Thursday, March 02, 2006

Knowledge Management Failure

Apparently the vast majority of KM systems fail. Many IT & KM experts and managers who claim to know what KM is all about have written countless articles, produced huge volumes of white papers and case studies, all eager to explain the causes of such failures. If they do understand the ills and the reasons for the ills of KM systems, than why can’t they fix the problems? Or is it because their finger prints are all over the failed KM systems?

I submit that KM systems which have failed have had little to do with Knowledge. In other words the systems which so comprehensively failed were not KM systems at all. They were re-branded ordinary data, information and document management systems. What has failed is the populist KM thinking paradigm. To squeeze more sales out of their ordinary data & document management systems, some vendors stick such “sexy” tags on their ordinary offerings like:

Information Knowledge System – IKS, which resembles more a plain, flat or hierarchical repository of outdated information, which should be labeled as junk information. Why? Because it consumes a lot of resources, it does not stimulate seriously creative thinking; in short, from useful Knowledge perspective its usefulness is limited. In fact it would be more profitable not having such system at all.

Knowledge Management Tools - KMT. A tool set which promises to decide for the user what is relevant for the user. Its decision is based on the user’s query or worst; user's profile. Implicitly these tools are promising to relive users from thinking; an attractive proposition for the simpleton and the mediocre for whom thinking is torment. The same grandiose "benefits" were promoted and promised for years by now discredited CASE tools and DSS/EIS systems. Now these things are called KMT.

Dynamic Knowledge Systems - DKS - little more than intranet based glorified electronic discussion boards or portals facilitating broad discussions, topics and interests. It is this "dynamism" of many participants with broadest topics and interests that promise to elicit on-demand tacit knowledge and convert it into an explicit knowledge and then codify and organize this knowledge into a repository of explicit knowledge. In reality most – not all - DK Systems are just feeders of more low grade information to IKS and KMT.

The list is endless. Sadly, KM label has become a fashionable fad and a corruption of knowledge application practice.

The fundamental problem with various so called KM systems is that they are implying that thinking is a difficult and daunting process, whilst suggesting that managers have more important things to do than think or could spend their corporate time on better things than "wrecking" their grey matter. The prompters of KM systems are offering a relief from such "torturous" pursuits as thinking; such elixir does appeal to the mediocrity.

Few are blessed with serious, specifically relevant knowledge or know-how. Any system which facilitates overly broad participation will inextricably bury any expert knowledge under a pile of low value chatter. I am persuaded that for valuable ideas & thoughts to produce innovation there need to be a highly afferent and efferent system capable of synthesizing powerful multidimensional analytical databases with the know-how of subject matter experts, the imagination of visionaries and the creative mind of innovators who do not fret from the challenge of thinking.

So is there such thing as successful KM and can it ever reach a consistent and higher rate of successful implementation? Yes to both questions for as long as the cognitive dimension of knowledge, which steams from the cognitive faculty of the mind, is at the core of Knowledge System. I'm reluctant to use the KM term for obvious reasons, so instead I'm using Knowledge Systems (KS), and where system does not mean technology only.

The fundamental pre-conditions to successful knowledge diffusion are:

  • Do not manage knowledge; manage knowledgeable people.
  • Sophisticated database technology is a critical component of a working KS, however, only if it is synthesized with human knowledge.
  • Knowledgeable people love technology. Without it knowledge diffusion would be inefficient and less effective and ultimately would compel high value knowledge workers to gravitate to places with high concentration of high quality technology.
  • The creators of knowledge are the best diffusors of knowledge and emanate from the same mind. The role of management and Knowledge Manager in particular is to encourage this dual process of knowledge creation and diffusion.
  • Focus on elicitation of USEFUL / EXPERT Knowledge only!
  • Match technology's sophistication level to people's cognition level. If people's cognition is low, question leaders' ability; if need be replace them with capable people & begin building a viable Knowledge System.
  • Elevate cognitive excellence above mediocrity.

Those enterprises, which are not captive to the mediocre leadership, will excel spectacularly.

Bill Ives: "I have found the key differentiator in KM success to be the quality of leadership and not the quality of KM solution design or technology. I have seen implementations with acceptable designs flourish under the right leadership and brilliant “next generation” KM designs flounder under poor leadership." - Portals and KM

Knowledge should be organisation's most potent assets in its assets portfolio. Those organisations where knowledge isn't the most valued asset are facing a bleak future; they'll become either an easy takeover "prey", or they'll die a cruel death.


court said...


I liked your article, and would like to use/reference your work for a master thesis work.

Did you base your article on certain references (books, journals, etc)?

Could you provide a list of them?

I was interested in some special statements of your article.


Caprizant said...

The article is entirely my work and represents my own thoughts, deductions and conclusions, which in turn are the product of my epistemological studies and years of experience in the fields of KM/KS, Business Intelligence, Cognitive Information Continuum Modeling I have developed, and Management Consulting. I made no reference to authors or othre material because the content refers neither explicitly nor implicitly to any other specific work or author.

You may use excerpts from the article, as well as hyperlink to the article, subject to proper reference to the work and acknowledgement of the authorship of my article.

court said...

Thanks for the reply, I will use your work properly.


Caprizant said...

thanks court

Article's author: Igor Palmer

Gary said...

Thank you for sharing, I have found this blog useful in my university dissertation.

Igor said...

Good luck!