Friday 17 August 2018

7 KM predictions from 22 years ago - how did they pan out?

In 1996, Karl Wiig and colleagues made a set of predicitions about the future of KM. How right were they? 

The 1996 article by the Knowledge Research Institute (Towe, Pizziconi and Wiig) entitled "Knowledge Management; Where Did It Come From and Where Will It Go?" not only presented a timeline of the first 20+ years of KM, but also made predictions for the next 20+ years.

Here we are 22 years later, and we can see how accurate those predictions proved. The 7 major predictions are listed below, and in many cases these can be tested against data such as our combined 2014 and 2017 Knoco survey data.

"1. Similarly to what happens to other management directions that prove vital to enterprise viability, we can expect that KM -- as an explicit and primarily stand-alone management initiative -- will disappear from view within a decade or two (ie by 2006 to 2016). Instead, we can expect to find that what we today think of as explicit KM practices and activities, will have been assimilated into the daily mainstream work -- they will become automatic and “second nature.”"

This has not happened yet, or at least not completely. There are certain elements of KM which have become second nature - the common use of search engines, for example, and enterprise social media-style tools, which are not though of as "KM activities" per se. However KM as a discipline is still a discrete and separate topic. It has not yet been generally internalised to the point of disappearance (see point 6 below for evidence). Even in some of the longest running KM programs there are still defined KM roles and explicit KM expectations. KM has not yet disappeared from view as a result of assimilation.

2. (In Technology) the limiting factors can be expected to change over the next years... we see advances and breakthroughs in intelligent software that promise to support, enhance, and even automate many KM functions and assist in discovering and building knowledge.
This is absolutely correct. Although all of the common KM software elements - search, groupware, community forums, artificial intelligence - were around at the time that Karl Wiig and his associates wrote their paper, these tools are now more powerful, more prevalent and more sophisticated than ever. KM is not just about tools, but the tool set certainly support, enhances and even automates the processes and interactions that KM requires.

3. Enterprises increase KM efforts and expand KM scopes as they gain greater insights into how to manage knowledge and how KM increases the value of competitively applied knowledge assets. However, they only expand efforts to the extent they perceive that the extra investments will buy increased viability and profitability and not interfere with other important functions
The expansion of KM within organisations was well predicted. Even within individual organisations, KM has grown and developed over the past 20 years. in fact, as our KM survey data shows, it takes on average over a decade for an organisation to fully embrace and internalise KM, and the development and internal expansion of KM takes place during that decade.

4. As indicated in Figure 2 (below), we can expect that KM methods and technologies generally will be provided in a“technology push” manner for sometime to come, perhaps until after the turn of the century (2000). After that time, we can expect user organizations to seek KM products and services in a “demand pull” fashion. That will lead to a well-established development and supply chain with accepted and tested methods and tools

Figure 2 is shown above, with the "developers" being the first adopters, and "suppliers" being the consultants and vendors.  Here Karl Wiig and his co-authors have been overoptimistic in terms of timescale.

Firstly technology push continues, for the simple fact that selling technology is more lucrative than selling KM services. There is no set of "well established, accepted and tested methods and tools". In certain areas there are well established processes, like the use of KCS in customer service KM, but even here the accompanying technology market is huge and complex. In other areas the tools are sold without the accompanying processes, methods, roles and governance. The big consultancies no longer offer KM as a core offering, unless (like IBM with Watson) they hope to sell technology as well.

Secondly adoption of KM has taken far longer than they predicted. Even in the early adopters, KM was not "in general use everywhere" by Q3 1998, and certain the average company was not in full operation of KM by 2003. Our 2014 and 2017 surveys show that, of the organisations surveyed, only 16% had KM fully embedded, 32% were "well in progress" and 39% "were in the early stages" (see pie chart below).  You could argue from this that "the average organisation" is in piloting to roll-out stage rather than full operation, well over a decade behind the prediction.

Thirdly we are nowhere near the "Standard Phase" for KM yet. No standard approach, or set of industry-specific approaches to KM has been developed, although the publishing of the ISO KM standard later this year is a step in that direction. The "Standard Phase" is about 2 decades later than predicted, or longer.

5. We see it likely that something akin to systematic Intellectual Asset Accounting (IAA) will be developed and become common practice before long.
This never caught on.

6. In 25 to30 years (ie by 2021 to 2026)... (the) management of knowledge processes and knowledge assets ... will have become routine with well-developed tools, practices, and monitoring approaches. Management of these assets will have become one of the important but low profile routine activities that are vital for enterprise success.

As in number 4 above, this has not yet happened. It may still happen - that KM has become routine, well developed and low profile - but as yet it is still more often a discrete separate and deliberate activity, as shown by our plot below from surveys in 2014 and 2017 which shows that in only 16% of responding companies is KM integrated and routine.

7. With knowledge being a major driving force behind the economics of ideas and hence behind new, resource-independent areas of growth, we can expect to find that emphasis on knowledge creation, development, organization,and leveraging will continue to be of prime focus for generations to come.
This is the final and most positive conclusion from the study, and this continued emphasis and prime focus would be my fervent wish as well. I think we can conclude that there has been a continued interest in KM over the past 2 decades, but perhaps not as emphatic as was predicted in 1996, and as yet knowledge is seldom if ever the "prime focus" for organisations.

As the mathematician Nils Bohr said, It is very hard to predict, especially the future.”

The predictions from the 1996 paper have mostly been correct in direction, but not in speed, and the timescales have proven much longer than predicted. KM, rather than being an obvious value delivery mechanism that would be rapidly adopted, standardised and embedded, has been more of a slow burn, with a "technology push" element very much to the fore.

It would be very interesting to work out why this has been the case.

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