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Essentials of Knowledge Management.

Essentials of Knowledge Management

Bryan Bergeron. 2003. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 0-471-28113-1. 208 pages, including index. $29.95 USD (softcover.)]


Essentials of knowledge management provides plentiful detail about how to handle knowledge management (KM) initiatives within an organization.

Author Bryan Bergeron does a good job of orienting the busy reader to the content, so that you can pick and choose what you need. The overview chapter, for example, distills 15,000 years of progress in KM into a very readable six pages.

Graphics and interesting quotes sprinkled throughout the book not only add visual interest, but also reinforce the information in the text, which covers the gamut from defining KM to implementing the system to measuring quality once you've implemented a KM system. Each chapter orients you with a section on key concepts and summary of ideas and provides excellent examples to illustrate the points.

The book separates the KM initiative from process re-engineering, making the topic less overwhelming to a lay audience. Bergeron states that even though KM initiatives often result in process re-engineering, they are separate processes, because KM is about "managing intellectual assets in a way that provides the company with a competitive advantage" (p. 34).

Process re-engineering, on the other hand, is an effort to bring existing processes more in line with the ideal, in an effort to improve on the current state. In other words, KM is about "what is," while process reengineering is about "what should be" (p. 47).

Bergeron does a great job of explaining the process, technology, economics, and benchmarking aspects of KM. Like any good project manager faced with a huge task, he recommends taking a phased approach and shows examples of how a company might break out the tasks based on its particular needs. The examples show both success stories and cautionary tales, the latter of which result in a chuckle and a "tsk tsk" at the shortsightedness that often plagues such initiatives.

Because the book's primary audience is CEOs, Bergeron spends a lot of time discussing the importance of buy-in, strategy, and resource management. At times, this discussion takes a rather mechanistic and somewhat cynical approach to managing knowledge workers, which can be irritating. For example, he discusses training primarily as a cost to the company, but he doesn't discuss how it becomes a positive contributor to the loyalty and value of knowledge workers.

In other places, he does a bit of a disservice to the KM cause when he states somewhat sarcastically that the "reward" for senior knowledge workers contributing to a KM is a less secure position in the company, and that KM can be a way for companies to downsize while still retaining expert knowledge. Statements like that don't exactly give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about contributing to a KM initiative.

I think both the primary audience and the knowledge workers would have been better served if Bergeron had done a better job of discussing ways of alleviating the fear about downsizing and of discussing the benefits of contributing to a KM, such as freeing senior-level resources to continue innovating and troubleshooting without having to spend as much time in less productive, more mundane activities. He does eventually discuss rewarding people for contributing to the KM initiative, but only much later in the book.

Interestingly, he never once mentions technical communicators as key players in driving and developing the KM initiative, but rather focuses his attention on IT and corporate librarians.

Overall, if you can get past the mechanistic view of managing people and the typographical errors that pervade the book, Bergeron does provide some excellent information about KM initiatives and how they work, as well as clues for how to present such ideas to senior management. Using this book, you could create a checklist for presenting and implementing an effective KM initiative. The content is, for the most part, well written and well organized.

M. KATHERINE (KIT) BROWN is principal of Comgenesis, LLC. She has an MS in technical communication and 15 years of technical communication experience. She has consulted on content and knowledge management initiatives. An STC associate fellow, she belongs to the Snake River chapter and is a member of the STC nominating committee.
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Title Annotation:Book Reviews
Author:Brown, M. Katherine (Kit)
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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