When Knowledge Management is Out of Place
By John Parkinson
I have always believed that knowledge management wasn't something you did, but rather something you got when you did a whole slew of other things right.
I also believe that the key enablers are a subtle combination of culture, process and technology, which makes it just about impossible to build a KM "product" or even a KM "platform." Many places I have worked or consulted disagreed and spent lots of resources and dollars on KM efforts that delivered neither knowledge nor management to any appreciable degree.
In the few places that listened and believed, I saw some modest successes, but the culture factor is really hard to "engineer." And without that factor you tend to get better collaboration and isolated pockets of excellence, but not the Holy Grail.
And KM "success" is pretty hard to define and harder to measure. Plus, there are few instant wins, so you also have to be lucky early to get enough momentum going and last long enough to be merely good later. It's a tough problem.
So it was gratifying to hear, last week from Microsoft Research (MSR)--which, no matter what you think of the parent company is still a fantastic organization to work with--spends $9B a year on the "R" in "R&D" and touches a significant proportion of the U.S. doctoral population in many significant disciplines. MSR doesn't do KM the way most people do.
Instead, they have adopted my approach (I did not help them and take no credit) of building the right cultural context (share ideas freely - and in their case, publish them in peer reviewed formats), the right processes (modeled on small, collaborative, research teams and constant interactions) and a judicious investment in technology (less than you might think, but VERY clever in many cases).
Their results in classical KM terms are also modest. But one of the key things about research is to learn what does not work as much as what does. Their KM approach works for them. It was good to see the ideas I have pushed for more than a decade in action.
John Parkinson is CIO of TransUnion. To read his columns for CIO Insight, click here.