Information Today
Volume 17, Issue 10 • November 2000
IT Report from the Field •
KMWorld 2000: An Exponential Experience
The knowledge management trend is stronger than ever
by Rebecca Jones and Stephen Abram

The KMWorld 2000 conference (, held September 13–15 in Santa Clara, California, was praised by many attendees for its quality program, strong production, and coordination. With over 2,069 participants, attendance was up 60 percent over last year, and most everyone, including speakers and exhibitors, was pleased with the event. Interestingly, this was the first KM (knowledge management) conference for 80 percent of the attendees. Although some business analysts are sounding the death knell for KM, describing it as a management trend that’s on its way out, the buzz of activity and interest evidenced at this conference proves otherwise.

The key term that was mentioned throughout the conference was “exponential.” This was the theme of Curt Carlson’s keynote the first day, and it was brought up repeatedly during the next 2 days. Carlson’s premise was that exponential growth means that jobs change significantly every 6–12 months. An exponential economy requires exponential improvement processes and an active partnership between organizations and their employees. Interpersonal relationships, respect, and trust are critical, and become magnified in the communities of this type of economy. “It’s funny to talk about people in a technology speech,” Carlson joked, but he’s seen repeatedly that respect and trust are the keys to change and growth.

KM: It’s the People
As so many presenters pointed out, KM is all about change, growth, and people. The track focusing on KM Strategies was packed, and by the afternoon it was being broadcast into a second room. Speaker after speaker emphasized the critical people issues. One of the most popular presenters was Susan Mohrman, of the Center for Effective Organization (CEO) at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business (, who addressed “Organization Design for KM.” A survey conducted last year by CEO, with support from executive search agency Korn/Ferry (, identified a number of factors—including time, turnover, and distance—that inhibit KM’s progress within organizations. Mohrman began by asking the audience members, “What’s the number-one thing lacking in your organizations?” Their answer: time. Mohrman concurred, and said that when people have too much to do, KM activities won’t get done. What’s more, many employees are unsure of their organization’s business direction or the competencies required of them in the future. Uncertainty leads to turnover, with employees taking their knowledge with them.

Compounding the time and turnover dilemmas is the trend in organizations to replace physical work teams with virtual teams. As soon as people are dispersed, Mohrman said, they focus more on their own work than on sharing what they learn or know. Yes, they’ll use technology networks, but only when these are within their interpersonal networks. People must be allowed to know each other, in person, before they can effectively work with technology and share their learning and knowledge.

Taxonomies Rule!
Another area that was packed to overflowing and had to be simulcast to extra rooms was the content-management and taxonomy track. Who would have predicted that cataloging, organizing, and indexing internal Web sites and intranets would be the hot topic this year? Nazhin Zarghamee, vice president of marketing and alliances at Documentum, gave an excellent overview of the content-management process and focused on the issues that ensure quality and timeliness in an e-business environment. Her talk dovetailed very nicely with that of Ovum, Ltd.’s Alan Pelz-Sharpe, who discussed some of the main content-management solutions and noted which ones most closely approximate an end-to-end solution for organizations. He mentioned such providers as Documentum, Open Text, Vignette, Broadvision, and Interwoven. Pelz-Sharpe’s insights into the whole process were particularly timely given several recent mergers, like Broadvision’s acquisition of Interleaf this year.

The second afternoon was spent focusing on the specifics of taxonomy creation, maintenance, and design. Speakers such as Wendi Pohs of Lotus Development Corp. and Mike Crandall of Microsoft discussed their large intranets and Web sites and the hybrid development of handcrafted, organizational, and content-specific taxonomies while using the automation tools as required. Claude Vogel, founder and chief technology officer at Semio Corp., spoke about automated taxonomies and the various methods to ensure quality while still dealing with the growing morass of information in a timely manner. Each speaker talked about the role of uncovering hidden insights in content as a key result of a well-managed taxonomy. Many agreed that the market is now ready for international taxonomic standards, perhaps developed and maintained in vertical industry groups.

Overall, the entire track paid close attention to the role of work flow and the information supply chain in creating, moving, and decommissioning content in the electronic environment. Allen Clark, of NCompass Labs, presented a session on user-centric KM in content design. He also offered a cogent argument that the relationship of content to end-users is taking a broader form. The same content that an organization collects and makes available to its employees, partners, prospects, and customers can also be made available from a central repository using similar processes, such as knowledge management, customer-relationship management, e-commerce, and channel management.

Storytelling for Grown-Ups
As children, we first learn from stories. Knowledge has been traditionally passed from generation to generation this way. It was no surprise, then, that one of the hot methods of knowledge sharing is storytelling. A brilliant storyteller himself, David Snowden, European director of IBM’s Institute for Knowledge Management in the U.K. (, entertained the second day’s keynote audience with his explanation of how storytelling is an “old skill for a new age.” He said, “[Storytelling] is a technique to convey complicated meaning in a simplified format to handle complex situations.” It is, however, a highly detailed technique that must be learned and practiced to be successful.

Live and E-Learn
On the last day, early developers of e-learning were featured in another packed-to-the-rafters, overflowing session. Experts from, ThoughtSpace, Knowledge360, Danish Probe, and SmartForce spent the day describing the growth of learning management systems (LMS). This is clearly an up-and-coming topic driven by the need for organizations to deliver just-in-time learning to a rapidly changing workforce—one that’s largely motivated by demographic changes and Baby Boomer retirements. This, combined with the session on creating collaborative, virtual work environments, gave hints about what our work and learning spaces will look like in the coming years. Stay tuned—we’re in for more big changes!

Nick Bontis, the wrap-up keynote speaker, was another successful storyteller. One of the challenges for any conference is keeping attendees engaged through that last afternoon. Bontis was a compelling reason to stay, giving the audience facts, insights, and laughs. As assistant professor of strategic management at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, director of the Institute for Intellectual Capital Research, associate editor of the Journal of Intellectual Capital, and chief knowledge officer of (a knowledge exchange and auction), Bontis is immersed in all aspects of KM.

In his wrap-up, Bontis echoed Mohrman’s message regarding turnover and time. “KM must listen to [employees],” he said. Bontis believes the number-one reason for turnover is that people don’t feel their current organization is leveraging their talent, so they’ll seek better opportunities elsewhere. Until organizations leverage this talent and turn learning into action, they will remain smart, yet stupid companies. As for time constraints, he called for organizations to institutionalize “slack time,” allowing people time to talk with others and build back into the system what they’ve learned that day. He ended by encouraging the audience to visit the following KM-related business Web sites:,, (formerly,,, and (particularly the Tango simulation).

On the Floor
The exhibit hall was a smorgasbord of appetizers to sample what we were hearing about in the sessions. One popular booth was that of, which let you instantly set up voice-enabled PowerPoint presentations that could be viewed and heard worldwide by your team, staff, or customers. This with no plug-ins—and no need for a microphone, either. Pretty cool. Visual interfaces, such as those from Inxight and Think-map, were popular as people looked for ways to navigate huge volumes of information, sans text. Tools for intranet knowledge exchange, such as those from Clerity, or for knowledge exchange out in the world, like those from Knexa, showed the change in the balance of KM tools from technology-centered to technology/people hybrids.

And in Conclusion …
For those who predict the end of KM as a buzzword of the early 21st century, think again. The treasure-trove of case studies showing the exponentially high impact of even small-scale KM projects cannot be ignored. The promise of even higher payoffs from e-learning, collaboratories, and taxonomies will hold people’s attention for years to come.

Rebecca Jones is a principal of Dysart & Jones Associates. Her e-mail address is Stephen Abram is vice president of corporate development at IHS Canada, IHS Solutions, and Micromedia Limited. His e-mail address is

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