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The days of knowledge management are over. We need knowledge architects

05.01.2013
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If you want to find one of the most vague, misunderstood, but critical roles in an enterprise it’s probably in a division called “knowledge management.” There’s a good chance that it’s not actually called that for fear of reprival. Fate wasn’t kind – and for that matter those pursuing the early stages of KM didn’t have it right. Organizations spent a large part of the new millennium investing in large toolsets, people, and infrastructure that largely became obsolete with the surge of web 2.0. Britannica vs Wikipedia… we know how that story went.

At the same time, it doesn’t take much of a leap of logic to connect the needs (and promises) of Knowledge Management with the reemergence of a world focused on “social business”, both in and out of the enterprise. Call it Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, or Knowledge Management, it’s all fundamentally the same thing – organizing knowledge and data in a way that’s most useful to those that want it and those that have it… simultaneously.

The growing “open” world

But before going down that rabbit hole, let’s pause for a moment. What else does this sound like? Hopefully the title didn’t give too much away, but there’s a parallel trend that’s impossible to miss and yet is so deeply intertwined with our quest to both structure and open up knowledge and data: the open office.

open architecture at urban campusIf you’ve experienced the movement (or at least seen it on the web), you’ve probably already had your say at happy hour already. Maybe they even gave you your old cubicle back. It’s either the best thing since k-cups or the worst thing since Blackberry Touch. Humor me for a moment, though, and take your opinions and first impressions out of the picture for a second.

Focus on why it’s happening everywhere from Google to Best Buy and lots in between.

Where design meets knowledge

Design of everyday thingsFor those of you have that read the Design of Everyday Things (which you should), you’ll not only remember the supremely simple “form follows function” but more importantly walk away with a notion of the “nudge” – how design can actually influence behavior. Smaller plates, bigger brake pedals, top-heavy coffee mugs. Yup – they’re not so subtle ways that designers tell their users “eat less, dummy” (Bloomberg could probably have learned a lesson from this).

Design thinking is at the heart of this “nudge” – a focus on not just “improving” the customer experience for the sake of satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue, but to actually influence behavior in a certain way to maximize those returns through often hidden or subtle ways.

To go back to our original topic – knowledge management – we’d do better call it knowledge architecture and focus on the design of the ecosystem and processes in which it all happens as one big strategic nudge toward a better world. Not only does knowledge architecture sound better (and not bring up bad memories), it’s also more accurate – it conveys how skills and topics like design, strategic planning, behavior, economics, and psychology all fit into this very strategic role.

Far from being a manager of something vague, a knowledge architect has a more specific charge and fortunately has a growing (albeit more complex) toolkit to work with in the multi-platform, all-web world.

It’s not just knowledge

Back to rabbit role for a moment.

When you start to talk about “unstructured and open” information, it’s easy to move from knowledge to data. Big Data really was a good branding idea, as silly as the phrase actually sounds (did we ever have small data?).  In fact, all the buzz around big data is specifically about ways to maximize “unstructured” data into open environments so that you can peel out more insight.

It’s the same story – develop the systems, strategy, and design to make order from chaos.

What people in business intelligence have always known is that data alone doesn’t help. You need to change (read design) the way that people interact with it in both the input and output to gain efficiency and value.

You still need people

The bottom line is simple: knowledge architecture, big data, and everything in the “open” movement are all closely intertwined. Follow Avinash’s rule of 90:10 with knowledge just as you would analytics, business intelligence, or really just about anything else.

You’ll find that as you invest in great, innovative people and put them together, you’ll get high returns on scalable, usable, knowledge and information that will give you an advantage against the competition, your industry, or the problem you’re trying to solve.

Published at DZone with permission of Josh Dormont, author and DZone MVB.

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