KM for small businesses: more than just email
I've been involved in knowledge management for a long time. Knowledge management discussions usually assume that the organization is large. Said another way: these discussions assume that it's not necessary in small organizations. The people involved are sitting next to each other - asking a question involves turning around in their chair or walking to the office next door. As organizations grow, there is an innate need to be able to continue connecting with people, even when they aren't a shout away. Not only that, but we also generate lots and lots of information that we'd like to share with our colleagues, no matter where they are. For these organizations, KM has taken on many forms, almost always supported by some technology or another.
But what about small groups of people? Maybe it's a small business (or nonprofit) just getting off the ground, or a small business that is growing and adding people who don't see each other all the time. Maybe it's a business with no central office because "the office" is where the customers are. How do they keep in touch and continue conversations and ideas? They don't need special software do they?
The stand-by answer is email along with the phone and live meetings (coffee!). The primary "technology" is email and the personal computer of each individual contributor. Email discussions between a few people. Email documents back and forth. Emails to organize meetings. Email follow-ups to discussions. This all leads to very little coordination or useful historical recall when it comes to bringing more people into the discussion. Granted, most email interchanges can be happily forgotten once they are complete. But shouldn't there be better ways for people to actually communicate and get things done than via email?
This line of thinking came about in response to a recent question on a KM mailing list, where someone had been asked about options for a small consultancy. They are looking primarily for technology, but some of the things they want to support sound a lot like what KM has been talking about: finding and sharing information; tagging and categorizing the stuff; bounce ideas around (share and get comments); accessible from anywhere and any device.
So, what is out there that is easily accessible to small businesses?
[Photo: "Cafecillo" by Felipe De las Heras]
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