Jonathan Sapir of InfoPower Systems spoke at this month's KM Chicago meeting on "Technology trends and their impact on knowledge management." He also has a weblog, The PSB Manifesto (personal service builders) where he explores these ideas in more detail.
The focus of his talk was on service-oriented architecture (SOA), social software and situational software. For Jonathan, SOA is all about creating packaged knowledge, even though the formal definition has more to do with how computers communicate. Jonathan highlighted the idea that we are moving from a "machine" view of knowledge and process to a more human view with support provided by machines. This also suggests a move away from building giant, unchanging systems to systems that support what people are doing in their work with the acknowledgment that "work" continues to change. In a knowledge management sense, SOA is about packaging repeatable knowledge in a way that anyone can use it. As an example, he talked about Grand Central Communications, which is brokering knowledge exchange in this sense.
Social software (blogs, wikis, friend of a friend networks, rss) addresses the very human problems of selfishness, laziness and disorganization. With large enough societies, we can continue being human in this sense because our reach to others helps extend our knowledge. And in fact, knowledge emerges from the interactions along the network. This is as opposed to the traditional view that knowledge is there for the picking, if we just ask people to put it into The System.
Situational software in Jonathan's mind is software that is designed for specific situations or specific time periods. His idea here is that software should be good enough to solve 80% of a problem - particularly the easily codified and repeatable aspects. This ties back to the SOA ideas above in that if you create good enough software that manages the easy stuff, humans can fill in the holes and apply their knowledge to the circumstances. An example would be airline check-in kiosks that handle the normal check-in process, but there are still gate agents available to deal with the more complicated requests and changes that might occur at check-in. The kiosks are good enough for most travelers.
The presentation engendered an interesting discussion about how these ideas connect to what we experience in our work as employees and consultants. Two interesting threads wove together through the comments of the participants. One was a discussion of reputation and trust within social and situational software. And the other was the idea of freedom vs. control in environments that are sensitive to Sarbanes-Oxley and other record-keeping regulations.
The thing I really took away from the discussion is a conflict between the desire to let people express their own knowledge and expertise and the control measures needed to ensure that information is accurate and trustworthy. The problem, of course, is that the control mind-set works in under the assumption that information is stable and correct. The modern world is not stable, and correctness depends heavily upon interpretation and the regulatory environment. The result of control is that the official path for information becomes completely clogged and information is out of date as soon as it is published. People who need the latest information, either give up and overwhelm the information sources with requests, or they create unofficial content outside of "the system," which creates more potential liability. The hope is that social tools can enable some middle ground to exist, so that information can be published quickly while also providing mechanisms for verification and trust over time.
I think we all left the meeting hoping to hear about examples of organizations that have been able to make the leap from the old sense of control to something new that meets the needs of the organization.