Software vendors feel very free to claim that theirs is a KM Software application. At the height of KM’s popularity, in 1998, I’ve even had the experience of running across a document copying vendor who claimed that theirs was a KM Software application. Well, it’s a software vendor’s job to make claims that may sell their software. But it’s our job to evaluate such claims and decide which software applications really do facilitate KM and which don’t. The first step in doing that is to be clear about what we can possibly mean when we place the label KM on a software application.
The first thing to recognize about this is that software vendors don’t distinguish among the levels of the three-tier model: business processing and its outcomes; knowledge processing and its outcomes; and KM processing and its outcomes. Thus, they will refer to an application as a KM application even though it’s primarily for supporting knowledge processing, or even for using existing knowledge in business processing. In cases where a software package supports knowledge use, I think we can quickly conclude that the software vendor involved is just stretching their marketing beyond reasonable bounds. But, in other instances their software is relevant to KM. That is, if its use cases enable enhanced knowledge processing then it may be useful as part of a KM intervention designed to enhance knowledge processing. And if its use cases directly enable enhanced Knowledge Management activity, then, of course, it is directly supportive of KM processing. This blog will discuss how we can decide whether a vendor’s application is properly labeled a knowledge processing software application while the next will deal with how we can decide whether something is a KM software application.
To decide whether an application supports or enables aspects of knowledge processing, we need to have a conceptual framework that provides a map of knowledge processing. Of course, we have one. It’s called the Knowledge Life Cycle (KLC), and we’ve discussed it in previous blogs and in many other publications. The KLC identifies knowledge production and knowledge integration as the two primary processes in knowledge processing.
Knowledge production is a process made up of four task clusters (or sub-processes):
— information acquisition,
— individual and group learning,
— knowledge claim formulation, and
— knowledge claim evaluation.
Knowledge integration is made up of four more task clusters, all of which may use interpersonal, electronic, or both types of methods in execution:
— Knowledge and Information Broadcasting (KIB),
— Knowledge Sharing (peer-to-peer presentation of previously produced knowledge), and
— Teaching (hierarchical presentation of previously produced knowledge).
Among the above 8 sub-processes it is important to remember that individual and group learning is itself knowledge processing. Individual and group learning produces knowledge claims for consideration at higher levels of analysis of knowledge processing, but at the individual and group levels themselves, learning is knowledge production, and depending on the group level, all four task clusters are involved at that level too. Let’s call this the “nesting” of knowledge processing in the enterprise.
Evaluating Knowledge Processing Software Applications
Whether a software application is a knowledge processing software application may not, in general, be an either/or matter. Of course, there are some “KM” applications that support only business processing, and some that support only KM activities, but those that do support knowledge processing will support various aspects of it in varying degrees. We must, then, evaluate applications against each of the categories of knowledge processing and decide to what degree the use cases of the application enable each of the eight sub-processes of knowledge processing.
Here’s an example of a “quick-and-dirty” evaluation of the Hyperwave Portal application.
An evaluation of this type can be performed with any software application. It can be made more detailed by breaking down the sub-processes of the knowledge processes further, if it turns out to be too difficult to match the use cases of the software application to the eight knowledge sub-processes. I’ve developed an Expert Choice software template called the Open Enterprise Template that has a very in-depth breakdown of the knowledge sub-processes and that can be used for work like this.
In other blog posts, I’ve been doing a series on KM 2.0 and its development. Needless to say social computing, Web 2.0, and even “Web 3.0,” also need to be evaluated in the way I’ve just illustrated. That is, claims that such applications are “KM 2.0” applications, need to be evaluated against a framework such as the one I’ve outlined in order to settle the question of the degree to which a particular application is a business processing, knowledge processing, or KM application.