Central Repository …

My friend Nirmala has commented on my post about whether an organization should jump straight to “KM 2.0”. And she makes an important point …

A common repository means common taxonomy…a common way of identifying and locating artifacts. A common repository means a visually rich big picture that tells you about all sorts of possibilities….not one that is carved out of a narrow search term!!

I think she has got it bang on. Today, there are tools which can enable you to share documents right off your hard-disk. Create a document, put it into a shared folder, and there you are … others can find the documents right from there. Contrast this with a common repository … Create a document, save it on your hard-disk, and then upload it onto a repository. And, you dont even know what half those taxonomies mean. This being the key. And, this is where a repository plays an important role … that of getting people thinking about how others think, getting people thinking in terms of a common terminology, giving some form of uniformity (its nice, at times … remember McDonald’s … the same taste wherever you go). You got it … how could i not write about food?

To "KM2.0"

There was a lot of discussion some time back about the assertion that KM is dead … Luis wrote about it … and the assertion that KM is moving more towards conversation from documentation. I have added to the words about conversation … But all this conversation about conversation doesnt answer one question … a question i am thinking about.

Lets take an organization which is yet to reach the “KM1.0” stage … they dont have a centralized document repository … they have siloes where information is stored, and retrieval of this information is largely a manual activity, because a lot of it is stored in team file-servers etc. Question is, should this organization move straight to a “KM2.0” scenario?

One way to look at this would be to say … sure! This would make sense in theory, given the fact that all knowledge is directly or indirectly tacit. So, the logic here would be that if we ca get people together, either into communities, or into an internal blogosphere, we can actually get people to share information more seamlessly even without resorting to a centralized repository.

Having said this, would this work in practice? I dont know, but i tend to believe, it wouldnt. To begin with, information which is not in a repository tends to be difficult to identify. Much more so than something which can be attached to a somewhat defined taxonomy (whether a regular taxonomy or folksonomy … i am including both in this). Second, and more important, a repository could be an important step towards building a mindset of sharing … where it is considered a nice thing to share documents with others, leading to a more ready acceptance of some of the social tools.

Any thoughts? Please do write in, to let me know what you think should be the approach here. Of course, there are pros and cons of both approaches, and would like to hear from you, what you feel are some of each.

Whither General Knowledge …

There was a time when your prominence depended on the amount of things you knew about a variety of subjects. Those were the days when people actually memorized time-tables, knew the schedules of trains, buses, and flights by heart, and knew so much about so many things which they remembered. And this was all possible because there was the requirement to remember.

Today, we dont remember as many things as folks used to remember, say, in Dad’s generation. The reason, to my mind is that the requirement to remember is not there (no, it has nothing to do with shrinking brains, though there are folks who lend credence to that theory, too!). Probably this is why quizzing was an activity which was way high in prominence on college campuses, and the more you knew about different things, the better it was for you, because it meant you were really smart. Today, however, this is not the scene. And probably this is why i dont see so many quiz shows these days?

The other day, i was talking to my nephew, and our man had just been for an interview at reputed consulting firm. One of the things they asked him (maybe because he is straight out of college …) was the GDP of India in the last financial year. And this got me thinking. Here was a consulting firm (and they do a lot of projects on KM, too …), asking in an interview the GDP of India? Do kids need to remember this kind of information nowadays? Isnt it far simpler to just google it? Or, better still, with wikipedia, you could find the GDP of India here. Which is why it got me thinking … what were they thinking! Between the content and the conversation which is around in the virtual world, this is not even required.

Content Ownership And Role Of KM …

We have been having this debate for a long time now … Since the time of “KM 1.0” … who owns the content that is being maintained on the KM systems. Of course, there are diverse points of view.

One point of view is that Knowledge Managers, by the very definition of the term, should manage all knowledge … explicit of tacit. This implies that explicit knowledge too is the responsibility of these knowledge managers. Which means that Knowledge Managers should create content which is really high quality content, for consumption by the entire organization.

The other point of view is that knowledge managers are simply brokers. I was reading a blog some time back (tried looking, but …) which quite sums up the way i look at things (almost!). This blog was mentioning that the essence of the role of Knowledge Managers in the organization is a sales role. I quite agree with that. Knowledge Sharing is an idea. And, this idea needs to be sold to the entire organization, so that the basic idea of sharing thoughts, experiences, indeed knowledge, over a period of time, can become one of the basic thought processes of the organization.

I prefer to take a slightly broader view, though. I believe that Knowledge Managers are essentially brokers. They need to be the salespeople … selling the idea of knowledge creation and consumption to the organization, but at the same time, they also need to be sourcing professionals, making sure that the content is sourced according to the requirements of the consumers. From this perspective, i believe that the role of Knowledge Managers is essentially Content Management rather than creation in their capacity as content brokers. Or, in other words, facilitators! Lets look at it this way … Knowledge Managers dont create content, and they dont consume content … all they do is act as the bridge between the creators, and the consumers.

Dynamic Books …

A book is a static entity … it is frozen in time the moment it is published, just like any other document. Which is why i believe that in an organization, as far as the KM program goes, collaboration has to play an increasingly important role than codification. Because no matter how exhaustive a document repository is, the codification of knowledge the repository represents will keep on changing. And this is where i look at blogs, wikis, and communities to keep in synch with this changing knowledge knowledge base, as well as to make sure that it keeps changing, because our knowledge will increase, and evolve only as this happens.

Jay Cross writes about the benefits of the evolving concept of the Un-Book. One thing a lot of people believe is that a wiki, for example, is Work in Progress, while a book represents the final word. This is something we as a civilization need to understand … there is no such thing as a final word on human knowledge. This is because human knowledge has not yet reached the final frontier (whether it ever will is the question of another debate, given that we dont even know whether is such a thing or not).

Interestingly, if the book is slowly becoming obsolete (not to mention prohibitively expensive), then what is the form of interaction which could generate opinions and thoughts at a level which is at least similar to that of a book. Much as an un-book sounds exciting, it lacks a basic structure which a book can offer. Now, it could be argued that structure is not a nice thing. While that is a viewpoint, i believe that a certain amount of structure (at least a minimal level), is required to aid learning. Now, agreed that different people find different kinds of structures beneficial to their learning process, but structure there must be, to some extent or the other. For example, visit a page on wikipedia, and you would find some rudimentary structure in place.

What would be really neat is a spiral bound collection of dynamic things, like blogs and wikis, which could be presented as an ongoing book. The important part being ongoing, considering that learning is not going to stop is folks stop writing blogs. Blogroll comes to mind with this. Interesting … it serves as a collection of blogs i could refer to. Thing about blogrolls is that they are one person’s viewpoint on the best sources of information and opinions on a particular topic. Could get tricky if you are talking about marketing blogs.

What could be cool could be some kind of a blogroll directory. A collection of the favourite blogs of a number of people on a particular topic, something on the lines of del.icio.us or digg. What would make this more interesting if this could also present cross-referencing of blogs, so that there could emerge a rating mechanism, to give an idea of who are the people who prefer a particular set of “spiral bound” blogs. What could make this even more interesting … Having a minimal structure. Somewhat like having a blogroll which has sections … Introduction to Topic blogs, Basic Concepts blogs, Detailed Concepts blog, Implementation blogs, etc. etc. Somewhat like having a book with a Preface which is dynamic, and to which people can add to as they keep learning new things?

Both Sides … Web 2.0

I came across an interesting post written by Jay Cross. I say interesting because this brings out both sides of the story quite well. While web 2.0 has the potential of giving power to the people … letting users create and deploy content as they see best, it also opens up the possibility of misuse. Something which Dave Snowden has written about as well.

I guess this is one of the reasons more and more organizations are looking at deploying web 2.0 tools within the organization. This could also be something which has high value to the organization. Lets face it … How much of sharing of thoughts, ideas actually happens in an organization. Of course, it varies from organization to organization, but fact remains, even within an organization, content or expertise discovery is a laborious process, and not something which can be easily done. Leaves users going round in circles. And this is where web 2.o tools being deployed even within the organization could open up new channels for knowledge flow in the organization. I believe knowledge flows in the organization in ways which we dont quite understand well, not today, at least. With internal deployments, we are at least making a start in bringing these channels to light, so they could be leveraged more effectively? One more thing to add here … web 2.0 or collaboration, when looked at within the context of the organization could actually augment the existing content management tools that have been in place for quite some time now. This not only allows organizations to make good these investments, this also enables people in the organization to discover and use these content resources more effectively.

The Long Tail of KM?

Over a period of time, I have been thinking about one of the challenges facing “conventional KM … the long tail. Actually, at a basic level, the long tail would be a corollary to Pareto’s Law (or am I oversimplifying things here?). And, Pareto’s Law would be applicable to KM as we know it. At least from the perspective of content. Lets face it … all knowledge managers have to have a document repository with artefacts (documents?) being contributed to this repository from the business. Now, this is where the issue lies. With the long tail of KM, it can be seen that there are only a few resources which are accessed by a large number of people. This implies that there is a large number of resources which are appealing to a very small audience. The long tail …

Corollary … People expect KM to address all the niches in the business. And, this is where the question arises … Can KM be all things to all people? Looking into this question at a deeper level … Where do these documents come from. In most organizations, these documents are largely contributed by employees. Now, not too many organizations where people would be contributing documents related to the different niches of the business (by definition, most of the people in the organization probably dont even know these niches exist). The other alternative is that KM needs to invest in expertise in the different niches of the business to address the resource requirements of people in the organization addressing these niches. Question is … How much is worth it!