People, not Technology, Are Always the Foundation for KM Success

All Part of a KM Strategy

“When discussing digital transformation and the technology supporting it, the discussion often ignores the source of the content (data-information-knowledge) and the practical application of KM concepts and practices as part of a strategy that must exist to create the content.”  Bill Kaplan

So, here is my takeaway —  technology – digital transformation – AI  evolution – are not the main event but are all part of a larger KM universe with solutions focused on continuous (business and operational) performance improvement.

Here are some definitions to ground the discussion.

  • Knowledge Management (KM): The ability to capture, adapt, transfer, and reuse the “critical and relevant” knowledge of the organization to continuously improve performance at the individual, team, and organization level
  • Digital Transformation (DT): A work environment in which digital tools – information, applications, processes — create a business or performance advantage and enhance customer and stakeholder value
  • KM Technology: Technology that assists with the creation, identification, findability, access, use/reuse, transferability and organization of an organization’s knowledge

Tech Selling KM

A platform vendor recently asked me to review “KM technology” and provide my perspective about their  “complete” “knowledge management system,” which the salesperson characterized as “a software-based architecture that applies and utilizes knowledge management principles.” The marketing presentation went on to identify “the principles” which included:

  • business intelligence analysis
  • data-driven objectives around business productivity, and
  • a competitive business model …

and … “A knowledge management system uses a user interface, sometimes in a dashboard, to manage several different software modules that make up the system.”

I asked “How would one know if the technology would be “fit for purpose” for their organization?” I also asked “Where does the content came from that would provide evolution (knowledge) of the knowledge base?”

Can you tell what is missing here? The answer is “Technology is a Tool, Part of a KM Strategy Solution.”


  • AI and Machine learning are not fully mainstream yet
  • Technology can’t (yet) take knowledge from your head and

put into another person’s head

  • Technology can’t capture tacit knowledge (experience and insight) and make sense (context) out of the captured knowledge
  • Technology focuses on leveraging explicit knowledge, not tacit knowledge
  • Technology effectiveness = f (culture) + requirements
  • KM solutions are about the most effective “Use and Flow” of Knowledge within and across an organization


  • Information sharing isn’t good enough – people need to make sense of it, adapt it and use it to make the right decision at the right time
  • Create a framework for sharing knowledge, supported by appropriate technology, that enables people at all levels in an organization to improve their performance from its use and reuse
  • The entry point for the KM Technology solution discussion is after you understand the context for its use and the user requirements are defined in that context

Recent and current writing and speaking promotes a broad belief that transforming teams and companies into a “knowledge-centric organization” or “high performing, knowledge enabled organization” is about acquiring the latest collaboration tool or search technology.  Technology is only one part of an overall KM Strategy with five focus areas:

  • People/culture
  • Process
  • Technology
  • Content
  • KM Structure/Governance

We will be discussing this more at the 2019 DoD and Federal Knowledge Management Symposium in Baltimore on 14-16 May.


Download the presentation here.