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The New Edge in Knowledge - Book Review

1 November 2011
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business" was authored in 2011 by Carla O'Dell and Cindy Hubert from APQC. For those who may recall, O'Dell had previously co-authored the outstanding book "If Only We Knew What We Know" over a decade ago alongside Grayson.

This book is remarkable and could be considered one of the most significant contributions to knowledge management in recent years. APQC, a research organization deeply involved in knowledge management consulting for numerous leading global organizations, draws upon its extensive experience, comprehensively described in this book.

The book delves into various crucial topics, including:
  • Knowledge Management in the 21st Century: What and Why?

  • Strategy

  • Mapping needs and prioritizing

  • Knowledge Management Solutions

  • Social Media Solutions

  • Change management

  • Activity management: functionaries and measurement

When tallying up knowledge management consulting firms, APQC unquestionably ranks among the top five. Exploring their insights and offerings is highly recommended.

Knowledge Management in the 21st Century: What and Why?

APQC defines knowledge management as a systematic effort facilitating the growth, flow, and creation of value within information and knowledge. This field involves establishing and managing processes to ensure that relevant knowledge reaches the right individuals at the right time. Additionally, it encourages information sharing and utilization to enhance organizational performance, effectively linking employees to knowledge assets.

Assumptions guiding knowledge management in the 21st century include:

  • The digital age is characterized by an abundance of information, sometimes overwhelming.

  • Social technologies (WEB 2.0) foster increased usage and sharing compared to the past.

  • The challenge of a rising retirement rate (in the US) creates a new demand for knowledge.

  • Evolving perceptions of learning due to complementary channels like video and smartphone usage.

Any knowledge management activity comprises four key steps:

  1. Start-up: Identifying value and gaining organizational approval for the initiative.

  2. Planning an activity strategy.

  3. Design, establishment, and launch of knowledge management solutions.

  4. Conservation and development of activity.

Successful knowledge management seamlessly integrates into existing work processes without imposing additional burdens on employees. Instead, it enhances and supports their existing workflows.


Knowledge management always aligns with the organization's strategic goals and caters to the needs of employees who leverage that knowledge.

This process, characterized by various maturity levels, is a long-term endeavor. APQC identifies five maturity levels, each emphasizing an additional ingredient to be considered. When formulating a knowledge management strategy, it's essential to assess the organization's advancement along this axis:

  • Maturity Level 1: Growing awareness.

  • Maturity Level 2: Increasing involvement (ad hoc knowledge).

  • Maturity Level 3: Integration of processes and approaches to knowledge management (applied knowledge).

  • Maturity Level 4: Organizational products from the activity (leveraged products and knowledge).

  • Maturity Level 5: Constant preservation (dynamic knowledge).

The key to advancing strategy lies in understanding the nature of knowledge itself. Strategic knowledge considerations for management encompass:

  1. The existence of knowledge promotes value soon.

  2. Knowledge required for innovation and long-term value creation.

  3. Ability to establish competitive differentiation based on knowledge.

  4. Organizational challenges are dependent on knowledge.

  5. Attainment of success through knowledge management.

When planning the strategy, additional factors should be considered, including:

  • Destinations

  • Business Value

  • Budget

  • Resources

  • Governance and leadership

  • Change management

  • Channeling

  • Knowledge flow process

  • Rogue approaches to knowledge management

  • Measurement

  • Content management process

  • Computing

Tips for effective planning include emphasizing the business value (business case) in the strategy, ensuring alignment with real knowledge needs, demonstrating feasibility, and highlighting the significant value derived from the proposed solution. Identifying and addressing current, pertinent needs is crucial for success.

Mapping needs and prioritizing

Several stakeholders are involved in knowledge mapping, including local knowledge management coordinators, HR professionals, content experts, librarians, content editors, managers, and stakeholders.

The mapping process involves the following steps:

  1. Clearly define the process or knowledge domain where critical knowledge flows.

  2. Clearly articulate why it is worthwhile to map this knowledge.

  3. Map the process or domain.

  4. Identify critical decisions and lateral functionality.

  5. Identify related stakeholders.

  6. Identify sources of knowledge and recipients of knowledge.

  7. Identify knowledge assets crucial for all stages of the process or subtopics of the field.

  8. Create an inventory of existing and required types of knowledge.

  9. Identify gaps and connectivity deficiencies and detect information overflow.

  10. Develop a plan for reviewing, validating, and sharing the findings from the knowledge map.

The deliverable involves creating a map that links sub-processes to business areas, specialized knowledge sources, and the level of existing specialized knowledge.

Once critical knowledge is identified, a comprehensive mapping of knowledge needs becomes essential. A method based on the knowledge life cycle is proposed:

  • Knowledge creation

  • Identification

  • Collection

  • Review

  • Sharing

  • Access

  • Use

At each life cycle stage, assess implementation effectiveness and identify associated problems. For instance, individuals may only share knowledge with those they know or appreciate, neglecting others. Additionally, people possessing valuable knowledge may not recognize its importance to others, resulting in a lack of documentation and sharing.

Typically, such detailed mapping informs organizational managers about existing problems and highlights areas worthy of investment for creating value.

Knowledge Management Solutions

A common error observed in computer and knowledge management circles is the attempt to rely on a single knowledge management solution. Typically, a portfolio comprising several knowledge management solutions is necessary, and there is a likelihood of interconnection and integration among these solutions.

The book's authors categorize various solutions into four groups, distinguished by the nature of knowledge (overt and covert) and the level of human interaction. The classifications are as follows:

Knowledge Management Solutions:

  1. For personal use

    a. Nature of solutions: mainly open knowledge, low human interaction

    b. Example solutions: Portals, Forums, Expert maps, WEB2.0 TOOLS

    c. Lessons: Transformation of available information to tacit knowledge with existing human interaction. A critical factor for implementation is integration into work processes.

  2. Communities

    a. Nature of solutions: mainly tacit knowledge, especially human interaction

    b. Example solutions: Knowledge communities, Networks

    c. Comments/Tips: A killer application that fosters connections for social support, enthusiasm, and validation. Success depends on the leadership of community leaders.

  3. Providing insights

    a. Nature of the solutions: tacit knowledge, high human interaction

    b. Example solutions: Insights delivery teams, Peer assistance

    c. Comments/Tips: Establish this solution when similar or identical practices exist in different parts of the organization. Success can be measured, and existing culture is not a significant obstacle.

To decide the most appropriate solution, consider the following issues:

  1. The nature of critical knowledge (tacit or explicit).

  2. The required knowledge transfer nature (SECI).

  3. The nature of knowledge users (front-line workers facing customers; knowledge workers back office).

  4. The nature of the relationship between individuals sharing knowledge and maintaining a preliminary organizational network.

  5. Characteristics of employees influencing the flow of knowledge (cultures, experience in sharing, etc.).

  6. The possibility of leveraging existing tools and alternatives.

  7. Existing resources (including administrative resources).

  8. The nature of knowledge management: responding to a crisis or a long-term solution.

  9. Required outputs; given time frame; measurable business improvements possible.

Tips for choosing tools:

  1. Before starting, recruit a team of managers as partners.

  2. Consider the upgradeability and replication capability of the tool.

  3. Allocate resources for both organization-wide and local operations for motivation, implementation, and maintenance.

  4. Create use cases for each tool.

  5. Run pilots, experiment, learn, and improve.

  6. Even if initially implemented locally, consider the broader organization-wide impact.

  7. Avoid chasing the latest technology; the tool will improve over time.

  8. Preliminary analysis of barriers on the moral and receiving sides.

  9. Emphasize solution branding; make it fun and playful.

  10. Search for opportunities for integration into work processes; find optimal timing for learning.

  11. Avoid starting solutions at the end of tacit or open knowledge; it is better in the center.

And remember: every solution requires governance, change management, and measurement.

Numerous knowledge management solutions emerged with great expectations and resource investments for many years, only to crash with the same intensity. It is tempting to think that a computing solution, due to its concreteness, is a knowledge management solution. However, every knowledge management solution must be integrated into work processes and include soft aspects. Organizational consultants should resist the temptation to think that only soft means are sufficient; soft elements must be combined with computing solutions.

Social Media Solutions

A chapter on social media solutions could be incorporated into the preceding section on knowledge management solutions. However, due to the innovative nature of these solutions and their notable success in leveraging sharing, it is worthwhile to scrutinize them separately and gain an in-depth understanding of the possibilities for their implementation.

Innovations in social media solutions encompass additional layers beyond knowledge, addressing who possesses it and their perspectives on knowledge, characteristics of knowledge such as various tags, and the awareness that knowledge exists—updated through RSS feeds and search engine alerts.

Here are notable examples of enterprise knowledge management social media applications:


Organization: Rockwell Collins

  • Uses: Writing procedures, crafting FAQs, and maintaining knowledge bases

Organization: Siemens

  • Uses: Summarizing meetings, documenting products, and creating glossaries

Organization: Accenture

  • Uses: Reporting specific problems based on general issues and proposing solution ideas

Organization: U.S. Intelligence Community (led by the CIA)

  • Uses: Cross-organizational collaborative encyclopedia of intelligence information


Organization: Royal Dutch / Shell

  • Uses: Lab notebooks (licensed and approved)

Organization: U.S. Department of State

  • Uses: Reports by embassies and missions worldwide on events in their respective areas


Organization: MITRE

  • Uses: Maintaining a database of employee tags on external and internal sites/pages

Organization: IBM

  • Uses: Integration with internal search to enhance results based on employee-generated tags

Micro Blogging:

Organization: MITRE

  • Uses: Meeting and employee location management tool (Twitter extension)

Mobile Channels:

Organization: IBM

  • Uses: Updates from non-office consultants

Social Networks:

  • Uses: Expert Maps

Considerations for implementing social media solutions (often apparent in standard knowledge management solutions but tend to fade in social media applications):


  1. Handling busy schedules.

  2. Building trust, which is not spontaneous.

  3. Managing risks associated with openness and the nature of the solutions.

  4. Avoid hastily rushing into technological solutions; they are auxiliary, not the primary focus.


  1. Simplicity of solutions.

  2. A more straightforward implementation of sharing when employees are geographically distant.

  3. The additional layers of knowledge facilitate information overflow.

Additional Tips:

  1. Promote and reinforce apps that people commonly use at home.

  2. Collect usage data to understand where knowledge assets reside.

  3. Trust workers to some extent and encourage more openness than deemed necessary at a conservative level.

  4. Advocate for the use of external networks.

Change management

Three primary methods are proposed to drive change and foster a culture of sharing:

  1. Leading by Personal Example:

    1. Managers, including middle managers, are encouraged to set a personal example in fostering a culture of sharing.

    2. Note: This applies not only to CEOs and senior management but also to middle management.

  2. Aggressive Branding:

    1. Develop branding that aligns with the organization's nature and initial state. Determine whether mentioning knowledge management within the organization is acceptable and decide on appropriate terminology.

    2. Invest in targeted messaging for different audiences to achieve desired outcomes through various approaches.

    3. Common approaches for branding include newsletters, portal updates, RSS feeds, virtual and face-to-face meetings, broadcasting, discussions, following emails, storytelling, "elevator" phrases, and integration into training.

    4. Rewarding efforts is an integral part of the branding strategy.

  3. Making Knowledge Management Fun:

    1. Incorporate fun elements into knowledge management, recognizing the challenge of infusing fun into business terms.

    2. Examples of approaches include:

      1. Utilizing employee engagement tools, including social media tools.

      2. Infusing humor into videos and teasers.

      3. Creating positive competition and transforming activities into competitive tasks.

      4. Projecting and connecting to advertisements or humorous phrases outside the organization, linking them to knowledge management.

      5. Establishing the possibility of two-way interaction to make the experience more enjoyable.

Activity management: functionaries and measurement

Key Officials:

Steering Committee:

  • Responsibilities include creating intent, meaning, and context.

  • Approval of large budgets and implementation of various approaches to knowledge management.

  • Identifying organizational opportunities and providing insights into what works and what is needed.

  • Assisting in overcoming various obstacles, particularly cultural issues.

  • Setting a positive example through role modeling.

  • Encouraging and celebrating successes.

Knowledge Manager:

  • Head of the nuclear knowledge management team.

  • Responsibilities include implementing the knowledge management strategy, business development, vision, mission, and goals.

  • Driving the development of knowledge management programs in the organization.

  • Promoting knowledge management and the use of common approaches across organizational units.

  • Collaborating with unit managers for a common understanding of knowledge management and focus.

  • Providing leadership for knowledge management through projects, research, and internal and external comparative activities.

  • Identifying opportunities where knowledge management can be valuable to the organization.

Nuclear Knowledge Management Team:

  • Project managers engaged in implementing the knowledge management strategy and realizing various projects.

  • Roles may expand as activities mature, with recommendations to include at least (full-time) a knowledge management expert, an internal organizational communication expert, and a business/computing analyst.

Knowledge Management Specialists:

  • Experts in approaches (methodologies and solutions) to knowledge management and their application in the organization.

Communication Manager:

  • Develops and manages intra-organizational communication for change management and knowledge management.

Business/Computing Analyst:

  • Acts as the bridge between the knowledge management body and computing.

Knowledge Management Design Teams:

  • Specialize in knowledge management for specific groups, solutions, or cultures, including implementation.



  • The recommendation is towards central budgeting, not separate for each organizational unit, for cost-effectiveness and corporate correctness.

Time Resource Estimation:

  • Adequate time resources should be allocated to people, often underplanned.


  • Measurement goals include adapting knowledge management to the organizational strategy, determining progress, prioritizing investments, evaluating and communicating performance, creating trust and authority for critical knowledge flow, and monitoring behavioral changes.

  • Recommended measurement should combine telemetry, knowledge management process, business performance, and achievement measurement.

  • Adjustment of measurement based on knowledge management maturity level in the organization.

  • Measurement tips:

    - Include intangible assets in the measurement, such as time to competitiveness, job satisfaction, and social cohesion.

    - Emphasize change management in measurement with a simplified system that is easy for people to understand.

    - Measure knowledge use rather than participation in the process or consequences.

    - Focus on measuring what is important and influential rather than what is easy to measure.

    - Avoid waiting for a perfect measurement system before making decisions.

    - Encourage a proactive approach to measurement, emphasizing its importance in correlation with knowledge management activities and outputs.

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