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Knowledge management is about people, not IT - Debunking a third myth of knowledge management

Last week, I talked about myth #2 (you can’t capture knowledge) in my series on the 3 myths that customers have regarding knowledge management. Today, I’m moving on to debunk a third myth – that knowledge management is about people, not IT.


Myth #1 – You can’t measure the value of knowledgeKM is continuous decision  improvement

Myth #2 – You can’t capture knowledge

Myth #3 - Knowledge management is about people, not IT


As in my previous blog posts, I like to define the subject first. In this case, I want to define knowledge management so that I can say why IT is essential. Wikipedia is a great “bit of IT” for reaching a consensus on most subjects and knowledge management is no exception.


A simpler definition of knowledge management is “a systematic process for continuously improving the quality of an organisation’s knowledge assets”. For “systematic”, read “deliberate” or “intentional” or even “determined”!  By “knowledge asset”, I mean knowledge in all possible states: tacit and explicit. This definition means that knowledge management is about managing the knowledge inside our heads, sharing it and growing it by increasing “tacit to tacit” knowledge exchanges to form “tribal knowledge” as my colleague Nadhan discusses in his post.  It is also about turning it into explicit knowledge and managing that too.


Can we do this without IT?


Yes, we can. Knowledge management isn’t new. We can accumulate personal and tribal knowledge without IT. We can learn from others, we can share our expertise and so on, just like we have done for thousands of years (not me personally!). The desire (motives, time, etc) to do it has to be there and the means (access) for doing it has to be there too.


So what’s changed?


IT is what has changed. We have lots of the stuff. As a result, we have access to a wealth of data and information but the need to make effective and efficient decisions with this data and information has not gone away. My colleague Roy Woodhead discusses the “technology-collective” as the collective effect of all technologies that stimulates the need for more technology. We need IT for knowledge management because we have IT.


The way we operate has also changed and this too has been brought about by IT – the Internet is a prime driver (and enabler) for changing ways of working.


Of course people and IT need to work together to deliver really effective knowledge management. The desire to share knowledge has to be there as well as the means and, the simpler the means, the quicker the desire will be fulfilled. It needs people, process and IT. Quite often the IT is there but just hasn’t been delivered effectively enough. Which leads me to conclude …


there’s nothing wrong with IT – it’s people!  KM is people, process and IT


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Roywoodhead | ‎10-22-2012 07:16 PM



I think I now get why KM is important.


Technology begets technology. When Henry Ford invented the mass production of cars the need for traffic lights, car parks, faster roads etc was inevitable as humans pursue continuous improvement of a disruptive innovation.


I think your argument is, as we rely more and more in information systems (i.e. IT) we need a systematic approach that maximises the benefits of more and more information systems.


KM is thus 'tool' formed through a blend of social-technology and IT-technology (i.e. hardware, software etc.


I find this a very interesting argument !!! As an aside, did you know that humans are the only known species that make tools in order to make tools. Your thesis belongs in this line of human progress.


Great stuff !!!!


mariajhonson | ‎10-23-2012 06:21 AM

Yes you are absolutely right. I am completely agree with you. Knowledge Mangement dosenot fully depends on IT. We can only say that that internet can helps in manage your knowledge.


it consultant

Nadhan | ‎10-23-2012 06:22 PM

Great series, Laurence.  Appreciate the reference to my post on tribal knowledge. 


Another observation on this particular post - Having access to a wealth of data is good.  Informationalizing it is priceless!


Connect with Nadhan on: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Journey Blog.

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About the Author
Laurence has over 35 years experience in the IT industry and has spent 27 years delivering knowledge management (and before that became fash...

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