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Knowledge management is not a market

by Karen Hobert  |  February 21, 2018  |  Submit a Comment

I regularly receive requests from clients to discuss the “Knowledge Management Market”, its vendors, products, value, and growth. The tricky part when answering this line of questioning is that, from Gartner Research’s point of view, there is no such thing as a “Knowledge Management Market”.

While there are products and vendors out there that call their products Knowledge Management, what we see is an array of technologies and capabilities that can foster a variety of knowledge related use cases. Some are purposed focused tools for a particular business activity (e.g., CRM or ITSM), others focus on the organization and findability of verified content sources, while others track knowledge resources and make accessing them more user-friendly (e.g., natural language querying, VPAs).

Bottom line, there is no single product category that we define as Knowledge Management.

Gartner defines Knowledge Management as a “discipline that enables effective action through relevant intellectual assets (including what is known but not necessarily documented).” Our full definition is:

“Knowledge management (KM) is a discipline that formalizes the management of intellectual assets, enabling effective action through their use. KM promotes a collaborative and integrative approach to the creation, capture, organization, and use of intellectual assets — including what is known but not necessarily documented. KM technology exists in the context of CRM, customer self-service, etc.; while collaboration, content, search, or portal technology supports general KM programs.”

In other words, ascertaining knowledge from intellectual assets (data, information, and people) is a practice.

  • Knowledge comes from individuals and groups.
  • It comes from data and insight that can be derived from that data.
  • It comes from making connections and sharing what is known.

As such, it cannot be embodied through purely technological or digital means. Accordingly, KM cannot be enabled or serviced by a singular tool or technology.

Knowledge is something that can be recalled. Knowledge recall depends on the context, assets, individuals and sharing mechanisms at hand. There are many approaches and technologies that can assist in the capture, organization, and transfer of knowledge.

The term, “Knowledge Management” creates a false sense that managing knowledge is a singularly solvable problem; that knowledge can be captured, organized and transferred via a specific tool even though intellectual assets are spread across countless digital, physical and human resources. The story that KM hasn’t delivered on its promises (which is not true at all) embodies the disappointment we feel when the notion of a technological KM silver bullet is disproved.

When I am asked questions about the KM technology market I take it as an invitation to discuss a different approach. Rather than look for a single tool, I suggest considering different knowledge use cases before considering the functionality that can support them. Each use case will be defined by its knowledge sources, how it is captured and organized (if it can be), where it needs to be shared and how it can be easily found, especially in the context of the work at hand.

KM is a discipline. It’s a business practice that establishes how intellectual assets are captured, maintained and transferred so that individuals, the organization, and others can benefit from intellectual assets.

Category: knowledge-management  technology-markets  

Karen Hobert
Research Director
5 years at Gartner
32 years IT Industry

Karen A. Hobert is a Digital Workplace Content, Insight and Experience Research Director, with deep expertise in content services, knowledge management and collaboration. Ms. Hobert brings a 27-year career in digital workplace and content services markets and strategies to Gartner Research. Her past work includes delivering a wide range of digital workplace efforts, from topics as broad as developing high-level strategies for implementing a content and collaboration platform, to ones as discrete as building a business case for cloud-based content services. Read Full Bio

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