In the fifties and sixties, the priesthood of the new computer age spoke of data, as in data processing. In the seventies and eighties, when it was recognised that users had a constituency, and indeed that there was such a thing as a user, data magically transformed itself into information. This, we were led to understand, was data which could be understood by somebody other than a rocket scientist. In the pre-apocalyptic nineties, a concept with a more mystical ring has entered the business glossary: knowledge, which superficially could be described as information with a purpose.
If you ask the average management pundit what are today's biggest corporate hot buttons, the chances are they'll say Knowledge Management and intellectual capital. Some will no doubt dismiss Knowledge Management as this year's fad, the logical antidote to the Business Process Re-engineering craze which resulted in so many corporate donkeys being turned into pantomime horses.
We at Kudos happen to think that Knowledge Management is more than a passing fad, for the simple reason that, like all the best ideas, it's based on common sense. So what is it? And how will it affect who will be expected to manage the knowledge?.
It's the future that counts.
Knowledge Management is all about organisations realising that they have assets that have never before appeared in their balance sheets and yet are a vital indicator of their future prospects. Those hidden assets are people, and what people know.
Accountants can tell us the current state of health of a company: whether it's making a profit, whether profit is increasing or declining, what its turnover is, what its cash flow is. They can also tell us the value of its tangible assets: what its buildings, equipment and toilet rolls are worth. What they are not so good at is telling us what the business will earn in the future. If a company is being run down or asset stripped it may make outstanding profits.