An unexpected upshot of the chaotic 2020s is that more leaders see the connection between knowledge management and business success. Well-documented and accessible knowledge helps get new hires up to speed, develop and engage employees throughout their careers, and spur the innovation needed to evolve and respond to change. Everyone is more aware of the importance of being nimble these days, along with the disasters that can ensue when tacit or explicit knowledge vanishes overnight. (To understand why knowledge continuity matters, look no further than Twitter under the control of Elon Musk. It turns out companies do need ready expertise to operate effectively.)
KM has gained ground, but new opportunities bring new challenges (along with some old ones). Below are three thoughts about where the discipline is headed in 2023 and what obstacles it may face. But my perspective may not match yours—that’s what makes life interesting! To help us see the future more clearly, please contribute your perspective by taking APQC’s 2023 Knowledge Management Trends and Predictions survey. We’ll share the results early next year.
1. KM will continue to compete with digital workplace initiatives
When the pandemic took off, KM teams stepped into the breach to help organizations adapt to digital work. KMers overhauled intranets, stood up Microsoft Teams sites, piloted new apps, taught people how to use Zoom and Miro, and converted in-person trainings and events to virtual. This has been a double-edged sword. KM gained brand awareness and credibility by solving urgent problems, but some stakeholders got confused about KM’s scope and purpose along the way.
Knowledge management plays an important role in the digital workplace, but KM is not just about managing cloud-based apps and repositories. A good KM strategy involves identifying the organization’s critical knowledge and ensuring it gets both captured in systems and transferred among people. Content management and virtual collaboration can be gateway drugs to get the business hooked on KM, but KM needs to build on that foundation with strategic solutions to protect and replicate critical knowledge. Otherwise, it may get subsumed into digital initiatives that are more about the pipes than the knowledge running through them.
2. In-context knowledge recommendations will become more mainstream
The holy grail of KM is to deliver relevant knowledge into employees’ hands when and where they need it, without them having to seek it out. Early adopters have been pursuing automated recommendations for nearly a decade, mostly by building or configuring software that uses information about a user—job role, current projects, communities, search history, digital interactions, and so on—to surface relevant information and expertise on personalized intranet pages, in team sites or work apps, or as alerts. These systems often delivered impressive results, but they were expensive and time-consuming to get right. Thus, the technology was limited to advanced KM programs in certain industries.
Now, tools like Microsoft Viva Topics are embedding similar functionality into mainstream enterprise content and collaboration platforms. Viva Topics uses AI so that users can click a keyword in—for example—a Teams site and instantly see key documents and recommended experts related to that term. These tools are not perfect by any means, but they are likely to improve quickly, especially if IT teams turn them on and users engage with them. Inclusion in the big digital workplace platforms makes recommendations accessible to a much broader cross-section of organizations, but KM teams will have to scramble to incorporate the technology into their strategies and ensure it works as intended. A bad experience—where recommendations are inaccurate, overly complex, or off topic—will create clutter and frustrate users.
3. Demand for content management will exceed dedicated time from the business
As the volume of digital information grows, more business groups are clamoring for content management solutions—which is great. Unfortunately, a lot of these stakeholders fail to recognize that their own staff must spend time surfacing content gaps, reviewing content for relevance and accuracy, and providing the expertise that underpins effective ontologies. People want content management, but they expect to sign a check and outsource the work to a KM team, consultant, or software vendor.
KM and content management professionals—whether they work for the organization or are contracted for a project—can help define the strategy, processes, and tools to make content management happen. But they need people who understand the business to ensure the right content is curated, categorized, formatted, and delivered in ways that will make sense to end users. Success depends on a partnership between content management experts and content experts. With so many understaffed and harried teams, i suspect that hesitancy to allocate business resources to content management will continue to stifle efforts to get libraries and repositories under control.
Where do you think KM is headed this year? Let us know your predictions by taking APQC’s survey.