to hide our true identities.

    Many CIOs are still trying to squeeze efficiencies out of the operations by cutting costs and streamlining services rather than allowing their people to build capability and deliver extraordinary performance.

    Intellectual assets are the only organizational assets that grow in value the more that you use them. That’s what us KM mangers do – we help organizations grow and better use their intellectual assets. The fact that this represents %70 of the value of most organizations is quite galling.

    keep on blogging French

  4. Rajiv Deo says:

    In my view, the best time for KM is NOW when most of the productivity & quality improvement through conventional mechanisms has been already done with.
    CEO’s are clueless regarding what should be done now. Mere adopting and encouraging social network based approach will not work. If one wants to improve happiness quotient, you need to do systemic knowledge management by rightly positioning KM at the hub of every business.
    Investing in development of a suitable / customized 3 to 5 years KM roadmap has to be started now. ROI on such investment will exceed any other business investment when we see light at the end of economic downturn tunnel.
    How to do this can be very specialized and involved activity. That is where we all come in to help CEO’s.

  5. JP Harris says:

    Until SM used for E2.0, there wasn’t a technology that allowed for tacit knowledge sharing. Past technology initiatives didn’t always fulfill their promise because the technology got between people.

  6. […] אנשי ניהול הידע צריכים לצאת מהארון: אחד מסגני הנשיא של חברת הייעוץ גרטנר, French Caldwell, טוען שמאז התפוצצות הבועה בשנת 2001, מתחבאים אנשי ניהול הידע בארון, והגיע הזמן לצאת: Knowledge Management — Time to Come Out of the Closet […]

  7. Yes, the “K” word has suffered over the years, IMO because it was so quickly taken up as sales and marketing jargon. Rapidly, without really understanding the concept, purchasers discovered that a “portal” does not equal knowledge any more than the ol’ file cabinet did.

    The current (positive) tension between the human side focused on knowledge sharing and the technology side focused on access and means of sharing is better targeted. However, there is a danger that knowledge management becomes little more than opinion management. And, without attention paid to adequate record-keeping, regardless of media and format, the risk to organizations is significant.

    Perhaps simply knowing is not enough. We must be able to ground knowledge with a certain rigour applied to its formation.

    There are a number of current trends that suggest that, as Rajiv Deo says, the right time is now (if not yesterday). Public interest in accountability and transparency has been high over the last year or so. This creates a tolerance for the work necessary to get there…I sense that without another crisis, this tolerance is lessening. And, reliance (and trust) in balance sheets as an indicator of safe investment has taken a hit. Means to reveal the intellectual capital of the enterprise offer a more reliable indicator of sustainable progress…but this seems to require (a) a shift in the definition of growth from acquisition to productivity and (b) underpinnings that tie the promise of knowledge and intellectual capital management to the evidence base.

    Interesting times. Opportunity for reflection over the last many months has the ideas flowing….now to find the language!

  8. Swan says:

    While I consider myself a KMer, I also believe that KM as a banner is doomed. Simply put It is too broad. Though there are many great KM experts who significantly contribute to the domain, there is very little consensus nor collaboration towards a common goal.

    As soon as there is a tipping point of consensus around some portion of KM, that portion will be culled and worked as its own space. Each time this happens, it leaves KM as the vague parent aging and becoming more “out of touch”. Of course, with age comes wisdom and there will always be pearls of wisdom to come from the KM community.

    But, IMHO don’t look for some big KM resurgence.

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