Friday, 18 September 2009


Computers cannot know


In her blog on Legal KM, Mary Abraham asks "What exactly does knowledge management accomplish? Does KM add anything? Is it a distinct discipline or just information management with a fancy title"?

She bases this question on a post entitled The Promise of Information Management, and says "the post begins by asking what information management tools and technology are really designed for and answers the question with the Maslow-like diagram that shows the hierarchy of IM needs. (these include) risk mitigation, compliance and security; cost savings and efficiency; improved knowledge and innovation. Those sound like worthy — and rather familiar — goals. But isn’t that what Knowledge Management (or at least KM 1.0) claims for itself as well. If the information managers have all of this well in hand, what exactly does knowledge management accomplish?"?

Well, yes it is what Knowledge Management claims, to an extent. So is KM just information management with a fancy title?

I think to answer this question, we need to get clear on what's different about knowledge, and therefore what's different about knowledge management.

    • Information is something that can be held in books and computers, but Knowledge can only be held in people. Books and files can inform, books and files cannot know.

    • Information is based on data, knowledge is based on experience. Only people can have experience.

    • Information can be taken out of context, knowledge cannot be divorced from context.

    • Information is the basis on which action can be taken and decisions made, knowledge is the ability to choose the correct action and make the best decision.

    • Although some knowledge can be made explicit, and passed to others to be internalised, much knowledge can never be made explicit. Information can always be made explicit.

    • Accessing information is not the same as acquiring knowledge, as the acquisition of knowledge also requires the acquisition of understanding


    • Finally, if I were going into the operating theathre for major surgery, I would rather have a surgeon with knowledge of what to do, than a surgeon who just had information


The differences between knowledge and information are human differences, to do with context, experience, and sense making. Although good IM is vital to help with explicit knowledge, it is not enough in itself even then, as the issues of externalisation and internalisation also need to be addressed. IM will never help with tacit knowledge exchange.

So IM can help "improved knowledge and innovation" but without KM, it won't deliver it fully. Also the goal of KM is not "improved knowledge and innovation" - it's improved decision making and performance.

So on top of IM, we need to add the personal, social, behavioural and cultural aspects of KM, we need to introduce the processes, strautures and accountabilities for expternalising, sharing and intneralisaing knowledge, as well as those for the management of information and content. We need to bring in teh human dimemsion.

See our video page for my video on the difference between data, information and knowledge

1 comment:

Art Schlussel said...

"What exactly does knowledge management accomplish? Does KM add anything? Is it a distinct discipline or just information management with a fancy title"? Nick has this correct. The bottom line is that KM approaches, methodologies, and techniques assist PEOPLE in connecting to information in their context within a framework consistent with the culture and needs of the organization. There is so much information out there that there needs to be a process to ensure that what one needs to know in the context they need to know it is exposed, and conversely that there is a process/culture to expose what I know to those who should know but do not. KM is attitudinal; both from an individual and organizational perspective. Nick summed it up nicely "Also the goal of KM is not "improved knowledge and innovation" - it's improved decision making and performance."

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