How long does a Knowledge Management career last?

KM careers last on average 6.3 years, or else become semi-permanent.

For very many years, on Linked-In, I have been seeking connections with Knowledge Managers from around the world, in an attempt to understand the global KM industry a bit better. Recently I have noticed that many of these connections no longer work in KM, so I decided to do a quick survey to see how long an average KM career lasts.

I started working through my Linked-In contacts in alphabetical order, to determine

  • If they no longer worked in KM, how long their career in KM had lasted (taken as the length of time they had held a job with “Knowledge” in the job title, or
  • If they still worked in KM, how long their KM career has lasted to date.
I chose the first 40 people in each category, and the results are shown below.

For those who are no longer working in KM, the average length of a KM career was 6.3 years, and the modal length (most common) was between 4 and 6 years. There is a “hump” of between 0 to 8 years, and a “tail” up to 18 years.

For those still working in KM at the time of survey, the average length of career was 9.5 years, with a Mode of between 10 and 12 years. There were a number of responses – a “mini hump” on the graph between 0 and 6 years, and some of these might be people in a short term KM career who have not yet moved on, but we have no way of knowing. But it certainly seems to be that if you make it to 10 years or so, your career will continue.

In my data set there were more people still in KM that had left it. I counted 50 people still working in KM before I reached the 40th that had left the career.

So although I am not a statistician it seems as if we can conclude 2 things from these figures;

  • Many people have a short-ish career in KM, which lasts about 6 years 
  • About as many people have a long career in KM, which lasts about 10 years or more.

Please note I did not analyse job types, or fields of industry – this was a simple (if time-consuming) exercise of looking at job titles and length of employment.

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How the perception of KM barriers changes as KM develops

As our  KM programs develop, our perception of the main barriers and enablers change

Our Knowledge management surveys in 2014 and 2017, responded to by over 700 knowledge managers world wide, addressed (among many other things) the issues of barriers and enablers to KM programs. You can see the results in an earlier blog post “KM’s biggest barriers and enablers – new evidence“.

Recently I experimented with crossplotting these barriers and enablers against the length of time the respondent’s organisation had been doing KM, to see if the perception of these barriers and enablers change over time. Results are shown below.

These graphs show the percentage of respondents, for each length of time doing KM (half a year, 1 year, 2,4,8 and 16 years) choose each of the barriers and enablers as “the most important”.

Some of the key results are as follows:

  • “Senior management support” grows as a perceived barrier as time goes by
  • “Senior management support” decreases as a perceived enabler as time goes by
  • “Lack of KM roles” and “Lack of defined KM approach) decrease as barriers over time, presumably as these are introduced, and “accountability and roles” develops as an enabler over time
  • “Cultural issues” do not really change very much in their perception as a barrier over time, but grow in importance as an enabler, presumably as an enabling culture is developed.
  • The issue of incentives is quite minor in importance on both graphs, but the lack of incentives grows as a barrier over time
The most interesting result for me is the way that senior management support becomes perceived as more of an important barrier and less on an enabler. This either could be the issue of maintaining senior interest in KM as time goes by, or it could be that KM reaches the attention of seniors over time, and they become more influential in its development.

Certainly the conclusion is that you cannot assume long term senior support for KM, but need to work on this continually, as over time it can become significantly more of an issue.

Contact us if you would like a copy of the survey report

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More data on the global KM market?

Here is some more data on the global interest in KM. The question is, how we interpret this data.

I am always looking for data on the state of the KM market, as a counter to the people who tell us “KM is dead”, or “KM is all about AI nowadays”, based on their personal hunches. 
Here are some more potential datapoints, but it may be difficult to interpret them.
A couple of weeks ago Knoco opened the results of our Knowledge Management survey to the public, and I thought it would be interesting to see where the demand for this survey came from. So after the 100th copy had been ordered, I did a quick review to see where these orders came from.
The results are shown above.
  • 46 requests from the USA/Canada
  • 23 from Europe
  • 10 from Africa
  • 8 from Asia
  • 6 from Australasia
  • 5 from Middle east and North Africa
  • 1 from S America.
These results, dominated by the US and Europe, could just reflect the readership of this blog, and the fact that the blog is an English-language blog.
But see how much the American requests come from their legal market, and how much the African requests from the non-commercial (public and development) sector. There’s something else at work here. Let’s look at these results through a different lens – that of industry (below).

Here we see
  • 29 requests from commercial organisations excluding legal
  • 18 from non commercial (public sector, aid and development)
  • 36 from the legal industry
  • 8 from students
  • 9 from consultants

These results are less likely to be biased by the readership of this blog, because we are no looking at geography.

But geography comes into this as well – look how the legal requests almost all come from the US, and how half the public/development sector requests from from Africa.

Requests from other sectors are pretty well spread across the regions.


If (and it is a big if) these requests represent the state of the global interest in KM, then there is

  • An interest in KM in commercial firms across the world
  • A large interest in KM in US legal firms
  • An interest from development and public sector organisations, which is best developed in Africa
The caveat, of course, is that the distribution of the announcement of the release of this survey may not represent the global market, and that the results are skewed by the way the announcement was forwarded. Perhaps a community of US legal KM folk circulated the announcement?
I will gather more data over time, and refine the picture.

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Knowledge Management Survey report – now free access

We have decided to open the results of our KM Survey to the public.

In April 2014, and again in April 2017, Knoco Ltd conducted a global survey of Knowledge management activity and trends. Participation was free and confidential, and all participants received a free Knowledge Management Survey report. Over 700 people have taken part in the surveys; mostly individuals leading Knowledge Management activities or members of Knowledge Management teams. A combined Knowledge Management Survey report is now available to interested parties.

The main outputs from the report are listed below, and the survey report contains 45 charts and 29 tables of data.  You can order a copy here – all we ask for in return is to know who you are, and what use you plan to make of the survey.

We have put a vast amount of work into the report, we are really proud of it, and we are very interested in what people make of it and how they use it. So please fill in the order form online, and we will mail you a copy within a day or two.

Survey contents include items such as:

  • The maturity of KM across the world, across business sectors, and by company size. 
  • The length of time it takes to reach KM maturity. 
  • The main reasons why people give up on KM. 
  • Typical KM budgets and how they vary with company size. 
  • Typical KM team sizes and how they vary with company size. 
  • The skills within KM teams, and where they report. 
  • The focus areas, business drivers and strategies for KM across business sectors. 
  • The benefits delivered through KM, in dollar terms, and intangibles.
  • Business metrics impacted by KM. 
  • How KM is embedded, and the impact on value. 
  • KM technologies, their function, use and value. 
  • Enterprise content management. 
  • KM processes, their function, use and value. 
  • The main KM governance elements in use, and how these vary with KM maturity. 
  • The most common barriers and enablers for KM. 
  • The effectiveness of various KM metrics and incentives. 
  • The main cultural isues and where they prevail. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of Best Practice approaches, how they work, what value they add. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of Lesson learned approaches, how they work, what value they add. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of CoP approaches, how they work, what value they add.

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How long does it take to implement KM?

Knowledge Management can be started quickly, but takes a long time to fully embed. Here are two sources of data that show exactly how long.

Over the past few years we have helped many organisations to benchmark their “current status” of Knowledge Management. They ask for this for a number of reasons. Sometimes they want to see where they need to improve. Sometimes they need to see IF they need to improve. Sometimes they need to set a benchmark so they have something they can measure future improvement against.  The benchmark is a measure of the level of completeness and application of their knowledge management framework.

Recently we looked back on some of our benchmark data, and looked to see if we could find any trends. Well, we could.

The first trend appears when you look at how the overall benchmark score varies with the length of time KM has been addressed by the organisation. The graph above shows the overall KM score (from zero to 5) for about 25 organisations, plotted against how long they have been deliberately working with KM, in years. Bear in mind four things when you look at this plot.

  1. not all organisations want to score 5 out of 5, and 4 out of 5 is a pretty fine score.
  2. nobody scores more than 5, so the plot will “level off” at 5
  3. every company starts at a different level. Knowledge Management is something that mos companies do some of, without even trying. There is a big range of scores on organisations who are just starting KM implementation. If you already have a collaborative, open and supportive culture, you start at a higher point, and get good pretty quickly. If your culture is hierarchical, blaming and closed, it’s going to be a much longer journey.
  4. the people who call us in are often “stuck” in their KM efforts. That’s why they call us in. So “low scoring” companies will be over-represented here.

However also note on the plot the two red points joined by a red line, which represent the same organisation measured at an interval of 2 years, showing good progress. Similarly the two green points joined by a green line represent a different organisation, measured twice, at a 3.5 year interval, showing a similar rate of progress.

The black line is a simple linear trend line. It is there for guidance only – we really need some sort of exponential fit, but I could not get that to work in Excel

My conclusions from this plot are as follows;

  • Firstly, fully implementing Knowledge Management is a slow process. The earliest a company has reached level 4, from this dataset, is 4 years. The black line suggests an average of 14 years to get to level 4.
  • Secondly, you can speed up your implementation. The black trend line represents “natural drift” towards Knowledge Management, while the red and green lines bot represent a deliberate, focused and resourced KM implementation program. If you followed the red line trend, you could start at level 2 and get to level 4 in about 3 years.
Lets compare these figures with a different set of date, from our surveys in 2014 and 2017 (copies of the report available from the Knoco website), as described in this blog post from a year ago.
This plot shows that 
  • About 10% of companies have achieved fully embedded KM within 4 years
  • About 20% of companies have achieved fully embedded KM within 8 years
  • About 50% of companies have achieved fully embedded KM within 16 years
  • About 70% of companies have achieved fully embedded KM within 32 years

The blog article breaks these data down further, showing that KM implementation is quicker in smaller companies, and slower in larger, but the overall conclusions are the same from both graphs shown here.

KM a journey, it’s a slow journey, the fastest you will get there is about 4 years, different organisations start from different places, but faster progress can be made if you pay attention to implementing Knowledge Management as a project.

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How important is KM to the IT service industry?

Here is an interesting report on the use of KM in supporting IT service desks in the US and the UK. 

For the detail, please see the report, but some of the highlights are below:

  • Knowledge management is the second-most adopted process for IT support organizations after Incident Management (out of 22 possible process options);
  • In the US, only 5% of support organization are not interested in knowledge management technology, and 82% already have invested in KM technology;
  • There is a lower level of knowledge management technology adoption in the UK; 69% adoption of knowledge bases and  55% using online self-help;
  • KM  technology was voted number 2 “must-have technology” in the US for providing successful IT support after incident management technology (out of 25 possible technology options);
  • Knowledge management was cited as the third most important factor in increasing customer satisfaction, after staff training and availability of support (out of 26 options/factors);
  • However the UK data showed that 37% of respondents believe Knowledge Base Systems Technology is too difficult to implement and maintain

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The 5 ways in which KM becomes embedded

There are 5 ways in which KM can be embedded in an organisation. Some of these are more common than others, and to fully embed KM can take over a decade.

The most common ways of embedding KM, from the Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

I often have people ask me what “embedding” Knowledge Management actually means, and how you do it.  Embedding Knowledge Management means making part of the normal work process, rather than an add-on. You do this in six ways, listed below in the order of most common applicaiton, as shown in the graph above.

You change the technology suite so that Knowledge Management tools are available, and used, as part of the working toolkit, and linked into the existing work tools. While email remains the number one work tool for many people, then link your KM tools into this, rather than requiring people to acquire a new habit. New habits can develop later, when KM becomes part of natural behaviour.

You change the Organigram to include Knowledge Management roles and accountabilities. You introduce new roles where needed (lesson teams for example, leaders and coordinators for the big Communities of practice, Practice Owners and so on), and change some of the accountabilities of existing roles (the most senior experts, for example, need clear KM accountabilities, as described here. You need to change their job descriptions, so that they are held acountable for stewardship of the company knowledge). Then you measure and reward people against their performance in these roles, and against these accountabilities, just as you measure and reward them against any other component of their job.

You change the high level processes and activities, embedding Knowledge Management processes and activities into the work cycles (using the principles of Learning Before, During and After). Change the project requirements, to include mandatory processes for capture of knowledge at the end of the project or after key milestones, and mandatory processes for reviewing past knowledge at the start of the project. Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn’t done any learning.

You change the behaviours through peer pressures and through management expectation.

You change the governance system to include KM. Write it into the policies. Write it into the way people are rewarded. Change the reporting requirements, the HR appraisal mechanism, change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition.  This is the least common embedding approach, but it needs to be done eventually.

These changes should embed KM as part of the way people work, and so make KM part of everyone’s job.  Once this is the case, you can claim KM is embedded and fully mature, as shown below.

The degree of embedding KM into normal activity, vs KM maturity. Results from Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

However this takes time. The chart below shows how this level of embedding varies with the length of time organisations have been doing KM.  Even after 16 years working with KM, only half the organisations claim KM is fully integrated and routine, rather than a non-routine activity.

The degree of embedding vs the length of time doing KM. Results from Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

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The most common missing elements from KM frameworks

When we review client Knowledge Management frameworks, it is often the same two elements that are missiong, or poorly developed.

One of the services we offer at Knoco is an assessment and benchmarking of client Knowledge Management Frameworks, to assess for completeness and maturity.

We do this in two ways, through a high level online self-assessment, and through a detailed diagnostic study where we conduct in-depth interviews and bring an expert eye to bear on your KM approach.

And you know what? There are some interesting patterns emerging from the results.

Let’s look at the average results from the online survey results first (top right; components are scored from 1 to 5) and look at the factors that, on average, receive the lowest score. These are:

  • Roles and accountabilities (a lack of clear KM roles and accountabilities in the organisation)
  • Business alignment (KM not aligned with business goals and objectives)
  • Governance (no governance, for example no clear expectations, no performance management, no support)
On the other hand, the highest scores are Technology, and Behaviours and Cultures.
Many organisations think that the way to address KM is to address behaviours and culture, and to buy technology. The results of the survey suggest that these elements are relatively well covered, and that instead, or in addition, you should introduce some accountable roles, align KM with the business objectives, and get some governance in place, in order to deliver value from the technology and behaviours you already have.
If we look at the results from our detailed diagnostic analysis, we see a similar pattern. The diagnosis includes a more detailed analysis and different scoring levels, but if we extract the scores for the elements of People, Processes, Technologies and Governance, thenTechnology scores highest, Governance scores lowest, and People (roles and accountabilities) scores second lowest.
Technology is not the biggest KM problem our clients have. A lack of governance is the biggest problem, and the lack of accoumntable roles is second.
Also we can extract, from the detailed diagnostic, average scores for the four Nonaka elements of Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, and Internalisation. 
Socialisation (the transfer of knowledge through discussion and conversation, either face to face or through social networks) scores highest, followed by Combination (working with explicit knowledge, combining and storing it).
The lowest score, and significantly lower, goes to Internalisation (the interaction with, and re-use of, explicit knowledge).
Socialising and Sharing, and building knowledge bases, are not the biggest KM problems our clients have. Re-use and internalisation of knowledge is the biggest problem.
The message from these results is that if you are seeking to improve the effectiveness of your Knowledge management approach, the knee-jerk reactions of “buy more technology” and “build a sharing culture” may not address where the weaknesses actually are. You may need to think more about roles and accountabilities, about business alignment, about governance and about re-use of knowledge. 

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What Google Trends really tells us about KM popularity

Again yesterday I was corresponding with someone who used Google Trends as an argument that KM was dying.

Taken at face value this view is understandable. The google trends plot for KM decreases over time as shown below, showing a steady reduction in relative searches for the term “knowledge management” over the past 8 years.  At first sight this could suggest that the popularity of KM is on the wane, and that fewer and fewer people are searching for the term. However if you dig a little deeper this plot is misleading, and the conclusion that interest in KM is dying is actually a fallacy.

Let me explain why.

Google trends is not an absolute indicator of the popularity of a topic.

That is because Google trends measures “how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally”, and the total number of searches, everywhere in the world, has rocketed (screengrab from this site below).

Any decrease in the relative percentage, as in the first graph, has to be normalised against the increase in the total number of searches in the second graph.  If the top graph is a measure of the percentage and the bottom graph is the total, then all we need to do is multiply them together to get a measure of the total number of KM searches, and then we will be able to say something meaningful.

That is exactly what I have done in the plot below. The numbers are inexact, as I have just read points visually from the first plot (see table at the base of the post for figures) but the conclusion is obvious.

Google trends is a meaningless indicator unless normalised against the total number of searches. If you do this, then far from KM being in a decline …

… the total number of Google searches for Knowledge Management has actually increased steadily from 2004 to 2012.  

Raw data for the 3rd graph
year total searches (billion) Googletrends measure of KM share measure of total number of searches for KM
2004 86 100 8600
2005 141 70 9870
2006 230 50 11500
2007 372 40 14880
2008 584 30 17520
2009 792 25 19800
2010 998 21 20958
2011 1109 20 22180
2012 1216 19 23104

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Is KM dead? Further evidence of life

We often hear claims that KM is dead or dying, but what does the hard data say?

The “KM is Dead” meme is one with a long history; see articles from 2004, 200820112012, 2015, 2016 to choose but a few. It still seems to resurface several times a year; usually when a software vendor has something to sell (example).

Very seldom are these assertions of the demise of KM accompanied by any data or analysis of trends, other than the Googletrends plot, which as we have seen, is based on searches as a proportion of the total, and would also  point to the demise of project management, risk management, financial management, and so on.

I showed some data from our global KM survey last year which suggested that the uptake of KM may actually be increasing, and here is some new data from the academic world.  The authors of this new study looked at academic KM publications since 1974, when the term was first used, and one of the tables in the text of their article is a list of the number of academic KM publications per year. I used this table to create the graph above.

I don’t think you could look at this plot and say KM is dead. You might say it has slowed down a little since a peak in 2010, and that the current number of publications is at about 80% of peak levels, but that’s a long way from being dead or dying.

Is KM dead? According to the number of academic publications – No!

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