Thursday, November 22, 2007

Will Web 2.0 Drive Knowledge Management?



Knowledge Management has a history. I wrote my first report on this subject back in 1996. Knowledge Management was then defined as a systematic approach to manage corporate knowledge to achieve business value. It is a general definition that still has merits. Some research and practices back then focused on managing knowledge assets with information technology and others on the dynamics of organizational collaboration.

Common practices to create, manage and transfer knowledge have been:

  • Communities: Collaborative groups that span across organizational boundaries.
  • Best-practice: Reusing knowledge via work descriptions, offerings and similar.
  • Knowledge maps: Map knowledge to specific work processes or situations.
  • Knowledge profiles: Describing knowledge workers’ roles and resources.

The above practices have often been enabled by means of content and collaboration technologies such as messaging, e-mail, document management, portals, enterprise content management, search and the like.

Content can be seen as a seed of knowledge. But extracting the knowledge and acting upon it require first, that people need to interpret the content to understand the intended information and second, people need to ponder the information for knowledge to emerge. As argued in a former post:

“Content can be managed with the means of (information) technology, but we cannot manage information and knowledge with technology alone since information and knowledge are created and exist only in the heads of humans.” (Back to Basics - Defining Data, Content, Experience, Information And Knowledge)

For Knowledge Management to succeed in an Enterprise it is, for the above reason, essential that appropriate roles, cultures, incentives etc are in place. This will encourage a knowledge sharing environment (knowledge market) necessary for better innovation, smarter services, increased learning, higher productivity etc.

So, what can Web 2.0 technologies and practices add to Knowledge Management?

Web 2.0 is fostered in an agile, open and distributed atmosphere. Recent social trends embrace more open collaboration where content is created and shared in self-organizing networks and communities. This attitude may be what is missing in many failed Knowledge Management initiatives, where company workers have been reluctant to join forces and share what they know.

Web 2.0 technologies for user generated content (e.g. wikis and blogs) and metadata (e.g. social tagging and bookmarks) will simplify the production and consumption of content. Other technologies such as feeds, mashups, web services, ajax etc will have a role in developing a more flexible and richer web user experience more suitable to the needs and preferences of knowledge workers.

Social interaction (e.g. profiles and social networks) has possibly the largest potential in adding something innovative to Knowledge Management. Knowledge workers may market their knowledge and interests and passively or actively strengthen their relationships across company borders.

I think it is safe to conclude that Web 2.0 will drive Knowledge Management to another level.