posted 5 Sep 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 1
Jerry Ash makes the case for a close relationship between information management and knowledge management.
In the mid-1980s, when knowledge management (KM) first broke into the consciousness of the business world, there was a scramble – a tug of war, really – to draw the boundaries of KM this way and that.
KM purists were incensed by the success of the technology industry in convincing prospective buyers that computer software was the real driver of knowledge management by providing a new set of clothes for existing enterprise information-management (EIM) software, to be sold as ‘KM’.
Knowledge management had come from a 30-year history of intellectual development that had nothing to do with technology and KMers had a legitimate beef. However, the battle was largely lost and it left the KM community in a state of paranoia that remains and still affects its self-image today.
Indeed, to this day KMers are careful to stress that KM is not EIM; rather, it’s all about tacit knowledge, the knowledge innate in people’s minds and everyday way of work, not documents in warehouses (or data warehouses).
By implication, that appears to mean that explicit knowledge – knowledge that is written or expressed in some form – is not knowledge at all, but information. So the reasoning goes, knowledge only exists in the human brain. If it is written down, many argue, then it becomes ‘information’ until it is once again transferred and activated by the human mind.
That, at least, is the basic theory. It was and is a limiting factor for all intellectual-asset management. The constant claims that this or that professional discipline is not knowledge management has created a gulf between and among other management disciplines that are most certainly engaged in some part of the knowledge game.
Inside Knowledge magazine has taken a wonderful step towards bringing two disciplines together beneath one roof. May it be only the beginning. In the future, may we gather together many separate, but well-matched, disciplines in our knowledge network.
EIM – which includes document and records management, correspondence management and workflow management – certainly has a role to play within the greater scope of knowledge. None of these categories is foreign to the knowledge manager and it would be folly for him or her to turn a blind eye to the wealth of expertise in information management already available in the EIM field.
It is enlightening to learn that EIM has endured a similar experience to KM in the misconception that IT is the key driver. In one paper, Major Dale Long of the US Air Force (USAF), put it this way: “While these terms [the four basic elements of EIM] are often associated with various computer software applications, in principle they are all technology independent.” He wrote that ten years ago and it identifies the same misconception KM has suffered over the same decade.
Of course, technology drives nothing – information or knowledge. But IT is a powerful enabler for the management of both. While technology doesn’t manage anything, computer systems – connected to people processes – enhance, expand and accelerate the effective utilisation of human capital.
Likely, KMers think of EIM as driven by technology and no doubt chafe at the image of it as an endless and purposeless warehousing of data and information that eventually chokes the system and befuddles the hapless researcher; meanwhile, the data and information lays dormant, goes quickly out of date and leaves an impossible task of keeping all updated and relevant.
Again, there are reasons for this view that go beyond the phenomenon of information overload. During the early period of KM’s initial popularity, executives invested in KM software primarily with the intention of ‘capturing’ knowledge, then warehousing it as ‘intellectual property’.
To KMers, that would have been laughable if it had not been such a serious matter. On top of the ‘information dump’, executives intended to add every bit of knowledge mined from every brain in the organisation into the company-owned knowledge and information pit!
It is impossible, of course, to capture all the intellectual capital existent in any organisation. In fact, it is impossible to capture all that is known by one single individual. Try it yourself: start writing down everything you recall from a lifetime of learning and experience and you will still be at it, regardless of your present age, at life’s end – job unfinished. Remember, this is just what you recalled, not all that you know. Most often, you don’t know what you know until you need to know it.
KM has been unable to establish a clear dividing line between knowledge and information or, indeed, the management of them. Perhaps it is because they are each pods of intellectual-capital management that naturally overlap, regardless of how they are organised.
Clearly, EIM and KM have been harmfully estranged by emotion, misunderstanding, misinformation and poor judgment for the past two decades. Inside Knowledge magazine has bravely brought us together within these pages to get the skinny on each other and set the stage for some powerful collaboration. We should take full advantage of it.
In addition to this space, information-management professionals are also cordially invited to join the Association of Knowledgework (AOK), where people from every speciality across professional, geographic, cultural, economic and hierarchical barriers to learn together. It’s free and it is a virtual home for those who work with intellectual capital. You’ll find some EIMers there already.
AOK’s core is still in knowledge per se, but many of its members are savvy to the part information plays in the full scope of intellectual-asset management. Your presence will raise the level of understanding.
You can join online: http://www.kwork.org/explain_join.html. Meanwhile, I look forward to learning from the expanded content of the new Inside Knowledge and from you, too.
Jerry Ash is KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is author of the Ark Group’s Next Generation Knowledge Management series. To order any of the three volumes, contact Adam Scrimshire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Ash can be reached at email@example.com.