Making knowledge management clickable – Book review

There are many books about knowledge management but very few about what I might refer to as IKM (Information and Knowledge Management) technologies. What is distinctive about this book is that it spans the crevasse between KM and IT and does so with considerable flair. The authors, Zach Wahl and  Joseph Hilger established Enterprise Knowledge (based in Arlington VA) close to decade ago and since then have built a company with a very high reputation for innovative approaches to solving KM challenges. To quote from the Preface of Making Knowledge Management Clickable, their book “bridges the gap between knowledge management and technology. It embraces the complete lifecycle of knowledge, information, and data from how knowledge flows through an organization to how end users want to handle it and experience it”. The strap line is an excellent summary of the intention of the book – Knowledge Management Systems Strategy, Design and Implementation.

In Part 1 of this 318pp book the authors set out their approach to the development of a KM strategy, built largely on the EK Benchmark which is presented in some detail. This establishes the current state of KM development, on which future requirements can be defined using journey maps and some useful EK proprietary models. By this stage you begin to appreciate the clarity with which the authors present their case and a strong sense that it is based on a significant number of consulting assignments. This preparatory work leads to a KM transformation roadmap and the role of IT in achieving it.

Part 2 provides good summaries of the core KM technologies, including content management, collaboration, learning management, taxonomy management and enterprise search. I am slightly surprised that digital asset management systems are not specifically included. The explanation of the technology of enterprise search is very good but there is no reference to the challenges of searching for people by name and expertise, though this is covered to some extent in Chapter 21.  The opportunities and challenges of AI in KM technologies are addressed but I would like to have seen a more extended discussion –  for example neural networks and NLP do not get explanations. Chapter 14 is entitled KM as a Foundation for Enterprise Artificial Intelligence but lacks focus and could usefully have indicated a much wider range of further reading. I accept that AI is a vast area but the relationship between AI and KM deserves more attention than it is given here, especially given the level of AI hype at the present time and the challenges of bias, fairness, governance and transparency in KM delivery.

Part 3 deals with the challenging issues of managing a KM systems project, and here the project experience of the authors and their company really shines through. The advice given is very sound and well-presented and should be mandatory reading for all the members of the IT team for a KM project as the mix of technology and content is something that in general IT teams tend to have only limited experience.

The experience of the authors is evident throughout and they write in an engaging style which makes for a very readable book. Parts 1 and 3 are excellent – Part 2 is a little disappointing, more through a lack of focus than anything else. I would have liked to have seen the issues of working in in multiple languages given some attention – organisations of a size to take full advantage of the book are constantly struggling with language management challenges. More in the way of further reading would have been welcome and the constant reference for each chapter (and some of the diagrams) to content being licensed by the authors to the publisher is tiresome. Finally (literally!) the index is truly appalling. Many of the entries refer to a dozen or more pages with no subsidiary levels. Knowledge management inaction!

Overall, this is a very good overview of the importance of integrating KM and IT and should be on the desktop of all KM managers, especially in larger organisations with complex IT infrastructures.

Martin White

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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