Blog Entry

Is your KM strategy preparing your business for digital transformation? Are you sure?

Richard Reed, Executive VP, Theum AG

There's a growing wave of frustration with Knowledge Management technologies these days, especially regarding explicit knowledge (I’m not talking about data here, but documents). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the frustration is coinciding with the world’s growing wave of populism. In both cases, the discontent finds a legitimate common ground: after being overwhelmed with options and complexity, making a decision, and doing everything right and everything one was supposed to do—usually at great cost and significant risk—the things that were promised fail to unfold as expected, resulting in disillusionment.

Two points that repeat with every engagement

After 20 years as a provider of high-level knowledge management consulting services to large firms in the US and Europe, I’ve covered a lot of ground with the various technologies on the market. During this time, I’ve observed that the same three points become apparent every engagement:

  • There is more attention to knowledge management within businesses than ever before, and there are more formalized processes. Businesses no longer think of knowledge as a luxury, but see it as a critical asset that positions them for success in the future. This is only logical—especially with regard to explicit knowledge, which documents how the business runs (or should run).
  • Technhology is often mistaken for strategy at the macro level. Unfortunately, strategy is key, not technology. Consider the entry of Wikipedia on the market. At the time, something new. Cool. But a quirk. Now we see things differently. In the age of Siri, Cortana, and Google, Wikipedia’s huge “knowledge base” is a cornerstone of information access. Like Wikipedia, knowledge management’s age will come as businesses accomplish true digital transformation. If the knowledge isn’t there and ready-to-use in an “automatable format,” the business’s digital transformation will be stymied. (Consider this a serious, strategic hint.)
  • All the knowledge management and enterprise search technologies I’ve seen or worked with over the years have been variations on a theme: deliver a better way to find the right documents. If you step back from "what everyone knows and how things have always been done," you'll see that the approach is fundamentally flawed because it leaves users the gargantuan project of hunting down and piecing together the required bits from the documents manually (which they never do). While documents are great for capturing knowledge because they enable contributors to maintain an overview of a subject and organize material, they are completely incompatible with mobile devices and prevent the creation of algorithms that understand and act on the knowledge. They are information, not knowledge that can be accessed by both users and systems. Consider what accessing knowledge from thousands of source documents and PDFs on your smartphone is like and you’ll understand what I mean. And because the structure and formatting of documents differs from silo to silo, creating a centralized pool of knowledge that can be selected like a relational database is impossible.

Today’s state of affairs

Until now, many companies have chosen to put a first focus on capturing knowledge. Losing knowledge is one hole that’s easy to plug with existing document authoring and collaboration technologies. These efforts, however, have led to an ugly problem:

Explicit knowledge has exploded. Knowledge management, delivery, and access processes are creating bottlenecks, increasing complexity, compromising business agility, and magnifying compliance risk. The dream of providing workers with “big picture” access to context-specific knowledge has moved further out. In many companies, the investment in KM is actually taking them further away from digital transformation, not moving them closer. They will not realize this until disruption, and the disruption will come.

Knowledge management and enterprise search technologies are naturally receiving heavy attention in the pursuit of a solution. But let’s cut through the illusion: today’s technologies are still doing what they did 20 years ago: they deliver documents, not knowledge. This represents a serious obstacle to digital transformation. Even if today’s solutions delivered the correct 30 documents, requiring workers to hunt down what they need in each document and manually assemble a 500-piece puzzle from the pile before taking action is not future-oriented, nor does it enable further automation on the end user’s device.


The true promise of knowledge management has always been to document knowledge, and then to deliver the exact knowledge each worker needs for the task at hand, extracted from all relevant documents throughout the business on demand, organized by context onto a single page and ready-to-use. And it must be easy—especially when worker speed and accuracy are essential. Any knowledge management strategy that fails to deliver on this promise will fail to positively impact business productivity and fail to position the business to reap the rewards of digital transformation.


Knowledge management technology must deliver knowledge, not documents. Data extraction and text mining are not enough, for these do not have the capability of building and finding relationships within the knowledge, nor are they able to guide workers to knowledge based on context. Ultimately, they are technologies that try to compensate for problems inherent in document-oriented knowledge delivery.

Bringing everything to the bottom line, I'd say that frustration with knowledge management has been growing in recent years not because the promise of KM is bogus, but because implementations have been based on 1990s approaches and document-oriented technologies that—in the end—are incompatible with the promise of knowledge management. The future, however, will bring new technologies that will enable KM to soar.

A ground-breaking disruption has arrived

Theum turns distributed silos of documentation into a collective knowledge asset that delivers “atomized” knowledge that’s selectable like data, not documents. When workers perform a query, they get knowledge they need from all relevant sources collected on a single page, in context—so they can get right to work.

It delivers the promise.

Learn more about Theum in the 16 minute video “Users want answers, not documents."

Watch Video