I had an interesting email conversation from a master's student who is writing a thesis on "Knowledge Management Approach for Curriculum Management" in Indonesia.
What is the major difference between KM and Information System? This question is old, but it is still interesting. At some level both knowledge management and information management deal with the same objects: articles, data files, reports, notebooks, courseware, email, conference proceedings, etc. But at another level they treat these things differently. Information management is typically concerned with managing the creation, transmission, use, storage, and deletion of these objects. Knowledge management looks on these objects as documenting transactions - knowledge transactions. It's not quite so important whether these objects "contain" knowledge. Thinking about and working with these transactions is where KM really shines. How does the knowledge flow in the organization? How does is the knowledge represented by these artifacts created, transformed, transmitted and stored?
What makes KM fail when it's implemented in a company? KM projects fail for a myriad of reasons. The favorite reason for just about any project failure is lack of organizational buy-in on the value of the project, particularly from top management. With big "corporate KM" projects, this issue is all the more important due to the size of the impact of the project. Not only must the project value make sense to the managers who approve it, but the people who use the system need to understand how the change will affect them. This is frequently boiled down to "What's in it for me?", though there is always more to it than simply this view.
On the topic of failures, Mopsos discovered an article by Harry Scarbrough which categorized four types of knowledge behavior in an organization and the types of KM approach appropriate for each behavior: Mopsos: No Future?. From this viewpoint failures are due to implementing the wrong type of KM system for the knowledge needs of the organization.
What kind of obstacles have you seen during your implementation process? Obstacles and failures are quite similar; it just depends on how far the obstacles go. I think one of the bigger obstacles have to do with defining the project at the outset. Why pursue knowledge management? Why change the organization? How is this project going to solve pains of the organization? If these things aren't established at the outset, it is much easier for the project to get waylaid by them later on.
How do you measure ROI and KM performance? This is always a difficult question. Is it possible to tie your KM efforts to the bottom line of the organization? How will this project help increase Throughput, reduce Operating Expenses, and reduce Inventory / Investment? What happens if you do not pursue this project? If this is not possible, can the project be tied to aspects that organizational leadership has identified as being synonymous with the bottom line? Will the project increase innovation? Will it speed turnaround of consulting requests? These ideas were crystallized very nicely by Kevin Cookman of the Chalfont Project at a talk at the Chicagoland Learning Leaders Conference in October 2003. This was my review at the time.