Knowledge management and technology – but what sort of technology?

When we think of KM and technology, we usually think of IT. But is this the wrong sort of technology to concentrate on?

image from wikimedia commons

Knowledge Management as a discipline was born in the 1980s as a combination of Organisational Learning and the technological revolution sweeping through organisations. In BP, where I worked at the time, Knowledge Management went hand in hand with, and was enabled by, the development of a common operating system, personal desktop computers for all, email and video conferencing. In fact, the KM program was a direct successor to the Video Telecommunications project.

Technology has always been part of KM, right from the beginning, and is still one of the four legs on the KM table.  So why do we so often get the Technology part wrong, and end up going down database rat holes, creating mega-systems people don’t like to use.
I think it is partly because we focus on IT, and not on ICT. 
There is only one letter different between IT and ICT, but its a crucial letter. The additional C stands for Communication.  As wikipedia says; 

Information and communication technology (ICT) is another/extensional term for information technology which stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), computers as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems, which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information.

It was not so much the availability of information processing power or the ability to store information that sparked the birth of KM, so much as the networking of computer systems and the ability to communicate far more widely. Suddenly, through ICT, we were connected with so many more people, so many more knowledgeable people. 

I clearly remember one day in the mid 90s, working in BP Norway, when someone came to me with a seismic plot from the North Sea with some very strange features on it. Neither of us could work out what these were, but we realised that now we had networked computers, linked to geologists all round the world, we did not have to solve this problem ourselves. We could send out an email to all our colleagues, and tap into a much broader knowledge base.

It was primarily the communication technology that enabled KM, and its worth remembering this as we look at out technology tools.

Let’s focus not so much on IT and more on ICT, because that C makes all the difference.

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