Thursday 1 January 2015

Knowledge Management in 2015 - a prediction

A Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.

It is traditional at this time of year to make predictions for the coming year. Much as we know that all predictions are dangerous, especially those concerning the future, January 1st still acts as a traditional reflection point where a look in the rear-view mirror to bid farewell to the old year is followed by a glance into the crystal ball to see what the New Year will bring.

My prediction, rather boringly, is as follows.

KM in 2015 will be much the same, but slightly different

Let me unpack this a bit.

Why "Much the same"?

Knowledge Management as a discipline has been around for a long time now - round about 2 decades in practical terms. KM is a simple concept, albeit very difficult to implement. Many of the basic concepts have been in place for a long time, and any advances have been peripheral and evolutional - added technologies for example, or off-the-shelf social tools - rather than revolutional. The core of KM is well established as a combination of Connecting people in networks and communities, Learning from Experience, Better access to documented knowledge, Knowledge Retention, creation of "Best Practices", and Innovation. 

The arguments within KM are no longer about how to make it work, they are over which segment of the playing field has claim to be the Holy Ground of KM, and whose set of heuristically derived KM principles are the most reliable and complete. In the absence of a commonly-held definition of Knowledge Management, the multiple camps - the technology vendors, the social enthusiasts, the librarians, the search engineers, the people arguing from the stance that "knowledge can only be tacit", the trainers and coaches etc - will all continue to discuss KM from different standpoints.  These arguments, also, are nothing new.

There are few new discoveries in KM now, and many of "KMs greatest challenges" are the same as they were in the mid 90s. Articles such as Tom Davenport's "7 deadly syndromes", written 18 years ago, are just as relevant today. Some things are far easier now in KM, but the main pitfalls are no different. 

There will be nothing new, nothing earth shattering, in Knowledge Management in 2015, just as there wasn't in 2014, or 2013..

Why "slightly different"?

Knowledge Management in 2015 will be slightly different because there is an increasing pull towards some form of standardisation. 

Already "KM Standards" (albeit more illustrative than prescriptive) have been produced in Australia and Israel, and there are discussions under way whether to develop an ISO standard for Knowledge Management. At the same time, Knowledge Management is increasingly becoming a requested item in contracts, as governmental agencies and big multinationals are beginning to ask their vendors and subcontractors to demonstrate an effective capability in KM as part of their pre-qualification. 

This is a difficult thing to ask for. Given that a) there is no agreed definition of KM, b) there is still a massive confusion between KM and IM, and c) there is no standard for an effective capability in KM and therefore no means to audit this, then it's a bit like asking your subcontractors and vendors to demonstrate effective karmic consciousness or effective common sense.  But an unreasonable demand such as this just increases the pull towards standardisation. The vendors and subcontractors start to look for KM certification, which creates a stronger demand on the KM industry for some form of standards. And where there is a demand, a supply will follow.

Can KM be standardised?

I believe KM standardisation is possible. The standardisation will be at the level of principles, rather than solutions and tactics, but even this would be very valuable. When I talk with others who have been working KM for a long time, I already see a convergence of views at a principle level. I believe that a common model for KM principles is emergent but not yet synthesised. However I also believe that deriving such a standard, even at principle level, will be extremely difficult and will require a huge amount of time and patience, as well as the backing of an international body such as ISO.  The viewpoints are so many, so entrenched, and so linked to personal positions, that the discussion and dialogue is going to take a very long time indeed.

But my prediction is that this discussion will start in 2015, and if successful, may eventually move Knowledge Management into it's next era.

Watch this space.

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