Why do Knowledge Management Initiatives Fail?

The early results from my annual member technology survey are in, and while it appears that overall spending is definitely down this year, companies continue to make investments in technology with proven ROI. One of those bright spots is knowledge management (agent facing and customer facing knowledgebases, search technology), with strong 2009 spending planned. My inquiries regarding KM are up as well, with many large companies investing heavily in 2009 to overhaul KM technology and process in hopes of improving service, increasing productivity, and driving up self-service adoption and success. And as I explain in my soon to be published article about KM as the starting point for service convergence, I’m also hearing from members that there is renewed emphasis on capturing intellectual property from employees in case the economy forces downsizing.

I responded to an inquiry yesterday from a member who asked: What are the major pitfalls that contribute to most KM failures? Here are my top 5 reasons, and I would love to hear from all of my KM-savy readers what else belongs on the list:

  1. Expecting the KM technology to create a process where none exists. Technology enforces your processes, it doesn’t create them. This of course is true for any technology: CRM, ERP, SCM, etc. But it is definitely true of KM.
  2. The opposite is also a problem: Hard coding broken processes into new technology. If it isn’t working today, why emulate the current process with new technology? As an example, I see companies customizing systems to support their current approval/publishing process…which takes 3 months or more to publish new content. Investing in new KM infrastructure is a great time to start over with processes, and the services arm of your KM vendor, or your 3rd party KM consulting partner, can definitely help.
  3. Lack of participation. This is a problem everyone encounters: some employees are reticent to contribute their knowledge to the system because they fear it will make them less valuable. The solution is a) for the push to contribute to come from above, and b) that these employees understand that the goal is to give them more interesting and challenging work, and not have them answering the same questions over and over
  4. Lack of adoption. If people (agents, customers or both) don’t use the system it can’t pay for itself. Having a big launch with incentives to use the system is important, and touting early victories (like improvements to first contact resolution or resolution time) to everyone is a great way to highlight the benefits of the system.
  5. Lack of maintenance. Ongoing work is required to weed out unused articles, rewrite content as necessary, etc. Most companies put a lot of emphasis on going live, then resources are pulled from the project after 6-9 months. Don’t let your big investment and hard work go to waste, keep up the effort to maintain the content.

What has your experience been?  What contributes to lack of KM success?  Or look at it from the opposite way, what elements must be present for KM to succeed?  Please add comments or shoot me an email, I will respond to all.  And if I receive some good information I’ll write up a report and share it with all contributors.  Thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, knowledge management, Technology

15 Comments on “Why do Knowledge Management Initiatives Fail?”


  1. To decrease chances of failure in KM, I found that the KM initiative has to be demand-driven (see my blog on supply-driven versus demand-driven KM).

    Besides, <a href=”“>knowledge-pull technologies tend to be cheaper than knowledge-push technologies)

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Great comments. I agree with your demand/support analogy. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Greetings John:

    We have found one of the biggest challenges faced by companies is to get broad and consistent staff involvement in creating and evolving KB content, which is a significant obstacle towards effectively and efficiently providing quality self-service and assisted-service customer care. But realistically, most staff are busy taking care of their primary job responsibilities and will not materially or consistently contribute to improving the knowledge base content unless it becomes a measured expectation of job performance.

    We believe that that for KB content to be effective it must continually evolve and reflect real-world and practical insights gained from the people that design, build, maintain, support, market, sell and use the product, service or operations the content supports. Merely interconnecting community and knowledge base technology is a start and can serve as a fertile place to create new KB content, but it is not enough since it does nothing to proactively engage the community in evolving existing KB content.

    Our recently released 7.0 release was built around creating an environment that facilitates, motivates, recognizes and rewards internal and external community members to collaboratively evolve KB content. If interested, I will keep you posted on the results as it has more time in the water.


  4. Hi.
    In my view, knowledge Sharing must be part of the working culture.
    As soon as KM is seen as secondary task (e.g. as in Chucks response) you are heading in the wrong direction.
    KM needs to be one of the standard deliveries of the workforce. It should be a part of the role/task descriptions of the work force, and one of the evaluation criteria at yearly performance reviews.
    For KM to work the workforce must understand that to be seen as fully productive you have to be working properly with KM.

  5. jragsdale Says:

    Thanks Chuck and Lars for your great input. I completely agree. The more metrics you track about KM use and contributions, and getting these metrics into performance reveiws, the better.

    But there are also some caustic personalities that must be addressed head on. When I implemented my first knowledgebase at JCPenney back in 1989-1990, the whole concept was new. Most employees immediately understood the more work they put into the content, the easier life was for everyone down the road. But some people have a difficult time “getting the religion.”

    Have spent several years implementing KBs for help desks and support centers, there was a certain personality type I ran into again and again and again. They were insecure, had anger issues, were openly passive aggressive, and were usually stuck in a lead role and bitter because they were passed over for management promotions over and over.

    Initially, I tried to just ignore this person or persons and hoped they’d come around. It doesn’t work. Though they are usually not the most popular of employees, they do have a lot of visibility and influence, and if they are opposed to a plan (including new processes/technology), they can impact everyone’s adoption.

    These are the people you need to target and work extra hard to get on the team. Surprisingly, it usually wasn’t a lot of work, just appeal to their ego, give them a title like “Knowledge specialist,” and give them lots of recognition (which is of course what they crave). If you can convert these people’s attitudes, the whole project will likely go smoothly.

  6. Allan Grohe Says:

    Hi John—

    I think you and the other respondents have hit upon a number of important issues for why KM efforts fail, but I have a few more to toss into the ring:

    1. Resourcing challenges: these apply throughout the duration of a KM project—during pre-sales through vendor selection and implementation, and into the
    post-gone-live period of KM usage. Without sufficient resource commitment from the organizations sponsoring the KM project, it will wither and die on the
    vine in a number of ways—whether from neglect after implementation because middle management isn’t properly incented to drive KM, or if the executive
    sponsors fail to engage to repeatedly drive home the importance of KM efforts through regular communication and visibly rewarding participants, or if the
    entire effort is under-resourced from a sustaining POV in IT or in the business—all of these factors (and plenty of others) can contribute to KM efforts
    failing before they get a chance to get off the ground. Relatedly, after the KB go-live, it will still probably require six months to a year for your KM
    efforts to settle into a good groove: setting expectations appropriately can prevent management from throwing the towel in too soon, which can poison the
    entire KM project before it has a chance to flower and bear fruit.

    2. KB vs. KM: many organizations focus on the implementation of a KB system without building the supporting KM processes to sustain and enrich KB content
    after go-live, which results in the KB content aging into irrelevance as it fails to address issues that remain current and relevant with in the customers’
    install base. This is related to resource challenges above, but the paradigm is a bit different, since the sponsors often see the implementation of a KB as
    a line-item check-box to providing online support, but fail to realize that the KB itself is merely the receptacle from which KM content efforts are
    distributed: if there’s no water in the glass for the customers to drink, it doesn’t matter if the glass is perceived to be half-full or half-empty, because

    the glass by itself is useless.

    3. Know the problem you’re trying to solve, and stick to it: KB systems have evolved from being simple adjuncts to call-tracking/CRM platforms into full-
    blown portal architectures able to support KM as well as user forums, site search, CMS, chat, and many additional value-added features. If the problem
    you’re trying to solve doesn’t require forums or chat, then those features are irrelevant to your RFP. Differentiating between the capabilities of KM
    vendors is already sufficiently challenging without being distracted by features that aren’t relevant to your core challenges: most 1st and 2nd tier KM
    vendors are endorsed by some third groups like Gartner, Forrester, KCS, etc., and they all cover the basic capabilities of workflow, metrics, and keyword
    search. By rigorously defining your requirements and scope for the project, you can avoid the KB feature bloat which will side-track your project into
    corner cases.

    4. Know your content: content is king, and your entire KM engine is driven toward the delivery and usage of your KB content. Without knowing what content
    your customers need and why, their requirements for accessing it, and what they’re doing with the content once it’s in-hand, you’re running blind. How you
    organize and present your content and its metadata has a huge impact on its availability to your customers, whether they are querying it from search,
    browsing it through a taxonomy category tree, or subscribing to content updates and canned queries via email alerts and RSS feeds. Analytics and tuning are
    critical to the maintaining your content’s lifecycle, and to keeping your user experience as-closely-tied to the content’s delivery vehicles as possible.
    Running a KB without analytics resources and tools eventually forces your content to stagnate, since, like a garden, it requires constant tending, weeding,
    and selective pruning in order to mature and flower.

    This is a great topic, and I hope you’ll have further discussion along these lines in the future!

    Allan Grohe
    Senior Knowledge Engineer
    Juniper Networks

  7. jragsdale Says:

    Wow Allan! Amazing input. Thanks for taking the time.

    I’m reading through my 2009 member technology survey results, and the percent of members using knowledge tools in an old CRM system (which include zero maintenance tools or content analytics) remains really high. Not a good sign.

    Thanks for making the distinction between KB and KM.

    –J


  8. Greetings Allan:

    I would caution people against restricting their analysis of vendors that are endorsed by “some third groups like Gartner, Forrester, KCS. Etc.”, as you state.

    The primary prerequisite for endorsement and even coverage with the vast majority of analysts is that the vendor spends money with their firms, which clearly creates a conflict of interest to a magnitude that I am constantly surprised that some consumers place so much value in their opinions.

    It may take a little longer to find proven and quality vendors that have not paid for analyst coverage, but it can get companies to innovative offerings whose price and value is not burdened with such significant Sales and Marketing overhead.

    I think that John Ragsdale and Bob Thomson from CustomerThink are great examples of analysts that cover products because they provide valued to consumers rather than being driven based on the value brought to their firms.

    As of yet, we at Fuze have not elected to “buy” into the game and instead are letting our offering and customers do the talking for us.

    Out of curiosity: How much credence do the readers of this blog place in the opinions of analysts with significant paid relationships with the vendors they are covering?

  9. Mario Soavi Says:

    Hi to all and sorry for the late comment.

    We have to face it:
    – KM is essential for modern organizations
    but
    – there’re resistances to adopt it due to several personal and organizational issues.

    IMHO opinion one and the most important problem is that there’s no clear perception of the personal advantage to get in the system, work for it and get the benefits. This could be solved through education, where the individual could learn her/his own benefits and accept to share in order to get them.
    But it would be better if the system itself could show the benefits to adopters and disadvantages to not adopters.

    I’m talking about an evaluation system, that could monitor KM (even instantly, but that’s nonsense), giving to anybody in the system the ability to see and have the elements to manage her/his knowledge inserted in the system, in relation to the organizational goals, her/his goals, others’ goals and the actual knowledge map of the organization.

    Wouldn’t it be a good solution?

  10. jragsdale Says:

    My experience is that business users are more willing to try innovative and lesser-known vendors than IT. I talk to members frequently who are pushing for niche vendor A, only to be thwarted by IT demanding they only pick from vendors on the approved list by an analyst firm.

    Chuck is correct, analyst firms only put vendors into Magic Quadrants or Waves if they are clients, so smaller firms are frequently ignored. And not to set off a fire storm, but yes, the more a vendor pays an analyst firm, the more lobbying power they have over what is published about them. This wasn’t the case when I started with Giga in 2001, but it is certainly the case today.

    I’m happy to report that the SSPA “don’t play that way,” and we include all vendors (whether they are big spending partners or just members of the community) who apply in our Technology Buyers Guide.

    In my opinion, the deck is stacked against small vendors when it comes to analyst attention. Big firm analysts have very large consulting quotas they must meet as a condition of employment, over above any research work or reports published. When big vendors can afford to pay an analyst $10K a day to come sit and be briefed on their products, or invite anlysts to attend all-expense paid trips to the vendor’s conferences, the analyst obviously hears lots of great information and customer stories about the vendor, and they tell those stories to clients in 1:1 calls and in research reports.

    Every year analysts are pushed to do more consulting and MUCH less writing, and there is very little time left in an analyst’s calendar to spend with smaller, innovative vendors. This means that non-client vendors will likely not even get briefings with popular analysts.

  11. Allan Grohe Says:

    Chuck Van Court said: I would caution people against restricting their analysis of vendors that are endorsed by “some third groups like Gartner, Forrester, KCS. Etc.”, as you state.

    I agree completely, Chuck: getting input from analyst firms is useful to help contextualize and benchmark specific capabilities of one vendor against another, as well as to get a sense of the state of the industry as covered by that analyst firm. I wouldn’t ever restrict my vendor selection process only to what analysts had to say.

    We hosted an SSPA webcast a few years ago that outlined Juniper’s KB vendor selection process, and it provided a good sense of how we ran our RFP: I think it’s still a worthwhile resource for anyone undertaking the KB RFP process, even though the vendor landscape had changed-up a bit since we presented in 2006. The web cast appears on InQuira’s web site @ http://www.inquira.com/webcasts/2006/webinar10192006gf.asp (it used to be on the SSPA’s site too, but perhaps it’s been archived/removed).

    It may take a little longer to find proven and quality vendors that have not paid for analyst coverage, but it can get companies to innovative offerings whose price and value is not burdened with such significant Sales and Marketing overhead.

    I agree, which is why we looked, initially, at ~25 vendors during the first phase of our RFP process, several of whom did not have analyst star-power backing them.

    Out of curiosity: How much credence do the readers of this blog place in the opinions of analysts with significant paid relationships with the vendors they are covering?

    In our process, we used analyst ratings and reports to help spur our initial, broad investigation into KM vendors to invite into the RFI/RFP process, and at its conclusion we used vendor rankings and general thought leadership as part of the “intangibles” (secondary) criteria to help broker our final vendor selection. Within the RFP requirements themselves, however, analyst ratings weren’t used at all, since we were judging the vendors against _our_ requirements, and didn’t really care how the vendors stacked up against anyone else’s criteria.

    YMMV, of course!

    Allan.


  12. John: Thanks for the candid opinions. Not many folks in the space would call it as they see it for fears of reprisals. I like your style!

    Allan: Thanks for the thoughtful response. I love prospects like you who get vendors into the mud and beyond all the hype. I also like your style!

    Unfortunately, most vendors will only divulge what they are specifically asked and are more focused on making the sale than ensuring there is a sustainable fit. Understanding and guarding against underlying motivations is certainly prudent. Quarterly reports and sales quotas can and do reek havoc on integrity.

    Any company that lets someone else (analysts, other similar companies or the vendor themselves) do the analysis for them is blindly following opinions that very well may not be in their best interests.

    As an old CIO for a $50B bank who dealt with tons of sales folks and analysts, I am a natural skeptic who needs to see the goods and am always more interested in what are the good questions to ask rather than merely getting the opinions of others. You know what they say about opinions!


  13. Clarification: By saying that you need know “the right questions” to ask, I really am talking about understanding the basis for relevant opinions and applying them to one’s own particular circumstances.

    Oh, did I say that I am not a fan of lemmings; Even if they are Fuze lemmings. Good partners are only those that are getting the long-term value they expected and actually need to get from your offering. Happy partners that help push product evolution are invaluable!


  14. […] John Ragsdale offered his view on the top five reasons for KM failure, in a blog post currently being discussed at AOK’s Future Center. My reaction to Ragsdale’s blog is […]


  15. […] ראו את המאמר בקישור הבא – Why do Knowledge Management Initiatives Fail? […]


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