Sharing knowledge across the enterprise isn’t a new challenge – but the way knowledge professionals approach this task is rapidly evolving. Burgeoning digital transformation tools have the potential to break down information silos, but across industries, most of us are both intrigued by (and a little skeptical of) the benefits that new technologies promise to deliver.

In a recent article in Information Management, CCC researcher Dave Davis spoke on the evolution of knowledge management. A popular business trend in the 90s, knowledge management fell off the radar slightly in the early 2000’s, only to bounce back to the forefront in recent years.

Davis says that’s attributed to the monumental shifts in advanced technologies, and the sheer volume of data and information being generated by today’s digital-first organizations. Knowledge managers today, he argues, are well positioned to move the knowledge supply chain along more efficiently than ever before.

While the challenges that led to knowledge management falling off the radar in the late 90s may be patched up in 2018 – new challenges have emerged.

To elucidate those challenges, CCC conducted a survey of knowledge management professionals across 17 industries, including healthcare, technology, government and insurance.

Data from this study suggest that top challenges among knowledge managers include:

  1. Capturing tacit knowledge, making it explicit and accessible
  2. Standardizing knowledge management across the enterprise
  3. Breaking down information silos across teams and functions

More data means more insights, right? Not yet.

As information professionals, we talk at large about the abundance of data we have at our disposal. With more data available than ever before, it seems logical we’d be able to infer more insights from information. But this is made more difficult because the information sources are often disparate and siloed.

While 36% of the knowledge professionals we surveyed focus on both internal and external information – 54% focus solely on internal information. Over time, knowledge managers will need to expand their expertise beyond a company’s internal assets—from documents to subject matter experts—to include external information sources.

Gaining access to both types of information easily will be a crucial factor in building a foundation for successful digital transformation. Who better to spearhead this initiative than knowledge managers?

As Deborah Soule, digital transformation researcher at MIT,  points out: “organizations becoming digital should practice collaborative learning — sharing information readily across locations, disciplines and status boundaries to solve problems.”

Advanced technologies are on the horizon – but we’re not there yet

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are buzzwords across all industries and job functions, but where do these tools come into play in the knowledge management arena?

At the most basic level, companies need systems to store, process, and retrieve information and knowledge. This is likely to look different from company to company, depending on the systems, sources, and services enterprises have built into their businesses over time. We know their goal is to be able to take data that have been integrated and evaluated, and ultimately turn the insights from this mass of information into knowledge.

“Fully digital knowledge management systems offer features that previous iterations were not capable of,” Davis explains. “A cloud-based enterprise knowledge system means no dusty rows of metal filing cabinets and no teetering stacks of paper. Automated metadata tagging and instant document recall with the click of a mouse make the user-experience of today’s KM nearly effortless.”

While our research suggests not all organizations have integrated advanced technologies yet – it’s clear that it’s on the horizon:

  • 52% of our survey respondents are not using advanced technologies like cognitive computing, big data, knowledge analytics or robotic process automations.
  • 48% are using or plan to use advanced technologies in the next 12-18 months
    • 29% are using these technologies
    • 19% plan to use them in the next 12-18 months
  • 71% of respondents believe advanced technologies are either a great opportunity for KM (52%) or are a very attractive opportunity for KM over time after the initial disruption of the technologies (19%)

Combining knowledge & technology

In our experience, knowledge discovery is best served through a combination of machine learning guided by expert knowledge. That means knowledge managers will need to look for opportunities to partner with data scientists, informaticians, and other stakeholders in R&D or IT to collaborate on data sources, standards, and to set expectations about the human augmentation necessary to optimize machines. Ultimately, knowledge managers that embrace new technologies will be better equipped to implement and apply the best practices of tomorrow.


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Author: Jill Shuman

Jill Shuman is a former Director of Product Engagement at Copyright Clearance Center and currently a CCC Consultant. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she has taught courses in grant writing, searching biomedical literature and expository writing. Prior to her role at CCC, Jill headed up the corporate library and Knowledge Management Centers at Shire, and also served as a healthcare research analyst and an award-winning science journalist. She is active in SLA, HBA, and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). In 2016, Jill was the recipient of AMWA’s lifetime achievement award for her success in teaching more than 40 classes, workshops, and seminars. When not at work, she can be found reading (on an e-reader to make the print bigger), looking for her glasses, or writing children’s mysteries that feature sick children as super sleuths.
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