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Apr 14, 2004: KM Reinventing IA Reinventing KM

James Robertson's Column Two ("News and opinion on all things KM & CM") has been thoroughly ensconced on my list of indispensible blogs for quite some time. In a recent entry, James states:

Most knowledge management professionals are completely unaware of the work being done in either the usability or information architecture (IA) fields.

Ahem. Yes, I've found this true based on my totally unscientific sampling. James goes on to rightfully caution KM folks not to reinvent the wheel. But as I read his posting, I kept wondering how true it would read if we swapped "KM" and "IA". Isn't the converse true? Aren't information architects just as ignorant of the achievements in KM?

For five or six years now, I've been wondering when these two fields would collide. Maybe at a conference like, say, the IA Summit or KM World, which have plenty of overlap in attendance.

But, to my surprise, it just hasn't happened yet. Maybe my error is in assuming that KM is a field like IA, when perhaps it's really more an industry, dominated by vendors, where practice is almost a dirty word. Kind of like content management (although the CM professionals are getting uppity and organized). Perhaps there is more synergy between fields (e.g., IA and usability) than between a field of practice and an industry.

Woops. I've likely just hoisted myself by my own petard, playing the ignorant information architect who doesn't know that KM is indeed a field of practice, like IA. If I've peeved any KMistas, please point me to the books and other KM resources that describe KM practice and methods, as well as the community meetings that are independent of the questionable influence of KM application vendors.

But more importantly, help me scratch this five-year old itch and explain why there is so little interaction between IA and KM.

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Comment: ML (Apr 14, 2004)

What a coincidence. I've been continuing my research on the convergence of IA...still writing that article. I was devouring this stuff on KM/CM because it was the other facets I wanted to address. I hope we can provoke the discussion even more and start infiltrating each other's conferences and publications to get us to the table.

Comment: Avi Rappoport (Apr 14, 2004)

I've been doing a bunch of Intranet search work lately, and in conversation with various experts, I've started to ask if they've ever seen a successful KM system. So far, no one has...

Comment: Liv (Apr 14, 2004)

Does this disconnect between both communities of practice lie in the fact that CM, being a vendor prevalent domain, has minimal "expected" IA work from a sales perspective? It may be the vendor bias as a way to tell the client the solution won't require hard work (which is usually a big fat lie anyway).

If you don't use ready-made solutions, you have to think through the whole IA, if you do use the ready-made solutions, you have to think through the whole IA and adapt the product to it.

It is easier to identify IA work being done in projects where the CM solution is developed internally without off-the-shelf products. (maybe because the need to think through the IA work AND adapt a tool overwhelms people? or they take their own work for granted since they are continuously told the solution wouldn't require much work? I wonder...)

KM is also very concerned with a larger picture (business intelligence, the extension of a supply chain, etc) and the role of IA inside that may be perceived as a distributed responsibility as it is part of a larger goal. Because IA is a distributed role in a KM team and not necessarily an information architect role per se (in my experience), it is not as obvious to point out, hey *this* is IA.

I am sure we could learn a lot from what those fields have accomplished so far. We're lacking a forum for that though. Having the CM workshop for IAs at the IA Summit seemed like a great start but I haven't seen much continuity after that.

Comment: vanderwal (Apr 14, 2004)

I have found many IAs who have worked on Intranets are well versed in KM. Many have read Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak's *Working Knowledge*. I find an awful lot of KM practices are in IAs tool belts. The pyramid of data to information to knowledge has been topic of much IA banter.

A while back I observed IA is the skills that build the foundation of KM, where as KM focusses on the end-goal (a system) often to its detriment. More recent KM readings have leaned more toward the IA approach of research, examination, and analysis, which leads to developing structures around these findings. An IA often enters a project with a clean slate and has skills they use to examine and convey what they find. Stereotypically those in KM lean toward figuring out what tool will work in a certain business/organizational culture.

Avi asks about seeing successful KM tool implementations. Um, no I have not seen a KM tool that is used to the benefit of an organization. Often the tools do not match the culture and the inherent processes are not captured well. KM is missing contextual design examination, which should them be echoed in any process used to capture, coordinate, and reconvey information.

I do see individuals that have good information systems that work for themselves as the rough cloud of information they have built for themselves are categorized in a manner they easily understand and they have a means to access the information when they need it as well as systematically check for other information that will augment their own information sets, which permit knowledge to grow and become an asset. This Personal InfoCloud which we should providing information that is reusable by individual users (as well as being able to keep that information current) is a see as a solid next step. Individuals often loath KM products as it does not echo their mental model of information structure and their information need. Hence, offering not just the ability for users to get to the information (an IA's passion), but also offer the user the ability to save and reuse that information as they see fit, that is the next step. That is the cross over to usable/reusable information that is where KM wants to get.

Comment: James Robertson (Apr 15, 2004)

Hi Lou,

Well, yes, KM is a field of practice just like IA. While in the US it seems to be dominated by vendors, elsewhere there is a thriving field encompassing a *lot* of theory, and a modest amount of practical techniques.

KM even has *more* gurus than IA (a scary thought, I know!). People such as Prusak, Snowden, Davenport, Wenger, and many more, are doing a lot of useful and innovative thinking.

What's been lacking in KM (in my opinion) is some practical implementation of these concepts. This is where IA can provide some assistance...

And no, I don't believe there is any such thing as a "KM system" or a "KM product"... :-)


Comment: Lou (Apr 15, 2004)

T.D. Wilson wrote a wonderfully snarky survey of knowledge management in Information Research (Oct. 2002):

"The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the 'knowledge management' idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads."

More from the Highly Snarkful One at http://informationr.net/ir/8-1/paper144.html Whether you agree with his/her opinion on KM, the articles provides a very good survey of perspectives on KM from academia, consultants, and many others.

Comment: Daniel Schwabe (Apr 16, 2004)

Speaking of overlaps, I would also like to point that there is a significant amount of work that has been done by people working in the Web Engineering discipline. Researchers and practictioners in this field are currently mostly from a computer science background, but this is evolving.

As a matter of fact, many proposals pre-date the WWW (for example, Hypermedia Design Model - HDM; OOHDM - Object Oriented Hypermedia Design Method; RMM - Relation Management Method), as they were focused on modeling hypermedia applications - of which the current web-based applications are the most prominent examples.

There are several other proposed Web Application Design Methods, which include models and notations for their systematic design. There are several (semi)automated support tools available, and a growing body of industrial experience.
Several problems discussed in IA are addressed in a more precise and systematic way in these methods.

There is also a growing number of people looking into Design Patterns as a way to record and reuse design experience. Originally meant for architectural design, this idea was adopted by software practitioners, and eventually applied in othe areas as well. As far as I can tell, this was first proposed for hypermedia applications in our paper in Hypertex'97 (see http://www.oohdm.inf.puc-rio.br:8668/space/Publica%C3%A7%C3%B5es+sobre+Design+Patterns%2C+Reuso%2C+Frameworks%2C+Personaliza%C3%A7%C3%A3o).

Some pointers:
- IEEE Multimedia, v.8, issues 1 and 2 (http://computer.org/multimedia) (2001)
- Journal of Web Engineering (http://www.rintonpress.com/journals/jwe/)

- The proceedings of both the WWW conferences, the the Hypertext conferences, and the International Conference on Web Engineering.

Comment: Rachel M. Murray (Apr 17, 2004)

finally, yes, someone has taken a peak over the wall of their silo into the work of the KM camp! Amen!

I'm someone who has arrived at IA through some consulting in KM, and can sadly report that if you think IA is a tough sell, try getting people to appreciate something as seemingly "fuzzy" (to clients) as KM concepts like 'knowledge sharing'. Tom's assessment is spot on, by the way.

Being a youngun starting out in the IA field, I've always wondered why there haven't been more linkage between IA and KM (and good ol' fashionned information and records management for that matter). The output of the disciplines may differ, but the reasons why are vitally important the same - it's all about findability no matter what the media. The same issues that KM pracitioneers deal with are those that IAs are addressing, especially when it comes to selling our services to clients as well as the ol' Defining What We do argument.

Surely linkages between several similar disciplines can help both parties involved - the old 'strength in numbers' argument. Perhaps we can have a few more KM-based topics at next year's IA Summit as a start. ;)

Comment: ML (Apr 19, 2004)

Why put ourselves into corners with buzz concepts or tools? What we're trying to do is solve information management/problems using a variety of tools and techniques. The people part is there, the content/information/data is there, and now as IAs we need to work with other folks in our organizations to round out the picture. In some way we're still isolating ourselves from the other practioners and we need to go out there and start bringing them into the fold. We can talk all we want about one topic or another but without the other parties we're just going in circles. If it's not KM or CMS world...it's going to be the records management and the data warehousing folks. We all are trying to do some kind of information/content/data management that may have some of the same principles...we need to understand where they are in their fields and hopfully be able to learn from them and share our tools/techniques/methods likewise. It's probably not even overlaps so much as just a spectrum of the type of information management they do. Or am I so far off that I need to come back out to play in the real world and see for myself?

Comment: ML (Apr 22, 2004)

Ok...I need to step down from the soapbox about the convergence stuff. I've been following Todd Stephens' work in the metadata world and many of his articles do reveal more practical industry experiences of that convergence. And...his site mentions he's a member of AIFIA...so can someone from the board get him to start engaging more with the rest of the IA World? I want to pick his brain.


Comment: Todd Stephens (May 11, 2004)

Ok, don't pick too deep. Actually, the metadata world is trying to accomplish just what you described. I am trying to move metadata beyond a database thing, to an information management service. And, believe me KM, CMM, IA, and Metadata all play a critical role.

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