Why do we need KM when everything is on Google?
This is a blog post I’ve had in draft for well over a year after being irritated at hearing this very question several times in succession – while I might be able to improve it if I ponder over it longer, I thought I might as well publish it now – since otherwise how could anyone find it?
I’ve heard a few Knowledge Management skeptics saying something along these lines “in the days of Google we easily have access to the latest news, research, opinion and data directly from our desktops, why do we need knowledge management, and knowledge management experts and systems?”
My response is this. No doubt improved internet access and powerful search engines have made it easier to find knowledge. But it’s not as simple as that. Not everything is on Google, and it’s not so straightforward to sift through and understand whatever you can find.
Here’s another way of looking at knowledge management and why it is important: “Knowledge Management – It’s about helping you capture, store, share and use everything that isn’t on Google (yet), and making sense of what you can find there”
So what isn’t on Google? More than you might think. Here are a few examples:
- Most of the material that is currently on organizational Intranets. In many organizations only a small proportion of their total information is available on their public website, or on other public websites and is thus searchable by Google. I’ve argued before that more of this should be available publicly – but right now it isn’t so you won’t find it.
- All those documents on shared drives, hard drives, paper records, internal databases etc. examples include trip reports, work plans, draft reports and studies, datasets etc. More and more of these are being put online but still more are held behind organizational firewalls, or are not online at all, even on an internal system.
- Premium access electronic journals and databases. Abstracts are usually available online but the detailed papers (let alone the data sets on which they were built) are not. One day more of these will be available for free, but not yet.
- Information about the expertise, interests and activities of your organization’s staff (or of most people for that matter) – again people are increasingly creating public profiles, but there is usually much more information on private networks, or which is shared in person to person exchanges.
- Tacit knowledge inside people’s head such as lessons learned and good practices from our experience, or person to person exchange of ideas in online and offline communities that can generate new ideas and improved ways of working.
- Relationships with people who can help you. Yes you can find experts on the web, but how do you know who is the person who is able to help you, and why would they? this is where networks and communities come in.
- Synthesis – analysis, rating and context for the vast mass of information that is out there on Google so you know you are using the best quality and most relevant material and don’t need to spend ages looking for it. Of course a lot of synthesis is already available on Google – but often not the one you need – and how do you know if what you are reading is any good in the first place (or as Abraham Lincoln famously said “”The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity.”). Even with the trend towards more and more open and published data – we still need expert help to interpret it.
- Knowing what knowledge is not there that we critically need to do our work – and finding the best way to generate or obtain it.
- Transforming knowledge into action and learning i.e. knowing how to use the knowledge you are able to obtain and apply it effectively in your work, and then reflect on the experience and internalize what you have learned.
So we can think of knowledge management as dealing with all the things that Google can’t yet do for us such as those listed above. And In the course of our work, I think you’ll find we need to use these resources quite often, but we often don’t yet have the best skills, systems, tools and behaviours in place to make these easily available when you need them. And however good Google gets, this or any other technology is only part of the answer on how to tackle this. There is a lot that needs to be done around organization culture, skills, behaviours, accountabilities and work processes, policies and governance. Technologies (such as Google) are just an enabler. And there is a lot to be done around developing personal capacity and skills for which you can find information online, but which you only experience in the real world.