New collaboration tools for knowledge management

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Last week I got the chance to follow a number of the presentations at the Ragan Web 2.0 event that was hosted at SAS headquarters. As somebody dealing with knowledge management (KM) for a number of years, those technologies that usually fall under the Web2.0 umbrella are very interesting for a number of reasons. I would actually go as far as saying that knowledge management recently got a push back into the light based on those. Just a couple of years ago KM was really going down. The main reason was that it did not succeed in organizations usually based on too much technology focus.

The stream of collaborative technologies have now revived the KM wave. What is different is the fact that the technologies are really an intermediary tool, they are usually easy to use, no long setup times (i.e. long Portal projects), this is what I call a quick start. And it is actually not about folks creating long “best practice” documents, that they put into a database, something that usually puts a limit to the number of participants. It is a lot more about scaling personal contacts or sharing shorter knowledge bits on a much higher frequency (i.e. in a blog or microblog - like Twitter).

A number of folks have shared info on the conference already Shel Holtz and Lee Aase (from Mayo Clinic) as well as an earlier sascom voices blog entry.

The mixture of presentations was really good and some of the examples from organizations using the new technologies for internal and external communication showed quite a bit of process innovation around those tools. If you listened closely there was always some passionate individual that was behind the roll-out long enough to get it really established (usually counted more in years and not days or months).

On one side this event was about raising awareness on the wide range of possibilities and what better way to do that than embed it into real life stories how blogs, wikis, podcasts, video casts have been used by the presenting organizations. One indicator that this actually worked was the question “Who knows what twitter is?” in the opening and closing sessions. I would say it went from 40% to 99%, although fewer people attended the last couple of presentations.

What I did hear from attendees as well though is some doubts. Who is going to cope with all that content that is flying at us via all those channels. What about the quality of the content? How to best integrate new channels into existing work processes? I think finding answers to those questions is one of the challenges today and even more so going forward.

Answers might differ from individual to individual and from organization to organization, but the key is to be aware of those tools and add them to the portfolio where sensible. Just a little reminder, when blogs first started a lot of people thought “who in the world would want to listen to somebody else babbling about their day?" Well millions of blogs later, they are now widely accepted as being a tool that properly used can make an impact on sharing knowledge quickly and across borders, that seemed unsurmoutable before.

The killer app for some of the Web2.0 tools does not have to be the early one it is used for nor the one that the creator intended. As people use them and in the interaction between the tool and it’s usage over time, the new killer app might actually surface. Connectivity drives the unanticipated speed of this innovation process, in a recursive fashion, pulling itself out of the hat.

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Frank Leistner

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