Defining knowledge management

In the previous entry, we looked at the resurgence of interest in knowledge management (KM) and how social networking tools such as wikis and blogs are driving this resurgence. In this entry, we'll start to dive into the stickier questions, such as: What is knowledge? What do we include as 'knowledge' to be managed? What's the difference between knowledge management (KM), information management (IM), and content management (CM) - especially when so many folks are using these (or at least thinking about these) interchangeably?

First, let's settle on some definitions of what we're talking about. The Ark Group published a recent report that defines KM as 'a discipline and technology enabling people to share their knowledge through agreed-upon processes for identifying, capturing, storing, retrieving, creating and evaluating an organisation’s information assets'.

Fair enough. Depending upon the context (and whom I'm trying to sell the concept to), I would emphasize different parts of this statement. Here, I would emphasize 'an organisation's information assets'. Broadly defined, this could encompass ANYTHING that could possibly be considered 'information' within an organisation: internally-generated information, any information the organisation has purchased, intellectual property, any little piece of information that might come from anyone's head. For our purposes here, let's stick with internally-generated information: information that has been created by the organization. This is still a huge universe of information - but at least we're not including all the information created outside of the walls of the organisation.

Outsell, an outstanding firm which covers the information industry and trends in the industry, sees KM as a component of IM (and acknowledges that IM and KM are often used interchangably in discussion and in the literature). Forrester, a top IT market research firm, addresses the area as Information & Knowledge Management (I&KM), which seems to cover everything pretty well.

Digital Libraries & Research (DL&R) provides IM services for Sun. For DL&R, some of these functions include managing and facilitating access to external content (hey! That's content management or CM), creating and managing web sites, providing information training, and providing research and information consulting services.

OK, so we've got our terminology sorted to some extent. Now let's go back to KM. Where DL&R doesn't have much current investment is in the KM realm, if we're talking strictly about internal information. We do have a high knowledge of internal information at Sun. We don't currently take a formal role in providing high-level strategy and management of that information.

Theoretically, we could dive head-long into the KM realm, spread our arms wide, and declare, 'Yes! We are ready to take over KM at Sun! Whatever that means!'

But what would that mean? You talk to some people and they bring up things like expert databases. Others talk about intellectual property. Others mention content management, or records management, or business intelligence, or information architecture or taxonomy or tagging or oral histories or...

You get the picture. What is it exactly that we're talking about, when we talk about KM?

The good news is that, when you talk about KM in the organisation, the scope is ultimately defined by the organisation. Inevitably, I believe that the introduction of social networking tools in your organisation will open up the discussion around KM at some point.

Why is this a good thing? You, as the information specialist, can play a role in influencing and defining (or redefining) what that scope is. The opportunity may be there for you to take a role in connecting with your stakeholders and asking them what they think KM is and what they would include in a KM strategy in your organisation. Are we talking about capturing every single piece of information captured on a wiki? Is there a pressing need to find experts in the company? Is there an opportunity to solve a long-term problem with a new social networking tool? Even better - is there a particular group, project, or set of information that is just crying out for your help?

The best business case for driving KM in your organisation could be a well-timed, smaller-scope project that can illustrate the benefits of good knowledge management. You never know what visibility - and resources - could result from applying your skill sets to a key collection of internal information.

So - start the conversation. Show your expertise. Most importantly, engage your stakeholders. Information - reliable, authoritative, spot-on information - isn't always getting easier to find, it's getting harder. For you information specialists and librarians out there who already do KM, this is nothing new to you. For those of you looking at this topic again, this may be a time of great opportunity for you to influence your organisation. Undoubtedly you'll hear more from us as we pursue this further within Sun.

Next entry, we'll look at little bit into some of the challenges that are already arising with these tools, and what additional challenges may be ahead.

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