Friday, August 17, 2007

Is KM Dead?

That seems to be the question on the minds of many these days. Or more softly put, how do CKOs ( or other KM types) fit into a world with strategically minded CIOs and other IT folks. Technology has also gained a solid footing in the KM space and while there is debate as to how far technology can be taken to replace people (especially in PSL roles) it's certainly established itself as an important tool. I'm speaking at the Law Tech Summit in Australia this September and the Ark Group KM Conference in Chicago in October, and in both cases these concepts have been thrown around a lot. While I won't address this topic at length here, I do have some starting points.

While there are certainly both operational and strategic elements to what IT and KM do, there are different types of opportunities for each group. This idea was illuminated recently on a call with my friend (and idol) John Alber at Bryan Cave, one of the more innovative folks in the business. Furthermore, we might stop calling it KM and start calling it something else. All one needs to do is look at the titles of people performing relative degrees of KM duties these days:
  • Director of Practice Innovation
  • Director, Consultant Services/Client Advocacy
  • Director of Professional Services
  • Director of Practice Management
  • Director Professional Development
  • Director, Legal Business Systems
  • Director of Practice Systems
  • Director of Practice Support
  • Chief, Practice Systems & Services
  • Director, Legal Information Systems

Notice something missing from these titles? How about the word 'knowledge'? Personally I like the Director of Practice Innovation the best, very fitting. If someone were really bold, Director of Practice Enhancement might also be apropos, although it could lead to some interesting dialog with Partners who might not feel their practice needs 'enhancement'.

In any event, I look forward to seeing everyone at ILTA next week and stay tuned as we talk about this topic more in the months to come.


Unknown said...

I'd be happy to see the end of the tag line knowledge management being applied to what I do. For whatever reason, the term knowledge management seems to have a bad reputation in law firms - perhaps because of early, ineffective and expensive initiatives.

There's no question that the tech component of what I do is huge - BUT if that isn't tied to a thorough understanding of how legal professionals work and think, initiatives won't be successful. For example, there continue to be very easy to use tech solutions presented to lawyers that require "no training". My experience continues to be that without some training or education, these solutions are not as successful as they should be - it's that human element again.

At least in Canada, law firms seem prepared to continue their investment in knowledge sharing/practice enhancement initiatives, even though these are on are the wrong side of the balance sheet.

Unknown said...

Hi Tom,

I think that the problem is perhaps bigger than whether or not "knowledge" is missing from titles. The problem from my perspective is that law firms pretty much fell in step with the corporate world in implementation of KM. And to put it mildly, they missed the mark in linking to the big picture.

While I have nothing against the thought of moving in the direction of innovation, I suggest that without the knowledge end of things there won't likely be innovation. I delivered a keynote at an international innovation conference a couple of months ago and spoke of exactly the same thing -- referring to it as "strategic innovation" where innovation is the natural end result of closing knowledge gaps.

So, in law firms or in any part of the corporate world, where the guiding belief was that to "do" KM all you had to do was implement one IT tool or another...the end result was a failure to close knowledge gaps.

For example, in a law firm, being able to quickly retrieve critical knowledge contained in documents residing in the knowledge-base is key. And yet, I've seen few law firms successfully tackle even basic issues such as ensuring the PDF and MS Word documents contain the keywords necessary to improve search capabilities. The end result being that many documents are simply recreated because they cannot be found even by those who initially created them.

So, KM or not, the problem remains. Failure to link the knowledge management efforts to the strategic picture resulted in no closures in knowledge gaps. And failure to link innovation to the bigger picture will also result in failures. It's still the same knowledge gaps.


Dr. Dan Kirsch, CKM, MKMP, CKMI
COO & Board Member
Knowledge Management Professional Society (KMPro)