March 22, 1999
Chaotic Nature of Intranet Makes It a Better Learning ToolBy Steven L. Telleen
Q In what ways can an intranet function as a knowledge management system?
A: Many writers today mistakenly talk about knowledge as if it were part of some logical continuum--starting with data, progressing through information, and finally becoming knowledge. Data and information are both about content. They can be collected, counted, manipulated, and stored, and too much can create data overload and information overload.
Yet we never hear about knowledge overload--because knowledge is about understanding and meaning. It is hard to imagine having too much knowledge.
The oldest human knowledge base is culture, and it is managed through teaching and learning. When considering intranets as knowledge bases we are more likely to find answers by looking at how culture acts as a knowledge management system than by trying to insert and extend content databases.
Knowledge happens to individuals through the process of learning. Thus, knowledge management is as much about brokering and mentoring as it is about content. An organization only "learns" when an individual is able to impart the understanding to the group or change the behavior of the organization as a whole.
If we start with an ordered understanding, we can't learn, because we already have knowledge of the patterns and relationships.
Thus, when people point out the "chaos" and lack of structure in a free-form intranet, we can view it as a problem--or as a fertile base for organizational learning and new knowledge.
This relationship between learning and knowledge is why many groupware and collaboration tools fall short as knowledge management systems: Pre-structured knowledge systems have trouble learning.
Intranets are a unique communication system. They can facilitate the process of knowledge management and learning. The asynchronous, unstructured nature of intranet communication, the ability to reconfigure connections on the fly, makes them more adaptable than previous electronic systems, more human.
But intranets also have features never before available. They capture the experiences in the organizational knowledge network with minimum effort. Digital agents can be developed to help individuals explore and traverse these histories and develop connections with people as well as content.
Real knowledge management will more likely evolve from the development of innovative intranet agents that use spiders and directories than from traditional databases, document management systems, and workgroup collaboration tools. The agents will act as modern social networking aids that connect us with other people, not solely to content.