difference between social business and knowledge managementIn the course of our ongoing efforts to spread the message to law firms and other professional service organizations about the inherent benefits of integrating social business technology into their daily practice, we receive a wide range of interesting feedback from our friends and contacts out there in the marketplace.  Most recently, we received this email from the CMO of a large law firm:

“Guy, We should catch up at some point. While I think the social business buzz is loud, you/we have some work to do to show how this differs from some of the many battles that have been fought by KM professionals in the big firms. Is social business a new thing or simply KM rebadged in social media language?” 

This is an incredibly important question.  If nothing else, your firm’s prior experience and current commitment to Knowledge Management will likely have a substantial impact in shaping its receptivity to a social business initiative.  Some law firms devoted major resources and realized meaningful benefits with KM; others much less so.  In fact, law perhaps more so than other professions lends itself to the use of forms and model drafting with the result that KM solutions often did yield material benefits; whereas the general experience in the broader corporate environment often seems to have been disenchantment with KM’s tendency to overpromise and under-deliver. 

My own first reaction to this email was to flash back to my days at KPMG in the mid-1990’s, as part of the global knowledge management team charged with developing a new KM platform and rolling it out across the entire company — a fascinating and at times incredibly frustrating venture, which gave me real insight into both the potential benefits and inherent limitations of a firm-wide, top-down approach to KM.

It’s important to remember that back then Knowledge Management was awkward and difficult, at best. We were asking people to take time out of their work and access a system with rigid taxonomies; to upload documents that recorded their knowledge and expertise. While some of my former colleagues might disagree, my impression from those days is that our efforts often fell far short of realizing the expected benefits.

But as I’ve written previously, a lot has changed in the last twelve years, both in the technology and in the philosophy of how it can be best applied in a business context.   And people’s attitudes and relationship to technology have also changed.  The environment of Lotus Notes is fundamentally different from that of the iPhone.  We’re going to devote the next few weeks on this blog to further discussing this topic – is KM any different from social business? Are those differences more perceived than real?  Is your law firm or practice group likely to realize any more benefit from an enterprise social network than from a discussion group or wiki-resources page?

If you’re interested in participating in a further discussion on this topic, please stop by our group on LinkedIn – The Social Law Firm — where we’ll be asking folks to share their own insights with the group.

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