7 reasons traditional knowledge management is dead

By Ant Cousins, Director of Customer Success at ProFinda.

10 years ago I was working for the Ministry of Defence promoting the use of Microsoft SharePoint to improve our knowledge management. It didn’t go well. It was an early version of SharePoint which you may recall didn’t exactly fit seamlessly into the rest of the Microsoft Office suite. It was slow and painful to upload documents and add the required metadata so you could find it again in the future. 10 years on, I see things haven’t really changed.

Based on my experience, here’s 7 reasons why we need to accept that organisations, and people, just don’t work the way we need them to and what we should be doing instead to add the value people want from knowledge management, but without the pain.

  1. There’s more knowledge outside the business than in it. I guarantee, whatever company you’re in, no matter how large or how advanced, there is more knowledge on whatever it is your employees are working on outside the silo of your business than inside. Therefore, we should be spending more time helping our employees find and connect to the people with that knowledge. Alumni, freelancers, consultants, recently retired but still friendly employees all have a wealth of knowledge that could be mapped and accessible.
  2. The speed of innovation is exponential. Fueled in recent years by the development of self-taught AI, innovation in every industry is happening at a faster pace. This means a reducing shelf-life for any internally developed IP before it just becomes the norm, then outdated. For example, what are the chances any IP developed around the use of AI created 12 months ago is still going to be valuable? Better off binning it than forcing someone to categorise and store it for a rainy day that will never come whilst at the same time increasing the overall volume of information that means people are less likely to be able to find something useful.
  3. Searching for stored knowledge is pointless. When we put SharePoint in the MOD the hope was that people would search and find stored knowledge rather than constantly call the people they thought would be the expert. But because A) nobody was ever 100% sure they’d found the most recent version of a doc and B) documents were never written with a guide on how to use them in any specific context, people just called the author anyway. Effectively they were using documents to identify experts, then calling the experts. We should be enabling people to find the person who knows enough to be able to help them with the problem.
  4. It’s faster to connect people to people. We have the technology now to skip the search of stored knowledge and connect people to people, based on mapping their knowledge using Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and matching algorithms. We can map tacit knowledge, make it explicit and connect people directly. In our own research of over 4000 knowledge workers we’ve found searches for stored knowledge take 2-3 hours on average and searches for people take 5 mins if you’ve got the right tech. Over the course of a year that’s a month of productivity reclaimed.
  5. Connecting people to people results in better…. Results. In our research we found a 300% increase in the quality of the responses people got from people, as opposed to trying to interpret stored knowledge. This meant more time for refining good quality solutions rather than trying to re-engineer something not quite fit for purpose and only having adequate results. It also increased a number of employee engagement metrics to feel able to find, and to be found as, experts in certain topics.
  6. It’s much cheaper to connect people to people. If you add up the spend on knowledge management systems, the people to procure, manage and curate them, the time taken by all the employees that have to upload documents to them and the time taken to search them for what is probably out of date info… yes, it would be a massive saving to cut them out and enable people to people matching.
  7. Millennials don’t work that way. Having grown up with social technology they’re surprisingly people orientated, looking to find people first, before stored knowledge. Social learning, collaboration on new IP and recognition are key millennial engagement drivers and that means spending more time enabling and encouraging people to people matching for example through the creation and facilitation of communities of practice. In my humble opinion that means, for example, knowledge managers should be spending more time on creating events to bring people together to learn socially than on a system of stored knowledge. Controversial? Let me know!

About the author

Antony Cousins is the Director of Customer Success at ProFinda — connect with him at antony.cousins[at]profinda.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.