To which department should KM report?

Where is the best place for Knowledge Management in an organisation?

This is a common question in the early stages of a Knowledge Management implementation program.

It also sometimes arises later on; if you start KM with a temporary task force reporting at a high level, then when KM becomes operational you need to find an organisational home for the ongoing support team.

KM can report anywhere

First let’s look at where KM actually does report. The figures below are from 540 responses to our 2014 and 2017 surveys (with duplicates removed)

reporting line number percent
Separate reporting line to senior management 115 21%
Operations 66 12%
Information Technology 50 9%
Strategy 44 8%
Learning and development 35 6%
Human Resources 22 4%
Projects 20 4%
R&D 18 3%
Business improvement 18 3%
Innovation 16 3%
Quality 13 2%
Sales and Marketing 10 2%
Engineering 9 2%
Legal 8 1%
Internal communications 8 1%
Other (please specify) 88 16%

The most common reporting line is a separate line to senior management, which is typical in the early stages of KM. The second biggest category is the “Other” category, which includes categories such as 
Science Group; volunteers and strategy; Fire & Incident Management ; Finance; Planning and evaluation ; Innovation and academic development; Standards and studies; Dirección de Estudios; Knowledge and Information Services; Education Research; Business Systems; Strategy, innovation and risk management; Policy analysis & Research; Corporate Services; Naac; Management Development Department; Quality and Operation department; HR and Engineering dept/division; Client Experience; Supply Chain; Customer Support;Corporate; Health and Wellbeing Division; Central Services – Information Management; Customer operations director;  Corporate Services; I answer to the Service Line Leader; Future Business; Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning; Corporate University; Distributed model – embedded within organizations; Sport Science and Medicine Director; Education and quality; HSE….; Consumer Market Insights and Business Intelligence teams ;  Directly to the Portfolio Management, KM and strategic projects team; Services; Information Technology + Business transformation program.

So based on common practice, KM can report anywhere, and it probably should report in the place where it makes most sense – where the knowledge issues will deliver the largest value, where the business demand is greatest, and where you have the most powerful advocacy.  
However here are some things to look out for in the various scenarios shown below.

Issues and risks

Reporting separately to senior management is ideal in the early stages, but KM support will eventually need to be embedded somewhere, in a part of the organisation you know is going to survive in the long term. Being a separate item makes you vulnerable, even though it may give you high level access.
Reporting to strategy is an excellent option, as it keeps KM strategic. Maybe some of the tactical issues of KM might suffer, but I would rather lose the tactical aspects than the strategic aspects.
Reporting to operations is a good option (or to Projects, in the case of a project-based organisation), as it avoids KM being seen as a support function, and keeps KM grounded in the operational needs of the firm. However remember the four legs on the KM table – People, Process, Technology and Governance? An operational focus may emphasise process over People and technology. You will need to interface closely with HR and IT.
Reporting to IT is possible, but you have to take EXTREME care that KM does not become seen as a technology exercise, and that people, process and governance are equally well developed. You will need to interface closely with HR and Operations.
Reporting to HR or L&D is possible, but you have to take EXTREME care that KM does not become seen as a people issue, or another branch of training. Make sure that the technology, process and governance sides receive equal attention. You will need to interface closely with IT and Operations.

KM can report almost anywhere, depending on operational need. However make sure that no matter where it reports, equal attention is paid to the four main enablers of KM, to ensure a complete and balanced approach.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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