Friday, 20 March 2015

Old school vs new school KM? Or the resurgence of technology-led approaches?

APQC, probably the leading US player in KM space, have presented on their blog a very interesting infographic where they contrast what they call "Old school" KM vs what they call "Cutting edge" KM.  This powerful and well-presented infographic raises a major point. 

The infographic is based on a recent APQC survey, where they looked at what people are currently doing in KM and what they planned to do, and they found that there are two contrasting approaches to KM which they call old-school and new-school.

The old-school approach includes
The new-school approach includes
  • Mobile apps (second most popular, but 30% plan to retire this approach)
  • Enterprise wikis (37% plan to retire this approach)
  • Enterprise social media
  • Enterprise video

Does anyone else see what I see here?

All the "old-school" approaches are functions, all the "new-school" approaches are technology solutions!

Communities of practice, lessons learning, best practice creation, knowledge capture and transfer, are all functions of KM, functions such as connecting people, collecting practice, continuously improving knowledge through lessons, and empowering new staff using the learning of the experienced staff. Each of these functions will be supported by a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance, but they are four of the six primary facets of KM (joined by innovation, and by better access to documents). 

Mobile apps, wikis, ESM and enterprise video are all technology solutions. 

This observation has two corollaries.

Firstly, if new-school KM is only about technology, or is technology led, then it will surely fail.

Technology-led KM has been failing for two decades, and the solution to this failure is not to bring in better technology, but to integrate technology into a framework, and to use it for a purpose as part of a KM function.  

Wikis will succeed when they are used by an existing community of practice as a better way to collate their combined knowledge and experience. They will not succeed when rolled out in isolation in the hope that an internal wikipedia will spontaneously emerge.

Mobile apps will deliver value if they form part of the KM supply chain, and provide vital knowledge and "best practice" to a mobile workforce, such as field engineers of sales people. However unless they form part of a vital KM function then they will add no value and will be retired.

And so on.

Secondly It's not about old versus new, its about technology supporting function.

We can see from the previous paragraphs, "old-school v new-school" is a false dichotomy. If we want KM to survive and thrive, then we need to retain the core functions of KM and empower them through bringing in better technology (this is the technology approach taken by Schlumberger, a long-term leader in successful KM).

Retain communities of practice and empower them further through the use of technologies to enable them to ask questions and receive answers, share insights, and co-create new knowledge. Retain lesson-learning and strengthen this by allowing lessons to be accompanied by video, where appropriate.  Retain best practice, and ensure mobile staff can access the practices they need on the move.

In reality, there is no old-school and new-school.

There is a set of core functions for Knowledge Management, and there is a set of technologies which support (or do not support) the functions.  The only problems will come if we lose sight of this, and think that technologies alone will replace the core functions, and the APQC infographic shows this, through the larger retirement rates for the technology-only approaches.


Josef said...

Thanks, Nick. This is another loop to old-school KM mistakes: reducing the socio-technical KM perspective only to technical approaches.

Frederick Nickols said...

Nicely put, Nick. I agree.

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