The State of Knowledge Management: 2016

John Ragsdale, VP Technology Research, TSIA
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John Ragsdale, VP Technology Research, TSIA

This is the fourth year I have conducted a knowledge management (KM) best practices survey with the TSIA community, all leadership of high tech service operations. Looking at year-over-year results, there was a slight rise in both knowledge-sharing culture and how members rate their employee and customer-facing knowledge implementations. Adoption of more sophisticated enabling technology may be rising, but the 2016 Knowledge Management survey—with over 300 responses—revealed that some key requirements for successful knowledge management programs, including regular content maintenance, are not receiving the focus they deserve.

Companies perceive improving KM as a guaranteed way to improve efficiency and lower operational costs, yet few companies are satisfied with existing implementations. When asked what percent of productivity improvement was possible if your organization was sharing knowledge as well as they possibly could, the survey results clearly illustrate the perceived potential from strong KM processes and technology.

A third of respondents, 34 percent, said a 20 to 30 percent productivity improvement was possible, and 40 percent said an improvement of more than 30 percent was possible. This perception, reinforced by case studies and ROI examples, is at the core of the awareness, interest, and planned spending for employee and customer-facing knowledge programs.

So why do companies struggle so much to realize this business value from their KM investments? A major contributing factor is often culture, with many companies acknowledging that their culture rewards individuals for hoarding knowledge, i.e., being the only expert on a topic, making it very difficult to convince knowledge workers to share their hard-earned expertise with the enterprise.

Figure 1: Knowledge Management Potential

Source: TSIA 2016 Knowledge Management Survey.

The survey asked, “How would you rate your company’s culture regarding knowledge sharing on a scale of one to ten?” With one representing “share knowledge and others take credit,” and ten representing “leaders set the example and reward knowledge sharing,” the average score was 6.4. While this is a slight improvement over last year’s culture score of 6.1, it is clear that until corporate culture shifts away from hoarding knowledge toward knowledge sharing and collaboration, the high perceived potential of KM is unlikely to be realized, regardless of the amount spent on automation.

Many KM programs get off to a good start, but see results declining after a year. In my experience, not performing regular maintenance is the downfall of many KM programs, as users finding duplicate or outdated content are less likely to use the knowledgebase in the future.

  â€‹Companies recognize the value of improving knowledge sharing, but successful knowledge management requires more than technology.   

The 2016 Knowledge Management Survey asked respondents about their approach to knowledge maintenance, and the largest percent, 28 percent, admitted that content hasn’t been updated in a long time. 27 percent said maintenance is occurring as part of normal KM activities, though I have found that maintenance activities are not as thorough—or as frequent—as managers may think. Establishing specific processes for reviewing, evaluating, and either rewriting or removing/archiving problem content should be a priority, as well as periodic auditing to determine if these processes are being followed on a regular basis.

Though culture and a lack of maintenance may be at the root of a KM failure, companies tend to scapegoat the technology. According to the survey results, more than a third of companies have had three or more knowledgebase tools. Companies recognize the value of improving knowledge sharing, but successful knowledge management requires more than technology. To increase your likelihood of success, I offer three recommendations:

• Get the culture right. If your executives are not actively promoting knowledge capture and sharing, provide them with information on how your support or project metrics could improve with adequate knowledge and collaboration, and calculate the impact to service margins. Whether they ask for them or not, include KM metrics in operational reviews, and talk about the steps necessary to make improvements.

• Link performance to knowledge outcomes. Employees have a great many demands placed on their time and attention, and if they aren’t being incented and rewarded for doing particular tasks, those tasks tend to fall through the cracks. It is critical that employees have goals in performance reviews for knowledge sharing and participating in KM programs, and bonus programs are also effective in keeping KM front and center.

• Staff the projects adequately. The annual KM survey clearly shows that not enough resources are dedicated to KM—37 percent of respondents said “everyone is accountable,” and only 19 percent have dedicated knowledge management staff. As a result, content is not being published quickly enough, and the required maintenance is not occurring. If knowledge bases don’t contain current information, and if articles become old and outdated, both employees and customers will stop using them.

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