Look around you: Knowledge Management and Technology.
I was on a bus recently tapping away at my laptop. Looking around, I could see people absorbed in technology. Mostly it was people looking at their mobiles but there were quite a few tablets and laptops in action too. And there was nothing special about the scene. It is now everyday life – on the bus, in the streets, at work and at home.
Yet some knowledge management thinkers seem to feel very passionately that KM must be always making an effort to set out the territory that separates knowledge management from technology. As I was mulling on this strange idea, another example appeared. A blog called ‘Ten destructive myths of KM’ by David Griffiths. The first two myths on the list are aimed at emphasising that KM is not technology, or the implementation of technology tools. Now this of course is a simple statement of truth. But the fact that these top the list suggests that knowledge managers are still obsessing about how to divorce KM from IT. I want to argue the opposite. IT and KM must be seen as partners, rather than separated, almost as foes.
Of course IT is not KM. Yet it is the growth of new technologies that is a key factor in elevating the value of intangible assets in organisations. Knowledge management has importance in the twenty-first century precisely because of this. Although knowledge has always been a vital part of organisational life, it is only with the explosion of computer technology, and then the internet, that knowledge management becomes a vital discipline. The immense changes to the availability of information and knowledge as communications technology brings us access to information stores and the ability to communicate with other human brains without reference to status or geography, makes managing knowledge the central work of organisations.
Are we amazed that commercial companies try to provide solutions and sell them? Are we still so unsure of our territory that we need to continually fight the same battles without looking at our successes on the way? Of course, we don’t want the to accept software companies talking about software as a simplistic solution to all KM needs, nor allow technology companies to take the lead on KM where they will act without due care for individual requirements and cultures. But surely things have moved on in the KM world.
Here is a quote taken from a very recent Gurteen discussion board:
‘I remember the contrast between my first KM World conference in 2002, which was 80% – 90% technology to the second in 2005, in which at least 1/3 of the presentations dealt with social approaches. I was struck, however that the two approaches to KM didn’t interact at all (and still don’t) although both are essential to success’.
So where is the growing confidence that can bridge this divide and help knowledge managers negotiate how to work effectively with technology suppliers and users? We need to see the links without defensiveness and show IT people that knowledge management is a wonderful set of ideas that helps link technology change to organisational strategic goals. There is a whole strand of knowledge management looking at ideas about the socio-technical nature of today’s work. Isn’t it about time all KM practitioners started to embrace our technology colleagues? Or else the firm statement that KM is not IT implies that while the rest of the world’s culture is increasingly technology focused, we will stay in splendid isolation emphasising people, people, people.
And yet, the real human people on my bus seem to like their technology and find it highly relevant to their lives. I think it’s about time that we did too!