Internet-Based Organizational Memory and Knowledge Management is a collection of articles based on a 1999 workshop, focused on internet technologies. Obviously, this means that many of the pieces are centered around how technology / internet supports organizational memories and knowledge management. I came across it in an article on KM in financial services and decided to track down the book. The editors (and many of the authors) are active in the information systems world: Monica Divitini, Terje Brasethvik, and David G. Schwartz.
Given that the book is about information systems (IS), it has a natural bent towards fitting definitions of knowledge management and organizational memory to how IS help support these areas. Happily, most of the authors did acknowledge that their systems were a part of a larger ecology of knowledge and memory.
The opening chapter, by the editors, "On Knowledge Management in the Internet Age" (available here from the publisher) sets out their understanding of organizational memory, knowledge management and the supporting technologies. Of all the chapters, this one does the most to set the stage and define terms. As a result, it was interesting to read and stayed away from specific technical issues and questions.
The authors acknowledge that many descriptions of organizational memory are confusingly similar to that for knowledge management. They separate them by suggesting that OM deals with everything associated with people (implicit, tacit, relationships, etc.) and that KM exists to build up the organizational memory and to make use of it as people need to take action. The author of the final chapter, "KM for a Virtual Project Team," conceptualized KM as feeding OM which then feeds Organizational Learning and then loops back to knowledge management as new needs are realized. I like to think of organizational memory separate from any information systems: it is the combination of knowledge, experience, networks, contexts that operate in an organization. The authors mention several times that the OM is not a unified, stable entity. Each sub-organization has their own memories, and all OM flows as things happen.
The remaining chapters dove into specific aspects of Internet-Based Organizational Memory and Knowledge Management. Some described the tools they created. Others did case studies, looking for the important aspects that needed to be build into future tools.
The fourth chapter, "The Challenge of Customer Service: Managing Heterogeneous Knowledge," contained an interesting "front-line knowledge cycle" graphic that described the basic process for a help desk worker. Rather than redraw the graphic, the interesting claim was that information retrieval (the initial search) is based on finding all the right information, whereas knowledge management (reviewing and revising the results) is more about finding good enough information that the help desk can use to synthesize an appropriate response to the query.
The fourth chapter also had a curious characterization of knowledge management systems in parallel with e-business approaches: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and business-to-employer. My immediate question on seeing this was what about consumer-to-consumer, or simply person-to-person, rather than the business-centric view of these systems. But then, most KM systems being discussed in the late 1990's were the monolithic corporate systems, not efforts geared toward individual benefit.
Chapter 7, "Concept Indexes: Sharing Knowledge from Documents," surprised me in its strong similarities to current discussions of tagging. The authors built a system that enabled users to tag documents with concepts, and then use those concepts to group documents and even find new documents, based on the similarity of content, or based on similar tagging behaviors. I immediately thought of del.icio.us and other shared-tagging environments. The unusual thing about their model is that they looked at parts of documents, since they were expecting longer documents that might have multiple concepts throughout. They also built agents to patrol the concept index for relationships between concepts and watch for changes to the original documents.
Chapter 8, "Facilitating Knowledge Transfer in an R and D Environment: A Case Study," took an idea from Davenport & Prusak (Working Knowledge) that knowledge transfer is related to the velocity (speed, ease, proximity) and viscosity (richness, meaning, complexity, value) of the knowledge. They plotted viscosity vs. velocity and used this to describe their observations of novices and experts in a support center environment. From this, they were able to make some recommendations about ways in which technology could help improve the velocity of certain knowledge transfer activities without making them too thin to be valuable. I like this idea of clearly defining how a given KM effort is going to impact these dimensions of knowledge transfer.
The final three chapters were case studies that dealt with some form of virtual organizations. I hadn't given the term "virtual" much thought in the past, but each of the papers had a slightly different take on what it means to be virtual. The description that stuck best for me was of independent organizations coming together to accomplish a specific goal, being enabled by technology. Thinking about it too hard, I am not quite sure how this would be different than a joint venture, but the focus is clearly on the technologies the venture uses to get things done.