Principles of Next Generation Knowledge Management
In the world of business, every company eventually gets to know everything. What matters is when. This simple question differentiates great companies from others. Sure, there are patents, trade secrets and such, but really they are a matter of who can put two and two together first. As the amount of data available for making decision explodes and as the tools to analyze this data become more sophisticated, astute managers are already calling knowledge management as the key competitive differentiation of 2020s.
It used to be that a successful culture of knowledge management was easy to build. For the most part, it has been an afterthought after all. Recent best practices have encouraged professionals to share their insights in the form of specific “Knowledge Documents” and upload to a central portal. Others search on this portal to access these documents. Some firms even penalize professionals for not contributing to the collective knowledge.
This is changing very fast. Companies have begun to ask questions as fundamental as “What is Knowledge?” Consider a news article that talks about Walmart setting up a new subsidiary in India, delivered timely to the Walmart account manager at an IT services firm. There may be many documents in that IT firm’s knowledge portal talking about international data regulations or pitching SOPs for a giant like Walmart, but that 10 word headline is still the most powerful piece of insight to drive the Walmart relationship.
1. Understand that access is the key.
Counter-intuitively, nuggets of information on the Internet are very easy to manage. Organizations struggle far more with internal repositories. Things are clunky, siloed, heavy (and randomly) access restricted, and in many many, at time incomprehensible formats. Surveys frequently suggest that enterprise information cannot be simply found. In 2020s the reality needs to be different. The first principle of next generation knowledge management makes everything accessible in a ready to use format, or as close to it as possible. This principle drives many decisions about data warehousing and data architecture, but many salient discussions are still frequently overlooked today. For example, how and in what format should the data be structured? Answer varies from situation to situation. In general, pharma should structure their data more. Tech, perhaps less.
2. Treat friction as the biggest enemy.
Formatting and storing all this data is useless without the right interface to it. Today, mere mention of enterprise search conjures up images of a clunky UX that returns a bunch of PDFs matched on keywords. The user has to download each PDF, open it, and search again within the document to find the right answer. Almost always, it’s easier to pick up the phone and hunt for the information than to search for it, which defeats the entire purpose. The second principle of next generation knowledge management is to reduce the friction in knowledge life-cycle to zero. Right from generation, storage, indexing, discovery and usage, it makes sense to invest in UX, tools and processes. For example, consider using fourth generation AI driven search.
3. Push. Don’t wait for pull.
There still is that pesky question of “when” – When should the right professional get to the right knowledge. The right answer, of course, is “at the right time,” but this is very hard to get right. The third principle of next generation knowledge management requires insights to be packaged, prioritized and proactively delivered just before they are needed. This extends to users and partners as well. For example, something like an AI based ticket deflection system does not only reduce call center costs, but it also delights customers. Next generation knowledge managers take a productized approach to internal knowledge dissemination, thinking through the most common and most painful scenarios, and solving for them.
4. Keep it safe.
In the world of GDPR, CCPA and increasing sensitivity to privacy, next generation knowledge manager must be very careful about security, gravity and determinism of data they are managing. The fourth principle of next generation knowledge management says friction-less, proactive access to all relevant knowledge must come with friction-less, ubiquitous locks. No one should be able to access, imply or learn about any data not meant for them. However, keeping in character, their keys should be friction-less and ubiquitous as well e.g. single-sign on all information systems. Often, this principle requires investments in anonymization and/ or redaction.
5. Don’t forget the AI.
The four principles above take another interesting dimension with the advent of AI. The consumer of knowledge is not only an employee or a customer, but also an AI model or a data science team. A knowledge manager’s job is to enable them as well, while keeping the locks on. As more systems are automated the nature of users will keep further evolving. The fifth principle of next generation knowledge management calls for a comprehensive approach that must consider human, artificially intelligent systems, machines and other potential consumers of the knowledge.
Intellectual property, network position, market access, cost structure, contracts, product management skills – current school of thought considers many of these as legitimate competitive differentiation for businesses. 2020s will challenge incumbents in each of these dimensions, favoring companies that are good at one thing – knowledge management. It is imperative to redesign organizations around next generation knowledge management using these principles.