What are the challenges of selling software for knowledge management?

I am writing this because I was recently asked by a KM technology vendor how they could be more successful with their platform and I thought the response would make a good, quick blog post.

My answer was that it is difficult to sell knowledge management technology because the platform, unlike other technology platforms, has to appeal to users so it has to be well organized and designed and consider functionality and usability issues; and it has to appeal to IT departments, so integration with other applications, cost, installation, support, and maintenance are prime considerations.

Why do I say that unlike other platforms it has to appeal to users and IT? Because unlike other platforms people will generally find a way around using KM technology if they can–they’ll use email, or shared drives, or just won’t share their knowledge and expertise. If it’s an accounting system, they have to use it, if it’s a time tracking system they have to use it, so bad user interface designs and functionality survive because users have to use those systems to get their jobs done. All too often KM is viewed as a “nice to have” not a “must have” and the challenges of picking the best technology to support it are ignored, in favour of “this one’s cheaper” or “this is from a vendor we already have a relationship with” or some other such cop-out.

So what do you do in this situation? Customize the pitch depending on who you’re talking to.

6 thoughts on “What are the challenges of selling software for knowledge management?

  • Jack Vinson September 13, 2012 at 12:20 PM Reply

    Is the KM technology fitting into a larger picture? Where is the barrier that KM will melt? What problem will KM solve? These are unique for each organization (though there are typical scenarios).

    If KM is “nice to have” – or if the technology doesn’t significantly resolve the issues, then of course selling it will be hard to do.

  • Bruno Winck September 13, 2012 at 03:25 PM Reply

    If KM was such an easy practice, efficient and enjoyable at all times that software can’t help there is no motivation to use any. That’s not my experience. I can find tasks that can be assisted or made more efficient.

    May be the best would be to be more specific and list typical activities of KM where software would help. Document Managemnt is well covered by CMS, communication anoher one. What about curation, maintaining tags and their semantic and relationship across systems, graphics.

    Once need is defined paradigms and ergonomy can be evaluated. IMHO IT is not going to have the last word because as things go KM will be largely on one’s own device. We are not two persons, ideas don’t come on schedule. I think future systems will be more Personal Knowledge oriented.

  • Ian Fry September 13, 2012 at 11:06 PM Reply

    With IT and KM, “the medium is NOT the message”. More than any other style of IT applications, the “people sell” and “people usage” aspects are paramaount because KM is about people changing their behaviour.
    Having said that, there are IT tools out there which are available, but not promoted or well used.

    • Bruno Winck September 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM Reply

      When you get a hammer everything is a nail. I am a software vendor and for me software can alleviate many obsacles, sorry.

      Now when you mention change of behaviour, that’s tough. Not all parts of KM require.change of behaviour, some people just need motivation. Software can be an enabler by being fun, engaging and make the task gratifying instead of complicated, boring and constrained. Autonomy is a big purpose motive for change.

      Which tools do you use or wish them to use ?

  • sbarnes September 14, 2012 at 06:53 PM Reply

    Thanks Bruno, I agree technology can alleviate many obstacles, but if it’s not done right (paying attention to people and process issues, which means doing change management, and involving users in the design and implementation, at a minimum) it will cause as many problems as it solves, if not more.

    To me the technology should be selected depending on the problem that needs to be solved, but that’s not always what happens. Very often, and in the case of what prompted me to write the original blog post, SharePoint is in an organization and is being used for “KM” but it has been poorly designed and understood for that purpose and becomes a glorified share-drive. However, the organization will say, “We’re doing KM, we have SharePoint” so the question then becomes how to address that state-of-mind and educate the organization that KM is not SharePoint and KM might, in fact, be better enabled by some other technology platform.

  • Bruno Winck September 15, 2012 at 08:53 AM Reply

    If they have Sharepoint why not keeping it, anyway they need some way to keep their documents, tracking projects, discussions with customers and so on. It is likely this introduction was not painless so any move against it will be start a trench war. Microsoft made a good job at turning Sharepoint into something versatile. Some people just see it as drive letter (like M:) and ignore what is behind, others see it as mailbox or a web site. Not bad IMO if it ease the adoption. I use to be MS partner and Kneaver had a sharepoint connector.

    Now what these people should see is that few of what is in Sharepoint is applicable, reusable, context free which is a good criteria to distinguish information from knowledge.

    – So where is the knowledge ?
    – Is it easy when I do a search to make a difference ?
    – What are the processes to turn information into knowledge and are they supported by sharepoint (not that I support that this is practical) ?

    There are surely some nice pieces in their sharepoint drive and reusing them will put forth the contributors and help to distinguish them as part of the pilot group.

    On the other side from my experience a hard drive paradigm is not so bad to collect information: Collect on the fly, review and sort, store in folders, enhance into reusable knowledge. Trying to force everyone to produce reusable documents from the start is too much a barrier, I gave up. Let’s collect asap and distille later (see https://www.kneaver.com/products/Kneaver_Knowledge_Pipeline.htm).

    Now my 2 cents. If you want to push a new software in to open a new capability in KM you could bring in a software with minimal overlap with sharepoint. Since it is very centralized why not something more P2P like microblogging, spontaneous group collective intelligence ala twitter. No need of precious long term storage, it could run on a simple hardware or a virtual machine or SAAS. It is easy and fun and could serve as a way for you to bring in some impluses. Microbloging is also a good silo breaker.

    Since it will be far away from IT and sharepoint it might be accepted without resistance. Fighing with IT is pointless they just need to be passive to block everything, we’ve been through that too often. Microbloging they may just consider is as futile and you let go sharepoint..

    I suggested something similar in January in an Indian firm. They liked it. I am not selling such software, there are plenty in open source.

    Once done it will be time to start changes and see what are their needs in between: Associative Thesaurus, Mindmaps, Tech watch, curation whatever and see how it fits with sharepoint. A KM system don’t need to have it’s CMS build-in, for me it more on top of it.

    I look forward for your view.

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