My response to Dave Snowden’s blog post on alternatives to the CKO:

Thought provoking and refreshing; rarely have found fresh thinking on this topic– we could have benefited greatly from your view over the past few years David as we struggled through our design work, which forced us to deal with these issues.

I came to some similar conclusions after years of R&D and thousands of discussions with organizations at the top, bottom, and in-between– might be of interest. We found that in most orgs the philosophy, process, and functions (intent of KM) need to be distributed, but each situation was different — at times radically different for pragmatic and necessary reasons (legal, security) — frankly causing the software architect some grief (me) until we over came the adaptability issue in an affordable manner (a recurring theme here and elsewhere).

Given that an enterprise or organization exists for a mission (albeit questionable at times), is a legal and economic entity, with management sometimes held accountable for policy and decisions, centralization of the CKO role is necessary. But like David suggests — we made a mistake even calling the module a CKO module — revealing the buzzword definition problem in KM circles — some took it the wrong way — did more damage than good in many cases. However, we were able to automate sufficient tasks that the centralized role is very much a part time position on the computing side, need not be conducted by a titled person (we know of a few dozen CKOs), and in many cases shouldn’t be– in some orgs that are so blessed to have capable leadership– I like the CEO taking that role as much as he/she is able. Again the need for adaptability, particularly in the digital work environment which is historically rigid– was a key.

The system design should include some centralization functions (in digital world or real– security, policy, legal, meritocracy), but also have a similar function enabling large business units, project team leaders, and last but certainly not least the individual, where most of the future value lives in modern organizations. From a KM perspective, dealing with how the org and individual personalization interact was among the most interesting of our design process.

I am agnostic on the revolving CKO issue, except that agree that whatever label one puts on it– everyone should be exposed to the learning organization philosophy — in order to convert that philosophy to reality however, we had to employ a deep systems approach to organizational design.

The primary challenges not only had to overcome the organizational challenges, but also the many — in some cases more difficult– in computing.

–allowing adaptability without needing to reprogram– essential for differentiality and affordability

–providing the ability to align interests between the individual/project/unit/ and org

–prevent empire building and all that comes with it — easier said than done

I worked on our system design for many years.. after two leading online learning networks. One key was interoperability between units and orgs, which required either a fairly predatory approach with entrenched vendors — very expensive integration, or adoption of ‘universal’ standards.

In the end I embraced the W3C standards for the semantic web– followed for years and they moved in the direction we needed to go, eventually providing most of the functionality we needed. Several start-ups embraced early and finally Oracle offered a major product, making it more doable — slowly but almost surely, adoption is occurring. Google just embraced a video standard for example.


An interesting related article by Jenny Zaino discusses two important benefits of a good semantic design– meritocracy, and crisis prevention.

Realize you are speaking organization and not only computational here, but given the intrusion of the beast into virtually every organization, unlike many in KM, I found these issues necessary to address in computing.

Thanks for the discussion – MM

Alternatives to the CKO continued…..

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