Technology Alone Won’t Solve Our Collaboration Problems

27Mar15

Align knowledge management systems (or any system for that matter) with how people do work. Lew Platt, the former chairman, president, and CEO of Hewlett-Packard once said: “If HP only knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.” Even companies a fraction of the size of HP need a good knowledge management system (KMS) to make sure that knowledge is available and accessible throughout the organization. There are lots of technologies available, and the cloud has made things even faster but, as all good CIOs know, knowledge management is fundamentally not an IT issue — it is a social one.

I’ve studied the use of technology in organizations making everything from snack foods to satellite parts as well as those providing services around the globe, and I’ve seen plenty of examples of massive and costly undertakings to put KMS systems in place that in the end were largely ignored — or at the very least failed to live up to the hype. A system only works if employees are socialized to look to it for information and keep that data current. In putting in a KMS, or switching to a new one, it’s less important which technology you choose and more important that you align it with how people do work. Too often, a new KMS often conflicts with the way that employees currently use informal networks to seek and provide information. The chances of a new system —knowledge management or any kind of system —succeeding is dependent on choosing a technology that aligns with how people already work (or in some complex cases, overhauling how people get work done if the existing systems are inefficient— but that’s a longer discussion).

While we often think of the future of collaboration resting on the shoulders of technology, that is only part of the story. Sure, technology provides opportunities, but it’s important to view technology and social systems as partners. The promise of tomorrow’s collaboration requires actively considering, designing, and fine tuning both.

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