KA Dialog #1: Knowledge management is squishy.



Ian and Batch,

Thanks for agreeing to participate in the first KA Dialog. I’ll get us started with a story.

I had a wide-ranging discussion with a CIO of a large architectural firm several months ago. Near the end of the conversation, I asked him for his opinion of my plan to build a knowledge management consulting practice focused on the AE industry. He kind of danced around what he really thought for a bit, and then came out with the truth:

CIO: “The problem with knowledge management is that it is squishy.”

Me: “What do you mean squishy?”

CIO: “I mean it can’t be measured. Going to my board to ask for money for knowledge management initiatives is always a struggle. Everyone gets that we need to do BIM. Same for buying servers or upgrading bandwidth. Easy sale. Knowledge management? Not so much.”

Me: “I’m sure the ROI…”

CIO: “My board doesn’t care about ROI because it is invisible. They can SEE us moving forward with BIM. They can SEE us upgrading to iPhones and 3D-printing our models. They can’t see us managing knowledge, and even if they could, it isn’t clear what the benefits are.”

I’m sure you two have have conversations like this before. I don’t know about you, my initial response to hearing something so diametrically opposed to what I believe is often to get defensive. I thought that perhaps my CIO friend wasn’t effectively selling the value of his initiatives. Or that he was pitching the wrong projects. Or any other number of reasons why he was wrong.

Eventually I moved from being defensive to becoming curious. So I started asking around…

I asked dozens of individuals ranging from CIOs to CEOs, architects to engineers, software companies to other consultants about knowledge management. I asked for definitions, strategic plans, measurement frameworks, and proven tactics. And what I found was that my CIO friend from the story above was correct. Knowledge management in our industry IS squishy. We don’t have a good sense of what knowledge management is, how to manage knowledge, what knowledge to manage, and who should be doing knowledge management.

I realized that if I wanted to build a practice around knowledge management, I’d better start putting together a pretty persuasive case to combat this perception. More to the point, I’d need to be able to hand folks a blueprint for knowledge management, a “knowledge architecture” if you will.

Enter the dialog that the three of us began a few months ago.

Ian, you gave me some advice that has become foundational to my approach. You suggested borrowing a lesson from Psychology and focusing on applied knowledge management, rather than on knowledge management theory.

Batch, you suggested that we un-muddy the knowledge management waters for ourselves and our customers by becoming more precise with language. There are tons of information systems in architecture and engineering firms — project information management (PIM) systems, digital asset management (DAM) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, intranets, and so on. I think we both agree that the relationship between those information systems and knowledge management could use some definition.

I’m interested in hearing more from both of you on these topics.

From Ian, what applied knowledge management tactics does Newforma Project Center enable? How would you pitch the benefits of Newforma, specifically measurable metrics, to the skeptical board that I introduced in the story above?

From Batch, how does project information management software fit into a knowledge architecture, or knowledge management blueprint? What are the key knowledge assets that Newforma Project Center helps individuals to create, capture, and share?

Looking forward to your responses next week,


Ian Howell is Newforma’s chief executive officer. He’s an architect by training, with practice experience in Australia and the United Kingdom. His AEC software industry experience includes positions with Autodesk, Citadon, Alias Research and Rucaps Australia. Among his contributions to the AEC software industry, Ian is a founder of the International Alliance for Interoperability, and currently serves on the board of direction for the buildingSMART Alliance.

Bob Batcheler is Newforma’s vice-president of industry marketing and product management. Bob’s career as a professional engineer includes time at Black & Veatch and Bechtel Power Corporation. His AEC technology background encompasses a variety of roles at Autodesk and Softdesk. Bob earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Lehigh University, and qualified as a registered professional engineer in Maryland.

Posted: October 16th, 2009 | Filed under: General, Guests | 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “KA Dialog #1: Knowledge management is squishy.”

  1. 1 KA BLOG » Blog Archive » Re: KA Dialog #1: Knowledge management is squishy said at 3:48 pm on October 23rd, 2009:

    […] Batcheler responded to the opening post in the first KA Dialog this morning with with the following post on the Newforma […]

  2. 2 KA BLOG » Blog Archive » KA Dialog #1: Information Disaster vs. Knowledge Disaster said at 8:51 am on October 30th, 2009:

    […] is the third in an open dialog with Ian Howell and Bob Batcheler of Newforma. Here are links to Part 1: Knowledge management is squishy and Part 2: PIM is like a bunch of boxes… for […]

  3. 3 Knowledge Architecture Blog » Blog Archive » KA Dialog #1 – Part 5: Leverage yourself, and each other said at 1:01 pm on January 3rd, 2010:

    […] post is the fifth in an open dialog with Bob Batcheler of Newforma. Here are links to Part 1: Knowledge management is squishy, Part 2: PIM is like a bunch of boxes… , Part 3: Information Disasters vs. Knowledge Disasters […]