Knowledge Management in 2020

It’s 2020. Trying times for the global economy and society, but we’re still hanging in there.

Madison S. is an information professional with Omni Consultants, a big global consultancy that is now focused (as are its competitors) on personal productivity improvement, facilitation, cultural anthropology, and design and communication skills development services for their clients. She has an MIS degree and is one of the highest paid of Omni’s employees, even though she provides few services directly to Omni’s clients.

She spends about 1/4 of her time producing business analyses based on environmental scans for Omni’s consultants. These analyses sort through the firehose of information coming into the organization and distill out ‘What It Means’ summaries — five-page point-form reports suggesting important trends, alarming developments, new opportunities, insights and implications for business, the economy and the society as a whole, rich in visualizations, with supporting data appended. These serve as powerful Talking Points Memos for Omni’s consultants to use in conversations with and proposals to clients.

Another 1/4 of Madison’s time is spent producing ‘What Might Come Next’ analyses. These are a combination of forecasts about the future of businesses and industries, based on her team’s research, and provocative proposals for action to capitalize on or mitigate these forecast events. These analyses are framed as future state stories, scenarios, showing how the suggested actions would lead to optimal outcomes. Omni’s consultants ‘tell’ these stories to their clients’ executives and project teams to help them visualize their future and develop and refine strategies to exploit or adapt to the changes forecast. Omni’s senior management, likewise, uses these scenario-based analyses in its own, internal strategy and risk management development.

This activity represents a dramatic change from the activities ‘information professionals’ had performed in the past. Omni’s managers came to realize that research is best done by experts in research, not by everyone in the organization, and that good IPs are able to add enormous value to the information they locate and distil, if given the opportunity, provided they are knowledgeable about the business and how it uses information.

Another 1/4 of Madison’s time is spent supporting collaboration and innovation teams in real time consulting assignments with Omni’s clients, and in real time internal project work. Her role in such projects is two-fold: To provide insightful synopses of relevant information prior to the start of the collaboration and innovation sessions, and to retrieve relevant information immediately that has been identified as essential to moving forward by the collaboration and innovation teams.

The rest of her time is spent in face-to-face ‘cultural anthropology’ sessions with Omni’s people, during which she observes them doing their jobs, identifies and suggests ways in which they could use information and technology to do these jobs better, and brings back to senior management reports on systemic ‘information problems’ that need organization-wide process changes or new technologies before they can be resolved.

Andrew R. is one of Omni’s consultants. Like most of his peers, he maintains a weblog of what he has learned and discovered, which many people inside and outside the company subscribe to. He also participates in community weblogs for six self-established, self-managed ‘communities of passion’ he belongs to. His ‘home page’ consists of:

  • a directory of all the people in his networks (showing their current online status, and real-time multimedia virtual presence contact information for them),
  • a list of the RSS feeds to which he subscribes (mostly blogs of other community members, plus the publications of Madison’s team), and
  • his calendar.

He can access this ‘home page’ from any computer or portable device.

He has no e-mail or voice-mail and does not use ‘groupware’ or other asynchronous technologies. He can almost always be reached by Instant Messaging, and his calendar of times when he is available for conversations and meetings is open for anyone to book. As such, most of his day is spent in physical or virtual real-time conversations and other collaborative activities focused on some specific objective.

The hard drive of Andrew’s computer is virtually empty — when he needs information, he gets it ‘just in time’ from the people in his networks via IM, by searching his RSS feeds, or by request from someone in Madison’s group. Mostly, his networks feed him just the information he needs each day, so he rarely needs to ask.

Andrew earns his money substantially by observing and listening to clients and telling stories that are relevant to their needs, drawing on his experience with other clients, his imagination, and the information from Madison’s group. He also earns money by facilitating his clients and networks to co-design and co-innovate solutions to their own problems collaboratively by sharing ideas, knowledge and insights, peer-to-peer, using Open Space and similar complex-problem methodologies .

Omni has no formal ‘website’ — just its collection of blogs and its interactive directory of people with their contact information. Since they started these and abandoned the traditional website, readership of their pages, and follow-up work, have soared.

Their big KM project for this year is Reinventing the Water Cooler, designed to find a way to replicate the opportunity for serendipitous, unscheduled conversation that the old water coolers once enabled.

This is all well and good for businesses like Omni that have the resources to distill and analyze information. For smaller organizations and individual citizens it’s a tougher challenge.

Kim L. is a partner in a small entrepreneurial venture called MacClothes, that produces portable sewing and embroidering machines that can be operated by the (now-ubiquitous) Macintosh 20/20 computers to allow users to create their own custom made-to-measure clothing. Until recently they did their own business research, or did without. But recently they’ve struck a deal to ‘subscribe’ by RSS to some of Omni’s research for a very low price, after a 90-day embargo period.

Individuals in 2020 generally use RSS subscription to craft their own personalized real-time ‘newspaper’ consisting of feeds from any of thousands of specialized and community-based e-newsletters and millions of blogs, plus filtered ‘Best Of Blogs’ feeds (“BOBLs”) on any of 7000 subjects maintained by information professionals as hobbies. The most successful of these BOBLs have millions of subscribers, including corporate subscribers who underwrite some of the maintenance costs. These ‘premier’ BOBLs maintain linkable archives of related stories to each story they feature, plus a ‘What It Means’ analysis and a ‘Possible Actions’ list that tells readers what they could/should do to act on the information in the story. Some BOBLs have become so popular that they have full-time paid specialist researchers and reporters on staff producing their own articles.

The main complaint from businesspeople and the public about information in 2020? This hasn’t changed since 2008 — it’s still information overload. But at least in 2020 the value of information intermediaries has been rediscovered — people who are skilled at (and have time to) ‘make sense’ of the raw information coming at us in unmanageable amounts. And as a result a little more attention is paid to the meaning, implications and possible actions that stem from all this information.

And, since all this information is viewable on highly legible, portable display devices, nomore trees need to be killed to disseminate and use it.

(Thanks to my KM colleagues Down Under for inspiring this post, especially Shawn Callahan, one of the brightest and most insightful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.)

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1 Response to Knowledge Management in 2020

  1. Jon Husband says:

    RSS, a blog or two, a couple of wikis in which one participates, analyses and briefings, meetings, maybe a bit of “storytelling” and some facilitation, conversations .. what’s so hard about all of that ? … except for the unlearning of “habits” about how work is done and managed.I remain astonished that we seem to be so mired in antiquated ways of doing work, mainly because of status and power arrangements.But it’s only 2008 today .. maybe by 2020 things will be different.

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