Are We Seeing a Renaissance in Knowledge Management?
Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are giving knowledge management a second wind, prompting new tools like Microsoft Viva Topics, a knowledge management program that builds upon AI capabilities, to gain in popularity.
But is there something distinctly new, or are we just repeating history? It's a valid question. After all, knowledge management, by definition, isn't new.
The concept centers on the sharing of knowledge between individuals — something that the move to the remote/hybrid workplace has made necessary. Lauren Trees, principal research lead of knowledge management at APQC, a member-based organization that publishes benchmarking and best practices research, said remote and hybrid work has increased the need for better content management, information exchange and relationship building in the digital workplace.
"When the digital workplace is the workplace, improving KM becomes important to the overall employee experience," she said. "Our research shows employees with access to KM are significantly less likely to report frustration/stress, lower job satisfaction or an intention to leave their organization due to information bottlenecks, inefficiencies or other productivity challenges."
The Effect of Remote Work on Knowledge Management
Chris McLaughlin, chief marketing officer at software company LumApps, said the move to a remote workplace has also impacted those essential moments where knowledge is shared and innovation and evolution occur, prompting an even greater need for sharing.
“A key question/challenge that is coming up now is, in a world of remote and hybrid work, how do you enable digitally those serendipitous moments where innovation happens, where two people in unrelated functions come together to create the next big idea that fuels the success of the organization?" he said.
In his view, this is where the next-generation of knowledge management is going. And, driven by the integration of AI and ML, it is making it a completely different experience today than what it was in earlier years.
“Knowledge management has historically been very document/content-centric, and new technologies like AI/ML have allowed us to identify affinities between content and people, people and content, and even content and content, which enables us to be much more predictive in terms of how we deliver content or documents to users (i.e., more personalized),” McLaughlin said.
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Knowledge Management Goes Beyond Data and Content
Knowledge management systems are often regarded as content sharing platforms, but there is an often-overlooked aspect of content: the human brain behind it. One of the most impactful aspects of Microsoft Viva Topics, for instance, is its ability to identify individual expert sources for specific topics when returning information, allowing users to "go to the source," so to speak, to learn more.
“Executives are recognizing knowledge as a strategic asset that needs to be protected and managed, whether that’s documented knowledge assets or what exists in people’s heads,” said Trees.
Having the ability to also filter content based on relevance to each user is a new capability that wasn't possible in earlier iterations of KM systems. “More than 40 percent of the information an employee receives is completely irrelevant to their job/function,” said McLaughlin, citing a recent Coveo survey.
“To do this, we need to develop a very specific understanding of each user/employee, their specific needs, the work they are performing, their interest and preferences, etc," he said. "This, in turn, allows us to be highly targeted or even predictive in how we deliver information to individuals, surfacing knowledge, expertise and other relevant information based on the employee’s unique needs and even the context of the work they are performing.”
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Adjusting to Today's Business Challenges
Siloed data remains a problem for many businesses, especially legacy or enterprises that are not digitally native. The consolidation of data that is spread across multiple channels is a significant challenge to progress and digital transformation.
"Siloed, inaccessible knowledge creates operational risk and leads to duplication of effort across teams, units and locations," Trees said. "Between the chaos of the pandemic and better data visibility, organizations are realizing the full extent of both the risks and the opportunities."
Even more so, with the proliferation of disparate communication and collaboration platforms across today's remote or hybrid workplace, there's a growing need to build the capability to provide knowledge to all or select employees in real time.
“We need to be able to capture and share knowledge in real time, for example, in IMs or discussion threads," said McLaughlin, adding that companies may want to explore other mediums like video for effective knowledge capture and the free exchange of knowledge and information.
Yet, with an increasing amount of data coming from a growing number of channels, the ability to deliver information in a consumable and effective form to employees is a challenge. “Once we've embraced all of these different forms of knowledge, we then need to deliver this information to the user, i.e., employee, customer, partner, etc., in a highly efficient and contextual fashion,” said McLaughlin. “And, of course, we need to be able to do this seamlessly across devices, languages and geographies.”
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The Problem of Information Overload
Not surprisingly, information overload is becoming more of a problem for employees today. Current estimates indicate that 1.145 trillion MB of data is created every day.
"Employees are increasingly frustrated by chaotic, disorganized information repositories. They have too many places to look, too much stuff to sort through, and they’re getting frustrated — especially when remote or hybrid," said Trees. "The median knowledge worker says they spend 4.5 hours per week on average looking for knowledge and knowledgeable people. Half of the employees say confusion about where information is stored affects their ability to find information and expertise, and 45 percent say they have too many disconnected systems to search."
In his article on Viva Topics, David Lavenda wrote that although the promises of AI and other technologies are great, the greatest challenge is “how to bootstrap the system so that users see value from day one.” The methodologies involved may be different but the challenge remains, whether one is talking about an AI-based knowledge management platform, a customer data platform or any other new technology or software.
The real renaissance in knowledge management lies in the ways that leaders are recognizing and treating knowledge as a strategic asset — and gaining a greater understanding that today's hybrid and remote workplace requires new methodologies and strategies. Emerging technologies pave the way for a new way of looking at knowledge management, but it's critical to understand that knowledge doesn’t just exist in digital formats. It exists in people as well.