Taking the NO Out of Knowledge Management

“Joe’s writing about knowledge management?” I hear you cry. “That’s so early 2000s, do you have access to the internet yet?”

And this little New Yorker can’t disagree with you. Knowledge management has been around a long, long time – Wikipedia suggests from the early 1990s – with the early 2000s a time when large organizations in particular wasted, sorry … invested, some serious dollars on corporate knowledge management initiatives and technologies.

But it’s not easy knowing what (relevant) knowledge is, then getting the people with knowledge to share it, then making that knowledge accessible when it’s needed, and ensuring that the available knowledge is both accurate and timely, and thus still relevant.

Knowledge management and IT service management

From an IT service management (ITSM) perspective, knowledge management was introduced as an ITIL* “process” in ITIL v3 (in 2007), and is now one of the 26 ITSM processes that make up ITIL 2011 (I now know exactly how many processes there are thanks to a tweet exchange between Stephen Mann and Stuart Rance – I don’t miss anything on Twitter).

Although aspects of knowledge management were embedded within 2001’s ITIL v2, such as the use of a known error database for problem management. The timing was right – enterprise knowledge management was at the peak of its popularity.

But, in 2015, how great is knowledge management within ITSM and IT as a whole?

Yes it’s one of the 26 ITIL processes and defined as:

“The process responsible for sharing perspectives, ideas, experience and information, and for ensuring that these are available in the right place and at the right time. The knowledge management process enables informed decisions, and improves efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.”
-Source: ITIL 2011 Glossary of Terms

Although I prefer the Davenport (1994) definition, I love him in Pirates of the Caribbean (Editor: I think that was a different Davenport, Joe):

“Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.”

Which cuts to the chase a little more quickly – that is, using and reusing knowledge.

But what is ITSM knowledge?

Rather oddly, the ITIL 2011 Glossary doesn’t include a definition of what knowledge is. If we look back to its knowledge management definition then it’s: “shared perspectives, ideas, experience, and information.” Rather than something that can be used for personal, team, or company advantage – where is the emphasis on value? (Although the ITIL Service Transition book does detail how knowledge management can deliver value to the business.)

And deferring to an external definition, in this case from Google, it still doesn’t push the fact that knowledge has value:

“Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

It all seems quite odd that we are encouraged to manage knowledge but never to understand that knowledge can be valuable (and even invaluable). It’s also odd that knowledge management is seen as a process, by ITIL 2011, rather than an ethos or a way of working within a particular organization.

ITIL and the people-side of knowledge management

The ITIL 2011 Service Transition book does talk of “an organizational approach to knowledge management” and lists (as part of a Knowledge Management Strategy section (4.7.5.1) if you are interested) the need to have:

“Organizational changes under way and planned and consequential changes in roles and responsibilities”

Although at this point it’s easy to think that this relates to the people responsible for the knowledge management ecosystem rather than every employee involved in ITSM. Plus the later advice seems to focus on the mechanics of knowledge transfer and data/information management rather than the change in thinking required to birth a culture of knowledge sharing, management, and exploitation.

Is more knowledge captured than used?

As my good friend Stuart Rance says in his Knowledge Management Is Not Just About Document Repositories blog:

“Knowledge only has value when it is available to someone, either because they remember it or because they are guided towards it at the time they need it, then that can help us to understand what knowledge management needs to achieve.”

For some ITSM roles there is a process-based need for knowledge exploitation, such as service desk scripts or the aforementioned known error database. But how well is knowledge captured and reused beyond these oft-quoted ITSM use cases? In my experience, not enough.

Firstly, how well is knowledge “collected”? Is it merely a process “add-on” – something to be done in addition to the day-job, usually at the end of the already-too-long work day or week? And on the flip-side, are people expected to reuse and benefit from the available knowledge? Probably not.

Making it work

For knowledge management initiatives and operations to have any chance of success:

  • Employees need to buy into, and be recognized, for knowledge sharing and knowledge reuse
  • It needs to be embedded within business processes rather than being a discrete and disconnected activity that, in reality, never gets done.

So by all means look to the ITIL Service Transition book and the knowledge management advice it offers. But please do two additional things: firstly think in terms of knowledge exploitation above knowledge management – perfectly stored but unused knowledge helps no one. And secondly, seek help from HR colleagues as to how best to instill knowledge-friendly behaviors in people as well as processes.

There is a big NO in kNOwledge management that must be addressed for it to ultimately benefit your organization.

* ITIL is the ITSM best practice framework.

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).


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