In my graduate research in Knowledge Management (KM), I've noticed several things about KM tools and how they have been positioned...

[Note: Before I go on, let me state that in this blog post, I'm not judging Microsoft or IBM/Lotus for the effectiveness of their respective products. This post is about the positioning and promotion of their products.]

In the mid 1990s many of us thought of and promoted products (e.g. Lotus Notes) as Knowledge Management (KM) "solutions", rather than "tools".

For organizations that did not develop an underlying methodology or knowledge sharing culture, they blamed the "solutions" [read: tool] for failing to transform the organization, while other organizations that did develop a knowledge sharing and collaborative culture thrived with these same tools.

In the late 1990's, the KM and collaboration tool that was often promoted was Lotus Notes, and for good reason: companies were then and continue now to achieve dramatic rates of return on their KM and collaborative initiatives supported by Lotus Notes as a tool.

Now, in the 21st century, as I read and study about KM tools and technology, I see some very successful case studies for Lotus Notes as a knowledge sharing tool (from the 1990s) but much of what I see being touted as the "KM solution" is not Lotus Notes but Microsoft SharePoint.

I see a few problems here:

First, I think some CIO's and CTO's and CKO's may have not learned from the past - they still want to buy "solutions" rather than tools. In the field of Knowledge Management, there are no "Solutions" only successful implementations, involving, people, process, culture, and yes, tools. Yet, many companies are happy to repackage their tools as "solutions" to sell customers whatever they want to buy -- regardless of whether or not the proposed tool can ever deliver the results claimed by the "solution."

Second I think Microsoft is repeating the mistake of past vendors by representing SharePoint as a KM "Solution" when, like Lotus Notes, it's a powerful tool for information sharing but not the end-all "solution". I have no doubt that SharePoint sales will do great, but long term, I can't help but wonder if they are setting themselves (and their customers) up for disappointment.

Finally, I believe that IBM/Lotus has an opportunity to remind the KM community of the successful history of Lotus Notes as a KM support tool.

I know that many organizations are successfully using Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint to support their Knowledge Management Initiatives.

I see many current write-ups about SharePoint. Can someone point me to current KM information from IBM/Lotus?

Discussion/Comments (3):

Mark - Productivity501 ( 4/13/2008 8:25:22 PM
It’s all about the process, not the tool, or is it? Where’s IBM/Lotus in the Knowledge Management space today?

I'm always amazed at how often people try to buy software to solve a cultural problem. It is like running out to buy a hammer because your car is making a funny noise. The hammer may be helpful (or maybe not), but until you really understand the problem you don't have any business trying to buy tools. When you do buy tools they only help enable your solution. As you said they aren't solutions themselves.

Lars Olufsen ( 4/14/2008 2:06:17 AM
It’s all about the process, not the tool, or is it? Where’s IBM/Lotus in the Knowledge Management space today?

Eric, I believe you're hitting the nail on the head here.

A quick search for the term "Knowledge Management" at the website returns hits related to Lotus Notes R5 (we are now at R8, R5 was introduced back in 1999).

In principle, I agree that a lot more could be done regarding the positioning of Lotus Notes as a KM 'tool', but perhaps it is just a matter of terms and buzzwords?

In the mid 90's, KM was a lot about having the knowledge workers dump the content of their mind into a common tool where the knowledge could then be categorized, search and 're-used'.

I think a lot of companies struggled with that concept, because it meant taking highly skilled members of the workforce out of the loop for a period of time, while they dumped all they knew in databases in some semi-structured form. It just wasn't very productive, and not very agile at all.

Through the years, the KM term kinda dwindled into concepts like "organizational learning" - moving into the Human Resource category, and "information management" - packaging KM in a technology bundle alongside "Document Management", at least when seen from the store, search, retrieve perspective.

Lately, it has been recognized, that storing, searching and retrieving from Document Management tools only give you access to "explicit" knowledge. In other words, you can only work with things you KNOW that you know.

Much more interesting is the "tacit" knowledge, the information stored somewhere in somebody's mind, without that person realizing that this is "knowledge" with value to the organization. The things we don't know that we already know.

It is my experience, that Lotus Notes as a platform (or a product portfolio) has tried to cover both aspects of knowledge in the later versions.

The explicit knowledge is being handled in Notes itself, using databases in the client or on the web, as well as in add-onn products like Quickplace (now Quickr), where very specific "knowledge" or information can be grouped, categorized, collaborated on and stored for later search and retrieval.

The tacit knowledge has been on a more difficult route. First it was attempted to harness the tacit knowledge through huge automated taxonomies and expertise profiling using a product called the Lotus Discovery Served to link "people" to "information" and "context". But as the internet has expanded from being a static information display to being a dynamic information creation tool, other techniques have shown themselves to be effective.

The giant corporate taxonomy, maintained by a dozen librarians have been challenged by the organic, user-driven "folksonomy", where manual "tagging" of information is building not only the index, but also the de facto assessment of information value.

To me, it looks like the entire Lotus portfolio is shifting its target to fit the need of the modern "social enterprize".

So instead of pushing a platform that is extremely capable of handling the structuring of unstructured data, a "tool" for knowledge management, Lotus - in their current portfolio - is pushing a platform that provides the foundatation for this socially interacting organization. The Lotus Connections product is the centerpiece, but Notes as a client, Quickr as a Collaborative Document-oriented portal and Sametime as Instant Messaging tool all interlink into this strategy.

Lotus Notes is currently shifting from a conventional folder-focused approach to an activity-oriented approach to information management, linking the information to the people involved and the context it belongs to.

Knowledge Management tools are moving from being giant structured file-cabinets to being an organic, virally expanding, self-controlled knowledge pool.

It's a huge, cultural shift, and many organizations with 'brick' backgrounds more than 'click' backgrounds might well find it difficult to come to terms with this new information culture. How do you explain the concept of 'tagging' to a 64-year old banking clerk who has 40 years of experience with his filing cabinet?!

Of course, none of the above hinders IBM/Lotus in positioning the Lotus portfolio as a "KM Solution", and I'm sure it could add to sales. But perhaps it is time to turn it around, and instead of asking where IBM/Lotus is in the knowledge management space today, ask where the knowledge management space is itself, and whether it is time to shift its focus?

Thomas Stokking ( 4/14/2008 4:15:42 AM
It’s all about the process, not the tool, or is it? Where’s IBM/Lotus in the Knowledge Management space today?

Hi there

Neither IBM, or anyone else in the "large player lounge" is really adressing KM as an seperate issue anymore. But I actually do believe that IBM have got an excellent solution for just that. KM is all about picking up the information people at generating. And making is available to other people in a valuable & contextdependant way.

These days information is made and published in blogs, wikis, personal social networking sites and so on.

IBM Lotus Connections delivers all that in an integrated infrastructure, making it possible to share all types of knowledge........isnt Lotus connections "Just" the old KM solutions-idea, with web 2.0 interface ?. Which actually would make these kind of systems work in real life, since it dosnt require special skills to "share knowledge". You just have to maintain you blog, your profile and so.

Could IBM benefit by putting the product in the KM marketspace instead of seeing it as a social software only ?

Thanks for all the good "bloggings"


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