E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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APQC KM & Innovation 2007 – Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management

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Over the last couple of days I have been sharing a couple of weblog posts on the recent APQC KM & Innovation event I attended last week in Houston for the first time. Those couple of entries were around the subject of the two day training I attended on KM: Strategies and Tactics for Business Results. The third day of the KM related training was actually around one of the subjects for which I have always had an additional interest, not because of its nature itself, but more because of how complex it actually is on its own. That is right, I am talking about measuring the business value of KM. And that was exactly the one day training I attended: Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management.

Overall the course itself was rather interesting and stimulating as we were able to come up with a number of good examples and resources on how to gather some metrics that could then be used to show the business value of KM within the business world. Quite interesting, indeed, and very enlightening, specially for those folks who are just getting introduced into the topic. In that respect, a highly recommended course on its own.

However, given that I have been involved in the field of KM for several years now and given the fact I was actually introduced into the world of KM by measuring its value way back in time already, I must admit that I was looking for something else. Perhaps a bit more of an advanced course on what else is out there in order to measure KM and its potential value.

At the beginning of the one day course we were actually divided in small groups where we had to introduce each other in order to get to know us a little bit better and then we had to come up with five different expectations, as a group, of what we wanted the course to cover, i.e. the learning objectives. And, of course, we got down to work. We all came with a number of different expectations and one of them was actually one that I put together myself and along the same lines of what I have described above.

A bit more of an advanced take on KM measurements and I, therefore, submitted the expectation of learning how to measure the business value of Communities (of Practice). Yes, I know, initially not as easy as you would expect, right? Specially when most of the times it is not that easy to measure them, which brings me to my next point. While I do understand and realise about the need to measure the value of KM (And communities, for instance) from a pure business perspective, so that it can be funded and so forth, over time I have started to doubt of the benefits from doing such thing. I have never been bought into the value of providing KM metrics, throughout all these years I am still not convinced about it.

And as time has gone by, and along with the advent of the social computing space within the KM arena it is not going to help much at all either. On the contrary, it will shake the ground big time because apart from the difficulties of providing same very valid KM metrics from what we would know as traditional KM we are now facing a much larger issue which is basically figuring out a way to measure all of that unstructured information and knowledge that is scattered around different various tools, different communities, different knowledge workers.

I feel that is where the main challenge is at the moment, because that is where we are all heading with regards to KM. Long gone are the times where we were able to measure the value of KM by the different interactions with traditional KM tools from an individual perspective. Things are completely different now, because on top of that we have got, if anything, we need to combine that approach with some fresh and new ideas coming around from the good amount of unstructured knowledge that is getting across multiple organisations. How are we going to measure that? How are we going to measure the value that communities are providing to the core business while working with that particular unstructured information? How can we justify the existence of those communities, if we ever would need to, which I very seriously doubt? In the current business environment and with the emergence of social software tools is it really still applicable to find measures for what may un-measurable all along?

As you can see, I had plenty of questions that I was hoping I would be able to get some answers on, but alas it didn’t happen. At least, on this one day training I attended last week I didn’t get a chance to go through them since it pretty much covered the basics on KM metrics from the traditional point of view, and not from the emerging next generation of KM we are seeing being embraced within the corporate world and which I am sure it is going to drive the different interactions and conversations over the next few years around the world of Knowledge Sharing. So I am hoping that in future years this particular course on Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management (Again, a real pity that I cannot share across any of the contents as I just got licensed print-outs) will get updated in order to incorporate the new wave of KM, because otherwise I doubt it would ever validate itself as meaningful and resourceful for those folks interested in such topic.

Myself? Well, I am still looking for that magic bullet that would help me convince myself that there is value in measuring both the traditional KM and its next generation. So far I haven’t been able to come up with a convincing method to provide consistent KM measurements that would help convince not only managers, but also knowledge workers, on why it is worth while investing time and effort in sharing your knowledge with others and prove that business value.

Pretty much like I mentioned yesterday with spending your time in doing better things than coming up with a good KM definition, the same would apply over here. I still feel there are much more important things out there to worry about than to measure what may not be measurable in the first place. Say, how do you measure your own knowledge? Any ideas? If you know the answer to that question I would love to know, because so far I haven’t been able to come up with an argument that I could buy myself before even trying to convince others.

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  1. Since we now know that decisionmaking and behavior are influenced by many factors in addition to the input or consumption of information, knowledge, and data, maybe we should give up trying to measure the impact of knowledge management and return to the old days of concerning ourselves with behaviors and outcomes. Giving people access to existing experience and expertise is only one of the many inputs an organization can provide to help people do their jobs. If I am managing a group, a department, or an organization, I want a complete picture of how things are operating, not just input on on how one of the many resources is being used.

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