Thursday 9 September 2010

The importance of definitions in the KM marketplace.

Addis fruit stall
Originally uploaded by magnusfranklin
There is a report being advertised now, entitled The 2010-2015 Outlook for Knowledge Management (KM) Products and Services in Europe, at a cost of $325.

This would be a very interesting report to see, as it would help my company Knoco to develop our European business strategy.

However personally I would not spend $325 without first wanting an answer to the question - "What do they mean by "Knowledge management" in this context?"

Knowledge management is still a term without a definition (although we have a definition we like), and therefore without a defined scope.

Definitions are important. If I don't know what a term means, I cannot have a conversation with anyone until we have agreed on a shared meaning.

This is particularly true of knowledge management.  Is KM a culture? Is it all about social media? Is it another word for content management? Is it another word for data management? Is it all of these things? Is it none of these things?

Imprecise definitions make a market place difficult. It makes it difficult for someone to spend their money, time and attention wisely, if they don't know what they are getting in return. Is the buyer's definition of KM the same as the sellers definition of KM? The report would cost me £325, for example, and I might find that the report is all about content management, and so of little interest to me as a seller of KM strategic services and learning approaches. Or I might be a content manager, and spend £325 and find it is all about communities of practice.

It's like trying to buy oranges to make orange juice, when the market definition of "oranges" covers everything from kumquat to graprefruit, including lemons and limes.

We are a long way from coming to a standard definition for knowledge management, but while the definition remians imprecise, the KM marketplace is going to be a confusing place to operate, both as a buyer and a seller.


Alan O'Neill said...

I agree 100% Nick, I am in the process of writing a short piece on this. I not only think there needs to be a clear definition, I would go as far as to say there needs to be a standard, it needs to be regulated, and it needs to be policed. It could then become a benchmark of business excellence to show that an organisation is thinking long term and protecting knowledge.

Nick Milton said...

The question, though, would be - who defines the standards? Who are the police?

in a way, standards may "define themselves" if companies like Shell begin to put KM requirements into their tender documents, as Shell will need to define what "acceptable KM" looks like to them. That becomes a de facto standard.

Alan O'Neill said...

Again Nick, I agree....but why not have a working group steered by.....The Government, where Shell (Using your example) contribute to say what they think KM Should look like, and get other organisations involved to help define a standard. Policing would be the same as the ISO Standard approach, audit/verification.

Nick Milton said...

Quite honestly, I think the government has a vey hazy view of KM. I think we are more likely to get a US-centred, oil-sector definition before we get anything from the government

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