Communication is the responsibility of …

Corporate Knowledge Management (KM) is hard. Hard to introduce, hard to teach/coach, hard to require, hard to create. Which, added all up together, often make it hard to use.

It may sound like unfounded pessimism, as the Internet is loaded with examples of successful collaborative sites that aggregate and repackage knowledge – it’s been doing that for years, ever since there were Compuserve forums and bulletin boards. Unfortunately (for the corporate environment), the Law of Large Numbers takes care of locating enough motivated authors with a knack for the written word, and thousands / millions reap major rewards. Internal, corporate KM doesn’t benefit from the high traffic / exposure of the public intarweb.

I’m often surprised that I keep chasing this particular windmill; maybe I am truly lazy, and would love it if I could disintermediate myself from all of the project and system status updates. There is definite value for IT managers, even business managers, dealing with unmaintainable systems and an overdependency on a few key resources. There is also value for those who possess this knowledge; I’ve known many developers who couldn’t shake free from their system support role with a obtuse system, simply because they were the only one who knew the magic required to keep the thing running.

At a recent internal presentation, I tried to illustrate with a comparison between Then and Now. In the “old days”, when cc:Mail, Lotus Notes workflow, and black & white HP LaserJets ruled the roost, “knowledge” flowed in one primary direction – in, to me.

Then

  • Information arrives in my in-box
  • Project leads, managers, supervisors, and trainers push information to folks who need to see it
  • If it’s not in my eMail, on my hard disk, or printed out on the shelf at my desk, I’m not aware of it
  • Communication is the responsibility of the communicator

In hindsight, I could disavow responsibility for knowing about stuff, because it wasn’t adequately communicated to me.

Times are different now – even eMail is falling out of favor with those entering the work force in the next few years, and we are inundated with IM, SharePoint, RSS, Twitter, internal wikis & blogs … a new tool every day. Even our “standard” publishing tools are under attack – note the rise of Linux and Macs as viable platforms for corporate desktops. Office 2007 has introduced a radically new UI, and Vista requires a POS* on each desktop – so adoption won’t be as quick and as pervasive as XP and O2K. The fight between OOXML / ODF and a host of other document formats just indicates the rising popularity of multiple authoring tools – it ain’t all MS Office any more …

Now (1 of 2)

  • Information is available in many formats, media …
  • … and there is no single “correct” format
  • Information is available inside and outside of my team / department / location / company
  • It is impossible for publishers to know all potential consumers
  • If it’s not “at my fingertips”, I suspect it’s out there somewhere …
  • Communication is the responsibility of the communicatee

It seems that the responsibility arrow now points to me – and I, being a bit of a technology geezer (if you believe my teen daughters), might correctly feel some pressure. However, it’s not as simple as that – where does this content come from? In the past – project leads, managers, supervisors, and trainers were “publishers”, but now, there is architectural pressure, in the form of Web 2.0 and collaboration tools, that level the playing field and make us all publishers.

Now (2 of 2)

  • Everyone is a [potential] publisher; everyone has knowledge/skills/experience to contribute / share
  • Information can be published and consumed in many formats, media …… and there is no single “correct” format
  • Information is desired / required inside and outside of my team / department / location / company
  • It is imperative for publishers to anticipate all potential searchers / “consumers”
  • Communication is the responsibility of the communicator

Hope springs eternal, and I prefer to see these challenges as opportunities; indeed, the message of my presentation tried to make this point. Of course, one could choose to watch it all go by, and decide not to participate … but don’t be surprised when the person next to you starts to change their effectiveness (and prospects) …

Next … all is not lost, some interesting new tools I’ve recently added to my set …

* Piece of Skylab – originally, slang for large boombox, now refers to any sufficiently engadgeted / loaded desktop / notebook. AKA Cray Notebook or Cray desktop

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.