KM 101: More on Technology Complexity

Last week I shared a slide deck from an introduction to Knowledge Management. If you didn’t have a chance to look at it, I will wait until you have a quick look now.

The slide I heard most about was slide 14 (below) which charts the functionality of various types of enterprise technology against one another. Unfortunately visual presentations do not include a lot of explanation, so I thought it would be of interest to pull out this specific graph and discuss it a little further. Click for a larger image:

Graph of Knowledge Management technology

This graphic was put together by fellow presenter Stephanie Barnes, adapted from work by Despres and Chuval published in 1999. You can see that she has added eDiscovery and Social Media technologies for our benefit.

My quick interpretation: the various types of software we use cover a range of functionality and often overlap. It is complicated and confusing, meaning that we really need to know what outcomes are desired and therefore requirements before we spend thousands of dollars–or even millions of dollars–on new technologies. Sometimes the tech we already have on hand will fulfill the organizations’ needs, but we just don’t know it until we look.

I asked Stephanie why she sees this graphic as important. She tells me this is always the slide that garners the most attention when she uses it. Stephanie deftly expands on my comments:

I like this slide because it illustrates the complexity of the technology environment when it comes to knowledge management and helps people understand why there is so much confusion about which technology supports what kind of activities. Ultimately, it should also help people understand how to pick the right technology for the desired business or organizational application.

Organizations need to understand what types of activities are going to be performed using the technology: is it for scanning or mapping i.e. understanding what knowledge exists; is it for capturing or creating; is it for packaging or storing; sharing and applying; or transforming and innovating? All of these things are criteria that will influence the selection of the technology. Everything from search to social media to business intelligence and data warehouse technology can be determined using the answers to these questions; the questions need to be asked in order to pick the appropriate technology and so that the budget of time and money is spent wisely.

I would love to know–what else do you see in this graph?


  1. Fundamentally, I agree with you, but I would like to add two things I believe should be kept in mind:

    1. Take a strategic look at what activities are currently being performed, without even thinking about the technology. You should attempt to find a technology that fits how you currently accomplish the processes that work for you.

    2. Keep in mind the nature of the knowledge you are working with, whether tacit or explicit. If it is valuable IP it needs to be more closely guarded than more ephemeral (yet highly valuable) knowledge that keeps the wheels turning profitably. Some will require inside-the-firewall containment whereas others may be amenable to open source platforms, tools, or apps.

    In my experience as a KM professional, there is a lot more overlap than can easily be shown in a diagram like this. For instance, Learning Management/eLearning are shown as the province of the individual. From a systems perspective, however, this is an area the enterprise needs to understand and nourish as part of its overall approach to serving its purpose as efficiently and effectively as possible.

    Hope you don’t mind me putting in two of the many cents I carry around with me.


  2. What I see in this slide – and thanks for sharing it – is that organizations looking to KM as a solution must decide what their business objective is before looking for new technology. I don’t believe that we use existing systems to their full potential, sometimes simply because it ‘belongs’ to another group.

    The fundamental question to me is not “what software or systems do we have that can achieve X”. My preferred question is “if X is the goal, how can we achieve it given what we have or can create, and providing that what we have and can create is sustainable, fiscally viable, and has its own potential for contribution to future systems, processes and tools”.

    It’s really too bad that we can’t represent these concepts easily in 3 dimensions. Can you imagine the image if the tools were related visually to supported processes on one side and objectives for client service on the other?