Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Knowledge Management in the Future

Management ideas reach a point in their trajectories where typically one of three outcomes occurs. The ideas become embedded in practice. They go away or fail to gain traction. Or they hobble along in a marginal way.

The quality movement is a good example of the first outcome, where we see quality processes, such as quality assurance departments, embedded in practice. There is already some evidence that this is occurring in knowledge management, where ‘‘smart systems’’ assemble collective knowledge and make it available to employees—for example, the databases used by call center agents and claims processing techniques used by insurance companies. However, it is also possible that knowledge management as we currently understand it will fade in influence, perhaps because of missed chances or, more likely, because organizations have already spent too much on technology systems, believing those were the solutions to their knowledge challenges.

For the long term, we believe a focus on knowledge and learning is the most essential issue for any organization. We may see the merging of learning, which has traditionally been HR-based, and knowledge management, which has been rooted more in IT and strategy. Certainly many others assert that knowledge and learning are mainstays of organizational performance. Among the most recent to advocate this view is a Columbia University economics professor, Joseph Stiglitz. He has argued that the appropriation of global ideas and the ability to search, filter, and socialize knowledge are the most important tasks for global organizations today. Take it from a Nobel Prize winner: this issue is here to stay. (For further detail read Ikujiro Nonaka.)

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