Sunday, October 24, 2004

So what about Knowledge Management?

After working with several large Fortune 1000 companies re: their Knowledge management(KM) initiatives (or often called "contact center consolidation project", "web self service project" or by several other names, the end result remains elusive - KM is still remains a buzzword.

So what is KM anyways ? Is it search? Is it classification of information? Several vendors have attempted to define it their way - notable among them are Primus (recently acquired by ATG - the content management company), Kanisa, Serviceware, SupportSoft etc.

The basic problem with this narrow definition is that it ignores the people and process aspect. Knowledge Management is the ability to harness knowledge between the ears of the your assets - the ones who walk out of the door at the end of the day. The boundaries of the enterprise are expanding - they include your partners,suppliers, distributors and customers - who have more knowledge about the quirks of your product that some of your employees. The challenge then is not limited to your enterprise that these vendors attempt to address, but how to extend these to others and bring them into a referenceable but growing database of information.

It is interesting to note that given the current parameters of a fixed time and fixed budget - the initial wave seems to be of expanding service by outsourcing/offshoring by adding new bodies at a fraction of the cost. Lets extend this forward to 5 years or more and offshoring too will become cost ineffective due the real problem - information explosion. It is impossible to keep pace with the exponentially increasing information and the demand for accurate service about specific products by relying on people addition alone.

So what's the solution? Transparency. Allowing all external parties like customers etc to collaboratively participate in documentation, review and feedback. It starts with basics - discussion groups. Then advances to Wiki-webs and more. Open source by definition is more open to this process than established oragnizations, even though the number of users touched by the latter is several orders of magnitude more!

The key concept here is keep people and externals interested in the contribution process - reputation tracking and rewarding is key. Can a customer or partner gain points in exchange for contributing solutions ? Do the points mean something? (for e.g. a million points at one point an answer to get a PeopleSoft Shirt is certainly not worth it).

Today the concept of reputation is silo'd and locked into systems (so laments Marc Andreessen) - for e.g. its impossible to pull your reputation out of eBay and apply it to Amazon or to a business website). One notable exception to this rule is credit history - it seems to be consistently followed in the USA - and again is silo'd in one way due to three credit agencies :). Can the next logical extension to credit history be reputation history? Hmm....

Will an enterprise automatically campaign to have the most reputable people in the industry be their contributors? Will Microsoft expand their Passport strategy to include reputations? And then again - maybe not!.

Tracking back to the original issue tof KM - the bottomline is simple - multi-million $$$s in procuring search software will not help here. The real problem is far deeper than that and requires thought and persistence to gain a competitive advantage in the long run.

Tell me what you think.