At one time, knowledge management (KM) purely encompassed the library-style research-and-documentation endeavor required to organize knowledge-primarily for companies that trade in knowledge, such as law firms and consultancies. Early in its life, KM was defined by Thomas A. Stewart in a Fortune magazine article entitled "Mapping Corporate Brainpower," as "Efforts to transmute the accumulated knowledge of individual employees into a corporate asset." Today, KM has grown well beyond these original boundaries, and its tenets are leveraged by organizations of all kinds to manage information and intellectual assets. Tammy Erickson, president of the nGenera Innovation Network for nGenera Corp., a software company that delivers collaborative management solutions and a Harvard Business Publishing blog discussion leader, has updated the definition of KM by identifying the Web 2.0 toolset that powers many of today's KM implementations as "stimulating and influencing discretionary effort to drive productivity." Whether taking a traditional or contemporary view of KM, making knowledge into a usable asset remains the goal for many organizations.
KM in Practice
For law firm Gibbons, P.C., the crux of the KM issue has always been "knowledge as an asset for service delivery to clients," according to Patrick V. DiDomenico, the firm's chief knowledge officer. Like many law firms, Gibbons uses an application by LexisNexis called Total Search, which is made specifically for the legal market. DiDomenico points out that the firm, established in 1926, has a long history, so "there is lot of knowledge on those servers, and chances are someone has done something similar, whether it is a type of case or type of deal or written the type of contract before." The ROI, he says, is that "you are spending 5 hours instead of 15" finding that information, saving time, which also translates into cost savings for the client-something very important these days.
DiDomenico says that the firm quickly moved away from its centrally controlled KM system-which he describes as little more than an electronic version of a brief bank, the old metal filing cabinets that contained thousands of documents. The problem with the centrally located approach, he says, "is that it is very labor intensive and you end up with a small subset of all the documents. The good thing is that it is high quality. However, another problem is that it is expensive and that content goes stale." The current evolution of the firm's KM approach allows users to continuously upload fresh content without any obligation for filtering it. Then DiDomenico weeds out certain content types, such as fax cover sheets, using metadata.
Like the firm's knowledge, its KM system continues to evolve. DiDomenico sees useful qualities in a variety of Web 2.0 tools and has a long list of features that he would like to bring into the system. He would like to find not only internal resources but also outside experts, explaining that it will be useful for practice building. Likewise, he says that tagging would provide a useful tool for sharing legal strategy; the issue has always been that lawyers cannot document strategy directly into legal briefs because "the other side will see them."
DiDomenico looks forward to experimenting with KM's evolving toolset.
He says, "The next generation of Lexis Search Advantage includes ratings and a lot of Web 2.0 technology like that found on Digg.com or Delicious or even on Amazon. And a lot of these technologies are making their way into KM systems and getting behind the firewall."