What’s the best reporting line for KM?

Where is the best place for Knowledge Management in an organisation?

This is a common question in the early stages of a Knowledge Management implementation program.

It also sometimes arises later on in the journey, for example; if you start KM with a temporary task force reporting at a high level, then when KM becomes operational you need to find an organisational home for the ongoing KM support team.

The answer to the question is, there is no generic “best place”.  KM can report anywhere.

First let’s look at where KM actually does report. The figures below are from 795 responses to our global KM surveys

reporting line number percent
Separate reporting line to senior management 157 20%
Operations 82 10%
Information Technology 81 10%
Strategy 69 9%
Learning and development 52 7%
Human Resources 46 6%
R&D 35 4%
Business improvement 31 4%
Innovation 25 3%
Projects 24 3%
Quality 16 2%
Sales and Marketing 15 2%
Engineering 15 2%
Internal communications 11 1%
Legal 9 1%
Other (please specify) 127 16%

The most common reporting line is a separate line to senior management, which is typical in the early stages of KM. The second biggest category is the “Other” category, which includes categories such as these:
Science Group; volunteers and strategy; Fire & Incident Management ; Finance; Planning and evaluation ; Innovation and academic development; Standards and studies; Dirección de Estudios; Knowledge and Information Services; Education Research; Business Systems; Strategy, innovation and risk management; Policy analysis & Research; Corporate Services; Management Development Department; Quality and Operation department; HR and Engineering dept/division; Client Experience; Supply Chain; Customer Support; Corporate; Health and Wellbeing Division; Central Services – Information Management; Customer operations director;  Corporate Services; I answer to the Service Line Leader; Future Business; Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning; Corporate University; Distributed model – embedded within organizations; Sport Science and Medicine Director; Education and quality; HSE….; Consumer Market Insights and Business Intelligence teams ;  Directly to the Portfolio Management, KM and strategic projects team; Services; Information Technology + Business transformation program, “Data, Analytics, Planning and Monitoring” Section; Administration composed of HR, Procurement, Travel; Architecture; Business Analytics & Insights; Chief of Staff; Chief of Staff; Chief Operating Officer; Chief Technology Office; Combinations of IT (CIO), Business Improvement, and Operations; COO; Corporate Services and Strategy; Customer Experience; Development & Delivery; Digital; Digital technologies (IT, digital ventures and automation); Engagement and Insight; Finance; Gerencia Corporativa de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo; Global Business Services; hay equipos de gestion del conocimiento por sector … en HR hay gente que hace GC para learning, otros para HR services pero no son mas de 2 personas por equipo para toda una region; In house University; Innovation Research & Knowledge Executive Directorate; Operational Support Services; Organización; organization development; Planificación; Policy and Planning; Programming: the department that is in charge of how the organization does its programs, the core work; Project management office; Reporting to Information Systems & Knowledge Management; Risk; Safety and Mission Assurance; Shared Services Organization; Socios Gerencia; Strategic Planning and Evaluation Department; System, Technology & Research; Technical Experts; Technology and Performance; transformation division; VP of Economics

So based on common practice, KM can report anywhere, and it probably should report in the place where it makes most sense – 
  1. where the knowledge issues will deliver the largest value, 
  2. where the business demand is greatest, and 
  3. where you have the most powerful advocacy.  
These three criteria are of course linked. When the knowledge issues are of high value, then business demand is greatest, and you will find the keenest advocates, both at senior level and at knowledge-worker level.
However here are some things to look out for in the various scenarios shown below.

Issues and risks

A separate reporting line directly to senior management is ideal in the early stages, but KM support will eventually need to be embedded somewhere, in a part of the organisation you know is going to survive in the long term. Being a separate item makes you vulnerable, even though it may initially give you high level access.
Reporting to strategy is an excellent option, as it keeps KM strategic. Maybe some of the tactical issues of KM might suffer, but I would rather lose the tactical aspects than the strategic aspects.
Reporting to operations is a very good option (or to Projects, in the case of a project-based organisation), as it avoids KM being seen as a support function, and keeps KM grounded in the operational needs of the firm. However remember the four legs on the KM table – People, Process, Technology and Governance? An operational focus may emphasise process over People and Technology. You will need to interface closely with HR and IT.
Reporting to IT is possible, but you have to take EXTREME care that KM does not become seen as a technology exercise, and that people, process and governance are equally well developed. You will need to interface closely with HR and Operations, but overall this is a risky choice. Also IT is a support function rather than an operational function, and for KM to report to IT moves it one step away from operations.
Reporting to HR or L&D is possible, but you have to take EXTREME care that KM does not become seen as a people issue, or another branch of training. Make sure that the technology, process and governance sides receive equal attention. You will need to interface closely with IT and Operations. Also HR is a support function rather than an operational function, and for KM to report to HR moves it one step away from operations.

KM can report almost anywhere, depending on operational need. You need to find the place in the organisation where it delivers most value, and has greatest advocacy. 

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