93% of Service Organizations have a KM initiative in progress: Separating “Big K” and “Little k” KM

In the last few weeks something has become very clear to me: I needed a new vocabulary for knowledge management. As I blogged previously, I noticed at our recent Technology Services World conference that the questions around KM seemed to be shifting. I’ve thought more about this, especially in light of a 2 part webcast series we are doing on knowledge management–both webcasts from very different angles. In the first webcast yesterday, we asked a poll question to see how many audience members were in the middle of a KM project, and the results surprised me:

Are you working on a knowledge management initiative currently?

A full 92.7% of the audience said yes. Actually, the follow on poll question, a bit tongue in cheek I admit, asked, “Are you ALWAYS working on a knowledge management initiative?” and 65% of the audience said “Yes, it sure seems like it.” So I went back and reviewed the KM inquiries I’ve received over the past few months, and they seem to logically break down into 2 categories, which I’m calling “Big K KM” and Little k KM.” Here’s what that means:

  • Little k: By little I certainly don’t mean less important or strategic, so let’s get that out of the way up front. Little k knowledge management is the tools and processes around capturing tacit knowledge, as defined by knowledge centered support (KCS). This is how support organizations (and increasingly field service and professional services) are capturing new knowledge gleaned through solving customer problems and sharing them with employees and customers. This has traditionally been the “hot” area of KM with TSIA members, with companies looking for best practices on getting support techs to contribute, how to incent workers to participate, publishing processes, and tools to easily capture the content and make it easy to find later. This is the focus of an upcoming webcast with RightAnswers.
  • Big K: Separate from capturing tacit knowledge is the whole concept of how to easily index and search your explicit knowledge: all the product manuals, release notes, test plans, development notes, case histories, community and social content, etc.  In the past I referred to this part of KM as content management, but I n0 longer think that is accurate, and here’s why: the goal of content management projects from IT is typically to establish a data warehouse where all corporate IP is stored. The problem is, these data warehouses come with basic full text search capabilities, so if you know what you are looking for (project plan for release 3.2.1 in July, 2009) it works great. That is content management. However, if you are trying to mine that data warehouse to solve a customer problem (Error 204 during the create process) you need a concept-based search engine to research content as you don’t necessarily know what you are looking for.

The technology side of Big K KM is about intelligent/faceted search technology that does 4 things: 1) indexes the content to supplement the basic or nonexistent indexing in the data warehouse, 2) add additional layers of meta data around each piece of content to allow concept based searches,  3) automatically prompt the employee/customer with contextual data, eliminating the need to search, rephrase, search, rephrase, search, etc., and 4) provide the user with ‘facets’ so they can drill down into the data based on filters like data, content source, author, related product or release, etc. This was the topic of yesterday’s webcast with Coveo.

The third poll question in yesterday’s webcast asked: “Do you believe your organization is getting the most from all of its knowledge assets, across systems, the web and social media?” Not surprisingly, 87% of the audience said, “Not even close to all of it.” Technology service organizations are increasingly understanding that while they must continue to focus on knowledge fundamentals (Little k), they also need a separate but equal focus on mining the rest of corporate content (Big K). I used to lump all of this together into one big KM category, but no more. The companies I see being highly successful at KM–with reduced talk times, resolve times and higher first contact resolution to prove it–are tackling both Big K and Little k. And moving forward, that is going to be my recommendation for members.

What do you think? Which do you see as the biggest challenge, successful Big K or Little k? Are you tackling these challenges as one big problem, or as separate issues? Feel free to add a comment and let me know your thoughts. And as always, thanks for reading!

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5 Comments on “93% of Service Organizations have a KM initiative in progress: Separating “Big K” and “Little k” KM”


  1. John,well written. I would further add the biggest issue we see are companies tacking either or both (Big K – little k) is too much focus on the technology and not enough emphasis on the process, training, and change management needed to make KM successful. Too many companies continue to buy a KM tool thinking it’s ‘KM in a box’ and that simply does not exist. KM tools like in any other service discipline like PSA for PS or call center tools for Support, are just tools waiting for a process to take advantage of the technology, people trained to use the processes and tools, and a change management program to ensure the inevitable shift to a learning organization KM requires. Big K and little k are indeed necessary elements, made successful by the right mix of people, process and technology.

    Randy Mysliviec
    RTM Consulting


  2. […] for a webinar about the state of knowledge management. During his lead-in discussion, John posed a series of questions to TSIA audience members that paint a telling picture about KM practices in place […]

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