In hindsight, knowledge management was a recklessly defined initiative. Companies were going to be able to “empower the intellectual capital of their enterprise” with ad hoc software purchases. Over time the initiative lost its cachet, very much like the “portal”—a key element of knowledge management. As the meaning and value of the portal has risen from the ashes, so has knowledge management. The comeback for knowledge management can be traced to the economy, consolidation of vendors, technological advancement and enterprise software vendor buy-in.
First, the economic downturn eliminated the fervor of the marketplace. One-product vendors pedaling unattainable capabilities crashed to earth as the hot air was let out of the market. Companies drastically cut IT budgets, mandated internal IT audits and centralized spending. This prompted enterprise-wide IT plans focused on strategically allocating dollars to projects with ROI in order to maximize existing technology and create efficiencies. Not surprisingly, IT managers have opened their eyes to the possibilities and power of a true knowledge management initiative over the long haul.
Second, the consolidation of vendors has mitigated technical issues and gaps with product offerings, improved scalability and simplified integration with core enterprise software applications. Products have been retooled to be more user-centric. In addition, the strategic partnerships required to establish a knowledge management initiative have been simplified. Knowledge management now encompasses tangible products across the enterprise system, including Web-based communication, collaboration, business intelligence, workflow, content management and the four enterprise software categories—supply-chain, customer relationship, enterprise resource planning and human capital management.
With advancements in technology, vendors have been able to pull together the disparate worlds of the enterprise infrastructure system. With enhanced technological integration, the vision of enterprise-wide knowledge management is now reality. Moreover, with the advent of standards around content, the growth in central repositories and the improvements in search-and-retrieval tools, knowledge management now has a short-term ROI proposition and a lower initial capital investment. For example, Web-based business intelligence software applications can be quickly populated with data from the legacy ERP systems, enabling them to build “dashboards” of report data. This data may then prompt an emergency WebEx meeting to disseminate the data findings. Managers were not involved in the meeting can access it later from the content repository. The meeting may have resulted in a project, which could be managed in a collaborative environment and may eventually result in a change in the way CRM is delivered and tracked. The implementation of the change might involve end-user training that can be managed through the HCM system and stored in the content repository for future use by new employees.
Finally, what should solidify knowledge management’s place in the initiative world is the buy-in of the large enterprise software vendors. Enterprise software providers have connected the technological dots to offer the initial structure of an integrated knowledge management system. PeopleSoft has expanded into HCM and business intelligence and partnered with leading content management providers to create an offering. It would not be surprising if PeopleSoft acquired a top content management provider to solidify the first proprietary enterprise offering in the marketplace. Oracle and SAP are not far behind. The knowledge management initiative has come full-circle in terms of market value, which is rare.
Peter L. Martin, CFA, is an author and consultant, providing in-depth coverage of the knowledge services industry. For more information, e-mail Peter at email@example.com.