Smartphones, Social Nets Remake Knowledge Management


by Samuel Greengard

Knowledge management finally is getting smart.

A decade ago, you could hardly open a trade magazine or attend a conference without getting bludgeoned by the idea of knowledge management. But KM applications were expensive and clunky. For the most part, workers had to enter data in unintuitive ways and ROI was dicey.

Over the years, these applications have improved, while SharePoint and other tools have made collaboration easier. But KM remains tricky because there's no template for collecting data and information and transforming it into knowledge. Although monolithic KM applications aren't going away--and many are adapting to today's changing workscape--the reality is that the definition of KM is changing.

Social networks can serve as a powerful form of knowledge management--especially if there's a way to capture and share postings. In fact, for some companies, these networks are more useful than any commercial collaboration or KM package. People share market intelligence, sales leads, travel tips, you name it. Free of imposed structure and artificial rules, they're able to function how humans function best: informally.

What's fascinating about the current environment is that smartphones are increasingly the underpinning of social interaction and KM. In fact, they're turning the entire process upside down. For example, an iPhone app like DocScanner serves as nothing less than a pocket document management system. You snap an image of a magazine article or a brochure and it converts the file to a PDF or text using OCR. Evernote or Dropbox, both linked to the app, make sharing the information with others only a tap away.

Other smartphone apps make it ridiculously easy to share audio, video and sundry other forms of data, information and knowledge. While all this might seem somewhat unruly and unsettling, it's important to recognize that order can come from chaos, and knowledge can come from seemingly random scraps of information. In fact ad hoc and informal systems that let users define the rules and connect their own dots redefine and transform KM.

The possibilities are limited only by creativity and an IT organization's willingness to facilitate sharing. Let real KM begin.