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How and why knowledge management systems fail

Knowledge Management

With more of us working across different locations and time zones, managing organizational knowledge is more important than ever. As a result, companies are investing heavily in tech. But why do so many knowledge management systems fail to achieve their objectives?

The real-world failure of knowledge management

We live and work in an information-rich world, so we use more and more software to help us keep on top of everything we need to know and everything we need to do. This means that important knowledge gets spread across an ever expanding array of different tools.

But tracking this information down eats into time that would otherwise be spent on productive and rewarding work.

In fact, a study by Qatalog and Cornell University found that:

  • 69% of knowledge workers say it’s time-consuming to find the information they need to do their jobs.
  • People are spending 59 minutes a day searching for information.
  • They’re interrupting an average of two colleagues five times a day to get the answers they need — increasing the pain for everyone.

Many organizations have recognized this problem and attempt to fix it by introducing knowledge management systems, in an attempt to bring order to the chaos. Unfortunately, all too often, those efforts fail. Research by BCG found that 70% of digital transformation initiatives fail to achieve targets and lead to sustainable change.

And 82% of the knowledge workers spending an hour a day trying to find information are already working with tools designed to improve connectivity.

The culprits: why do knowledge management systems fail?

So what’s going wrong?

A variety of factors are at play here, from tools and software to people-oriented issues. The most important factors are at the intersection of both these things.

Let’s look at five reasons why knowledge management systems fail:

1. It doesn’t scale

When knowledge management systems can’t scale up with the organization quickly enough, they become impossible to use. Perhaps you’ve started with a company wiki — something like Notion. This provides endless scope for customization, which initially sounds like a good thing. But as the business grows, more people start using it and adding information. They edit the structure with new categories and pages and, before you know it, you have an unwieldy solution that nobody can actually use.

2. No cohesion

Having competing solutions in different parts of the business will create information silos. Your customer service team collects user feedback in their own app, but nobody in the product or marketing teams can see it. This problem was also reflected in our research: 57% of people surveyed for the Qatalog and Cornell University study said they’re not sure different departments are using the same online apps, while 62% say it can be hard to figure out what others are working on.

3. Lack of strong and consistent leadership

Effective leadership is about empowering the team, communicating transparently, and providing ownership and accountability. Throwing a new system into the mix without these things is asking for trouble. How and why am I supposed to be using this new system all of a sudden? What’s in it for me? These are questions that will need to be anticipated.

To successfully implement a knowledge management system, you need to set people up for success from the outset and lead by example. This will get the flywheels in motion and establish value-driven methods and habits that are sustainable for the long-term. And fundamentally, it’s the leadership that forms the heart of an organization’s culture.

4. A weak documentation culture

If your organization sees documenting information as just another administrative overhead, it won’t happen. And without having a thriving documentation culture that values a coherent approach, people readily “go rogue.” In fact, 63% of people surveyed in our research said they don’t always use the recommended knowledge management tools.

5. Time-consuming and difficult processes

The success of many knowledge management systems often relies on people doing things they don’t really want to do. It adds extra tasks into the mix — with people having to remember to record data and document their processes as they run them.

While the long-term benefits of documentation are obvious, “extra tasks” is a tough sell for even the most dedicated workforce. Faced with more stuff to do, you risk the team abandoning the cause.

And even if you invest in great tech, strong leadership that sets clear expectations, and a working culture that genuinely values documenting knowledge, knowledge management will fail if your solution is hard to use. It often boils down to two problems:

  • It’s too time-consuming. When information is being created in various different places, bringing it all together demands time and effort. Our research found that 43% of people report spending too much time switching between online tools.
  • It’s boring and repetitive. Who wants to spend their time copy-pasting conversations from Slack to Teams? Or downloading documents from GDrive and uploading to Confluence? When people are busy, that stuff is the first to be dropped. Perhaps one reason why 49% of knowledge workers say they’re worried important information is being lost.

The result? Important updates don’t happen, and the knowledge base starts to lose its value. And the less useful it becomes, the less willing people are to invest time in updating it. It’s a negative spiral that eventually leads to complete system failure.

Natural knowledge management is the future

Something that we like to call ‘natural knowledge management’ is the key here. But what is natural knowledge management, and how is it different from what's gone before?

As we’ve outlined above, traditional knowledge management solutions often rely on information being copied from one place to another, with forced adoption, on top of all the other tools we’re already using to manage our work and collaborate.

Qatalog takes a completely new approach. It replaces a bunch of your existing tools, simplifies your tool stack, and brings your whole company together in one place. People collaborate, share updates, and make decisions on the platform itself.

This means knowledge is created, updated, and documented naturally, and the clear structure of Qatalog means it’s always in context, making it easy to find and retrieve. You never have to worry about where to add information because it’s already in the right place.

Book a call with our Customer Team to find out more about how Qatalog can help your team manage knowledge more effectively. Or sign up here for a free trial.

zachary-nickerson
WRITTEN BY
Zachary
Nickerson
Product Marketing Manager @ Qatalog
Zachary is a Product Marketer at Qatalog.
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