These are turbulent times in the Knowledge Management space.  It’s worth taking a few minutes to check out the just-published Global Knowledge Management Observatory© Study (2nd edition).  This global survey was first launched in 2011 by a team led by Dr David Griffiths as part of a Knowledge Management project at the University of Edinburgh.

 Summary of findings

The report makes for interesting reading.  729 individuals from around the world responded to the survey, all from organizations with formal Knowledge Management activity.  Here is a brief summary of the findings:

  • The Knowledge Management function in many organizations is in a state of general decline.
  • Satisfaction in Knowledge Management’s contribution to strategic and operational objectives is often poor.
  • Knowledge Management lacks maturity and integration within the vast majority of organizations.
  • Knowledge Management continues to be predominantly seen as a technology-led function.
  • Satisfaction with technology-led Knowledge Management solutions is not improving.
  • Many Knowledge Management professionals do not appear to have the necessary awareness and/or permissions to respond to unmet demand for KM activities in organizations.
  • Knowledge Management as a field, or area of practice, is argued to be suffering from a lack of specialist practitioners.
  • The value and/or significance of Knowledge Management activities is still not being appropriated recognized or reported within most organizations.

Dr Griffiths comments on these results:

“The findings detailed in this report are deeply concerning and require action if Knowledge Management is to continue to exist as a value adding function within organizations”

Similarities with FT-SLA Report

Results of this study reminded me of another fairly recent report, The Evolving Value of Information Management, commissioned by both the Financial Times and the Special Libraries Association.  82% of the 822 respondents to this survey were information professionals (not necessarily organizations with formal Knowledge Management activity) but the results were similar.  Key themes to emerge include:

  • What worries knowledge providers most is that an increasing number of their colleagues are bypassing them and accessing the information they need directly (e.g. using Google).  The second major, but related, challenge for information professionals is demonstrating their value to the business. Many are also struggling to meet organizational expectations in an environment of declines in budget, IT investment and headcount.
  • Information users (e.g. executives) suffer from information overload. Their challenge is a perceived lack of up-to-date, relevant, decision-ready information, delivered quickly enough for them to make use of it.
  • The majority of knowledge providers currently overestimate the level of value they provide. Overall, 55% of knowledge providers say they add “a lot of value”, yet only 34% of executives are willing to say the same of them.
  • But executives appear more ready than ever to engage with information professionals. Some 49% of information users expect the level of interaction and engagement between knowledge providers and senior management to increase in the next three years.
  • Communication, understanding and decision-ready information are rated as the most important attributes for modern information professionals. They are also among the areas with the largest shortfalls in performance ratings between users and providers, so information professionals should focus on improving these attributes above all others.

I recommend reading through both reports.  Taken together they paint a concerning picture of the current state of the information management profession.

What to do

But action can be taken.  The FT-SLA report made several recommendations to information professionals:

  • Communicate your value.  Actively seek opportunities to add value to the organization.
  • Understand the business, the drivers and the usage of information.  Become “embedded” in the business.
  • Make greater use of project management techniques and technology to achieve greater productivity.
  • Keep up on technical skills.  The expansion of technologies used in the creation, monitoring, management and dissemination of information is increasing.
  • Provide decision-ready information. Demonstrate effective filtering, organization and communication of information.

Going back to the Global Knowledge Management Observatory© Study, Dr Griffiths has several recommendations for Knowledge Managers, including:

  • Define and communicate the scope/scale of Knowledge Management activity.
  • Integrate and “embed” Knowledge Management in the wider organization.
  • Ensure Knowledge Managers have the awareness and/or permissions to respond to unmet demand.
  • Communicate and report the value of Knowledge Management, from stakeholder satisfaction to impact, results and ROI.
  • Ensure appropriate level of professional development is provided.

The recommendations from both studies are in broad alignment.

 Conclusion

These reports provide a lot of food for thought but it’s important to keep things in perspective.  There is a lot of change occurring in the workplace – information overload; new technology; changing demographics; changing work styles; portable devices – and these reports reflect the information management profession scrambling to deal with these changes and the associated C-level expectations.  I am confident they will.  The good news is no-one is disputing the overall need for proactive information management — in fact it is widely agreed the need has never been more important.

In additional to the recommendations from FT-SLA and Dr Griffiths, I would add only this:  the information management profession needs to be seen as taking advantage of market trends, not opposing them.  If portable devices are proliferating, then make sure you are delivering information to portable devices.  If C-level executives don’t understand the value of information, then make sure you have the analytics to demonstrate it to them.  If people want to receive decision-ready information, make sure you are providing information the way users want it: personalized, relevant, and in the context of their work.

It is true these are turbulent times.  It’s also a time of great opportunity.  There are platforms and tools to help information professionals be successful.  Check them out.