The APQC Blog

What Will Scare Knowledge Management in 2018

I love Halloween, but I hate scary movies. I cringe every time I catch a glimpse of Freddy Krueger, Jason, or Chucky during a binge of late-night channel flipping through the Sci Fi Channel. The costumes-and-candy part of Halloween is fun, but I don’t consider being scared a desirable recreational activity.

I have a similar distaste for terror in my professional life, so I try to anticipate any changes with fear-factor potential and get out ahead of them before they can cause too much damage. Along those lines, I’ve been thinking about what knowledge managers should fear most as they plan for the year ahead. Here are my predictions for the top two trends that will scare KM leaders in 2018—and the proactive steps we can take to keep those fears at bay.

1. Fighting for employee mindshare among so many other distractions.

Employees are coping with an ever-increasing number of drains on their time and attention. An explosion of information both inside and outside the firewall allows us to answer almost any question, but delving into that knowledge base can be overwhelming. And the situation degrades further when you consider the proliferation of communications channels in the modern workplace. It’s no surprise that U.S. employees have an average of 199 unread or unopened emails in their inboxes or that iPhone users check their phones 80 times a day.

A well-designed KM strategy can help employees filter the masses of information and messages they are confronted with in order to maximize their limited time. Tools like enterprise search, expertise location, and customized newsfeeds streamline access to relevant content and experts, minimizing the number of dead ends employees have to go down to find who or what they need. But with organizations adding IT complexity all the time, it can be tricky for an enterprise KM program to cut through the noise. If KM leaders are smart, they should be at least a little bit scared about capturing employees’ attention and conveying the continued value of KM engagement.

To cope with this challenge, APQC recommends developing a formal KM communication plan that is tailored to the target audience and encompasses a range of channels, from in-person messages by leaders and line managers to branding, video, and events. Top organizations take this very seriously, and many even hire full-time KM communication directors to guide their marketing plans.

Tactics should be similar to those used in commercial advertising: Think about your workforce’s preferences and priorities, craft a message that will move and motivate them, and then deliver that message when and where they are most likely to connect with it. (If you want to see some great examples of this, check out the best-practice organizations in APQC’s Next-Generation Communities of Practice research. Many are using branding strategies, social media-style viral marketing, and virtual badging to drive engagement with their communities.)  With all the distractions out there, you’ll only connect with your potential end-users if you get creative in how you raise awareness about KM and its value.

2. Forging a path for knowledge management in an increasingly digital and AI-driven world.

Many organizations are in the midst of reimagining their digital strategies to take advantage of the latest advancements—everything from Big Data and predictive analytics to cloud computing, advanced collaboration tools, and the internet of things. As part of this digital transformation, an increasing number are experimenting with so-called “smart” technologies to automate tasks and extract insights from large volumes of unstructured information. From machine learning and natural language processing to full-fledged cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) applications, organizations are just starting to grapple with the potential behind these new technologies and the resulting shifts in how employees access and analyze corporate knowledge.

Last year, APQC’s KM Advanced Working Group explored the potential impact of cognitive computing on classic KM challenges like content curation, search and discovery, expertise location, and lessons learned analysis. Many of the applications are still in their infancy, but the possibilities are exciting and the sci-fi fantasy is slowly morphing into reality. Industry leaders including NASA, MITRE, Accenture, and Deloitte have already demonstrated some of the benefits that advanced technologies can provide in the context of knowledge management.

Cognitive computing and AI seem poised to either make or break knowledge management, depending on how KM programs handle the influx of new capabilities. Some worry that, once it reaches maturity, AI will give employees seamless access to the organization's collective knowledge without the need for manual interventions. APQC recognizes the value of cognitive technologies in augmenting—and potentially transforming—knowledge management, but we do not believe technology will eliminate the need for a solid KM and collaboration strategy. Nor will it make all the hard work traditionally required to understand and fulfill organizational knowledge needs magically disappear.

For several years, APQC CEO Carla O’Dell has advocated that knowledge managers need to learn about “smart” technologies and how they can be harnessed to make KM better, faster, and more automated. We’re still far away from seamless solutions to automatically connect employees to knowledge and expertise (and such solutions will likely require more manual work on the back end than vendors want to admit). But KM leaders who grapple with their fears about AI now will be much better positioned to exploit its benefits down the road.