“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.” – Lew Platt, former chief architect of Hewlett-Packard.
The need for Knowledge Management has been widely accepted across almost all major organizations for which there is budget allocated and tools created. This has been happening for quite a while and boasting of a strong knowledge management system is popular in IT meets. The ability to store vast amounts of information combined with efficient search engines, have given growth to complex systems storing past knowledge which is kept for consumption for the present and future. While a lot of focus has been on gathering and keeping information ready and searchable, there has not been as much on information dissemination.
Unlike in the past where the components within an organization, be it the PCs, furniture or software tools, used to be far more advanced than those that an employee used in his personal life, the current scenario is just the opposite. A typical person has means to purchase more expensive devices and use better software than those available within the organizations like Facebook and Linked-in. This trend is now recognized by organizations which have been facing requests by users to build tools similar to the ones available for personal usage.
If we try to apply these trends to the knowledge management systems, we see that knowledge management systems are just repositories of knowledge. It is not too different from traditional hierarchy based product information sites that host a repository of products and wait for people to access the URL in order to view products or search for ones that they are most interested in. Once a person gets to the URL it displays information specific to that product, and this is the level to which most KM solutions have been currently implemented.
However in the Internet world, things have moved one step further with contextual advertising tools such as Google AdSense. What this does is bring up links to products based on the information in the page a user is viewing, which may not be an e-commerce site. Since the links are relevant to the page being read, in all probability those would be things that the viewer would be interested in.
Trying to fit this scenario within an Intranet would be the equivalent of providing information to an employee, without him going and searching for it. A KM website is typically not required by an employee to complete his assigned tasks and asking a person to go and read it to determine how best to carry out his role is the equivalent of telling a person to read an instruction manual, which most people are not very keen to do. Also since the information stored within a KM solution keeps growing organically, employees may not be aware of the new items posted that could be of relevance to them. If the intent is to help the employee perform his daily tasks effectively, why not bring in information from the KM sites into the tools used by employees to complete his daily business – basically try to sell the knowledge within the organization.
Some of the tools used by most employees in an organization are the browser, and Microsoft Office products, especially Outlook and Word. All the popular browsers give the ability to create extensions in to them in order to bring in additional functionality and integrate with external systems. It is also possible to track the sites he visits or applications being used with which it is possible to create a profile for the user to determine what his interests are, similar to what Amazon does to create recommended products, and this combined with the organizational profile of an employee gives a powerful profile model which could be used to determine what exactly would be useful for the employee.
Technology is not a limiting factor, and it’s time for people to look beyond just gathering information which may be unused, and analyze innovative techniques used by Ad companies to push contextual knowledge to employees in an non-obtrusive fashion, making sure that the investments made by the organization to gather knowledge is used in the most optimal manner.