What if a company creates an IT infrastructure but nobody uses it? This is one of the questions posed by Dave Pollard in What’s Next after Knowledge Management? Dave’s work has helped me develop practical processes for knowledge workers, such as sense-making with PKM and his observation that most workers want the company knowledge-base to be very personal informs this work.
So what have our efforts in enterprise knowledge management (KM) since 1975 yielded so far? According to Dave, only three information technologies were adopted wholesale by enterprises (fax, e-mail, intranets) with minimal results in the management of information or knowledge.
In other words, in adding to the volume and complexity of information systems, we have added relatively little value, and in some cases actually reduced value. The reason for this is simple:
- We have not done anything to substantively improve the ability of senior management to manage the business (i.e. to manage cash flow, share price, risks or opportunities).
- We have not done anything to substantively improve the effectiveness of any of the information flows … that matter in organizations, or the quality of the information.
We have, in short, implemented a solution that addressed no problem. We introduced new KM tools because we could.
Dave predicts the future organization may look more like this:
The IT department is still responsible for maintaining security around the organization’s proprietary information, but very little content is left in this category.
The KM department still manages the purchase of external information, though almost all information in 2025 is free; information producers have realized that their business model is to apply that information to specific customers’ business environment, in consulting assignments, rather than trying to sell publications.
Most of what the KM department does now is trying to facilitate more effective conversations among people within the organization and with people outside the organization, including customers.
And, when the organization holds sessions and conferences on strategy, risk, innovation or customer relationships, the KM department is on hand to do advance and just-in-time research.
The issue of the relevance of KM is not that different from the future of the training function. Both are support functions that have to be integrated with 1) the organization and 2) the individual. As workers become more nomadic (more jobs & contracts over a lifetime) they will be taking their networks and productivity tools with them. Connecting the organization’s networks to the individual’s, and vice versa, is the new organizational management challenge. In the diagram below, I show that Connecting & Communicating should be the focus of the training function, which is pretty well what Dave says is the role of the new KM department.
One of the approaches we’ve suggested at togetherLearn is Informal Learning 2.0 – supporting collaborative and self-directed work – very much like the new KM which is about facilitating more effective conversations. We’re all in this together and support functions (KM, IT, HR, T&D, OD) had better start working together. Now that’s a conversation worth having.