Knowledge management is commonly understood as an enterprise initiative, usually with the objectives of collecting, capturing and reusing knowledge and expertise within the enterprise. The rise of cloud computing, social media and free collaboration tools has made it possible for communities of like-minded people to form outside the context of the enterprise — a form of ad-hoc knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Examples of such communities abound, including (in the KM realm) KMers.org, KMwaves.org and SIKM. But you don’t need to look further than Google to find a wealth of thriving community eco-systems, many with processes for identifying experts and collecting knowledge. Easy access to collaboration tools like Twitter, Skype, blogs, wikis and Google Wave provide the underlying technology that makes such collaboration possible among participants who might otherwise never meet.
It’s reasonable to suggest that real knowledge management occurs in many of these external communities, even if it isn’t really considered KM by its participants.
In this environment, each enterprise (theoretically) has its own knowledge management methodology and systems. In addition, each external community (i.e. KMers.org) also has their own methodology and systems… and community. A professional at Partner C can collaborate and share knowledge within their own enterprise, and/or within any number of external communities. But they remain separate systems. When internal knowledge and expertise comes up short, he must repeat the process (if he’s motivated) in whatever external communities he is involved in.
What I am interested in exploring is what I’ve termed extra-enterprise knowledge management. This involves tightly coupled KM shared within a known group of enterprises, and ideally with integration to traditional intra-enterprise KM systems.
In this environment, there remain internal KM processes and tools, but with strong connections to other valued enterprises — clients, partners, suppliers and in some cases even competitors may fit the bill. The professional in Company A can begin their search for knowledge or expertise within their enterprise, but can also extend that to include the community that “lives” at the intersection of the participating enterprises. It’s KM beyond the firewall.
This happens today in small groups, and generally through personal networking (who you know). I’d like to extend this to the broader enterprise.
There are numerous obstacles and questions that must be resolved to make this a reality. There are legal and regulatory problems, technical issues, and culture clashes, each of which I will explore in the future. But extra-enterprise KM holds tremendous promise for extending and leveraging knowledge sharing and collaboration. Whatever it is called, it’s the next wave of KM.
Interested in continuing the discussion? I am moderating a Twitter chat event titled KM Beyond the Firewall at KMers.org on March 9, 2010 at noon EST.