The APQC Blog

How Technology Will Affect the Future of Knowledge Management

APQC is engaged in an ongoing project to research and think about the future of knowledge management. We’re interested in where KM is headed, what the “next big thing” is, and what internal and external forces will cause the discipline to reshape itself (again) over the coming years.

Earlier this year, we surveyed more than 500 people about their firms’ immediate KM priorities and the trends they see impacting KM (download a free summary of the results here.) For a more nuanced view, we also reached out to KM leaders and asked, “What trend, innovation, or development do you anticipate having the greatest impact on KM over the next three years, and why?”

We received a lot of great answers, most of which can be grouped into three broad categories:

  1. New technologies that impact how we work, learn, and interact with the world
  2. Changes in the makeup and habits of the workforce that impact KM’s purpose and how it’s practiced—and new skills and knowledge KM teams need to keep up
  3. Structural forces related to globalization and complexity that may (or may not) increase KM’s relevance and strategic position in the enterprise

Below is a summary of some particularly insightful responses we got about technology. Future posts will focus on the impact of workforce and structural changes. We’ve included people’s Twitter handles at the end when we have them—we encourage you to follow these folks if you’re interested in KM, as many of them have great insights.

Smart Technology Will Improve KM

Several participants pointed to ways that technology will enable leaner, smarter, and more in-the-flow KM in the future. John Bordeaux, associate partner in social knowledge management at IBM Global Business Services, thinks that augmented cognition—human cognition augmented by computers and smart technology—“will accelerate as a trend affecting the KM profession over the next three years” and will continue to change how people and organizations incorporate technology into the decision-making process. Bordeaux says, “Machine learning and computational linguistics will advance our ability to make sense of the cacophonous streams of information that have become our aquarium water.” [Note: Nearly half the participants in APQC’s 2015 KM Priorities survey agree that machine learning will be a big deal for KM, as this chart shows.]

48% believe machine learning and cognative computing will impact their knowledge management programs within 3 years

Howard Cohen, vice president in strategy and operations senior knowledge management at Chubb Insurance, envisions a KM future with more integrated content management systems that deliver a more seamless user experience. He says, “The future of knowledge management is the elimination or decrease in our awareness of supporting systems and capabilities. Information [will be] scraped from multiple repositories…from many systems past, present, and future.” Joe Raimondo, CEO and solution designer at Intelligent Answers, quipped, “My response to this [query] is simple: Watch the movie Her.” Raimondo says that this film—about a man who develops an intimate relationship with his smart computer operating system—“charted KM 3.0.”

On a more sobering note, Paul McDowall, senior knowledge and change management advisor at Know How Works, also thinks technology would have the biggest near-term impact on KM—but also says this is, “disappointing, from my perspective.” According to McDowall, technology has, since the early days of KM, always had the greatest impact on changes in KM. Instead, he’d like to see more fundamental changes to the role of KM within organizations—ultimately, he would like to see KM “revolutionize the management discipline.”

More Connections = More Risk

As John McQuary—vice president in work process optimization at Fluor—and others pointed out, the Internet of Things allows for greater connectivity among individuals and organizations, and thus presents opportunities to “leverage knowledge in new and innovative ways.”

But for many firms, the Internet of Things also presents previously unforeseen risks to the organization and its knowledge assets. Murray E. Jennex, professor at San Diego State University, thinks that in the future, KM teams will need to work with security and legal to create secure ways of sharing across the organization and across geographical boundaries. Tanya Houseman—consultant at Tanya Houseman Consulting—echoed  Jennex’s sentiments, noting that in the future, “Companies will have to balance security against collaboration—not just in the digital workspace, but who and what kinds of information we share with colleagues in face-to-face collaboration.” Arthur Shelley, founder and CEO at Intelligent Answers, added to this conversation: “Knowledge and intellectual property are like cash—they need to flow to create value. This requires trusted relationships, a willingness to constructively engage, and preparedness to share the value created.” All of these aspects are “difficult things to define in a legal contract," he added.

In short: It's an interesting discussion that reveals how new technologies might improve KM—but also points out areas where technology might introduce risks that inhibit sharing and collaboration in organizations. If you want to know what everyone said, you can download a summary of responses related to all three categories on our website. And this is meant to be a dynamic discussion, so please chime in below.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts to this project, including:

  • John Bordeaux, associate partner in social knowledge management at IBM Global Business Services, @jbordeaux
  • Howard Cohen, vice president in strategy and operations senior knowledge management at Chubb Insurance, @howardseth
  • John Coles, knowledge strategist at Irrevo, @johncoles100
  • Stan Garfield, Community Evangelist at Deloitte, @stangarfield
  • Chuck Georgo, service-oriented healthcare solutions architect at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center, @chuckgeorgo
  • Jacqueline Halupka, senior manager in global knowledge services at Deloitte, @j_halupka
  • Tanya Houseman, consultant at Tanya Houseman Consulting, @tanyahouseman
  • Murray Jennex, professor at San Diego State University, @murphjendss
  • Bill Kaplan, knowledge management consultant at Working Knowledge CSP, @billkaplankm
  • John Lewis, faculty at Kent State University, @explanationage
  • Matthew Loxton, senior analyst at WBB Consulting, @mloxton
  • Paul McDowall, senior knowledge and change management advisor at Know How Works
  • John McQuary, vice president in work process optimization at Fluor
  • Matthew Moore, manager in market operations at PricewaterhouseCoopers, @engin_eer
  • Neil Olonoff, knowledge management advisor at the U.S. Army, @olonoff
  • Katrina Pugh, academic director at the Columbia University Information and Knowledge Strategy Master’s Program, @katrinapugh
  • Joe Raimondo, CEO and solution designer at E-Nact Solutions LLC, @joeraimondo
  • Arthur Shelley, founder and CEO at Intelligent Answers, @metaphorage
  • Tom Short, senior strategy consultant at Jive Software, @tshort9
  • Albert Simard, knowledge manager at Defence Research and Development Canada, @AlSimard
  • Dave Simmons, knowledge management specialist and senior records officer at the U.S. General Services Administration
  • Jeff Stemke, president at Stemke Consulting Group