How KM is migrating from Big Companies to SMEs

So far, Knowledge Management has largely been a Big Company game, but this is changing.

This is another conclusion from the Knoco Knowledge Management survey, and is neatly illustrated in the bar chart shown here. The survey was conducted in 2 waves – 204 and 2017, and received submissions form over 700 KM professionals world-wide.

Among the data collected through the survey was a subjective assessment of the maturity of knowledge management, described as “We are investigating KM but have not yet started”, “We are in the early stages of introducing KM”, “We are well in progress with KM”, and “KM is embedded in the way we work”.

The picture above shows how this maturity level varies with company size.

It is clear that there is a very close link between size and maturity, and the larger organisations are the most mature. Knowledge Management has historically been a big-company activity, and early starters in KM were mostly the large multinationals. These companies are therefore the most mature.

In the plot below, we look at the link between company size and the number of years the company has been doing KM.

Again we can see a clear link – the largest organisations are the ones that have been doing KM the longest (over a decade on average) while the SMEs have been doing it for a much shorter time (less than 5 years).

The third bit of information is to look at the relative numbers of small, medium and big companies answering the survey.

So the messages from these graphs are as follows:

  • The larger companies have been doing KM for longer;
  • The larger companies are more mature in KM;
  • However there are potentially many more medium sized companies getting involved in KM. 
For example, of the 128 companies in the survey with around 1000 staff (graph 3), 60 of these  (47%) are in the early stages of KM (graph 1). That’s more than the total number of organisations in the survey with 100,000 staff.   So the smaller companies are catching up, and the trends shown here represent Knowledge Management spreading from the large organisations to the medium sized and smaller companies.

KM has been a big company game – now the medium sized organisations are catching up. 

For as assessment of your own KM maturity, use our quick online survey or book a detailed assessment.

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Bigger communities of practice are more effective, data shows

The bigger a community of practice is, the more value it delivers. At least according to our KM surveys. 

Knoco conducted two major surveys of knowledge management programs in 2014 and 2017, collecting in total more than 700 results.

As part of the survey, participants were asked whether Communities of Practice (CoPs) formed part of their KM approach. Over 250 people then continued to answer supplementary questions about their CoPs. (this was an optional section and not all of the people running CoPs took the option)

One of these questions covered the average size of CoPs in terms of teh number of members, and another was a subjective assessment (marks out of 5) of Community effectiveness in delivering value. 
From the plot shown here, there is a very close link between CoP size and perceived CoP effectiveness. Larger is better, and the largest CoPs were ranked as the most effective. There seems to be a jump in effectiveness between 100 and 500 members, which may represent “critical mass”

This is not to say that smaller CoPs don’t add value, but respondents marked these are less effective.

As you might expect, the larger CoPs are found in the bigger organisations, confirmed by the plot below of average CoP size v organisation size. The large organisations, with CoPs of more than 100 members, are where CoPs were deemed the most effective at delivering value.

However the survey also showed that the majority of CoPs are small – the modal size being 10 people, the median 50 and the mean 250 (see plot below).

There are a lot of organisations out there with very small Communities of Practice, delivering disappointing results. If this is your organisation, with many small CoPs, then consider if possible amalgamating them, as Bigger seems to be Better.

Go here for more details of the survey results, and how to ask for a free copy.

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New survey results on planned usage of the ISO KM standard

Last week I launched an online survey of planned uses for the new ISO KM standard: ISO 30401:2018. Here are the results of that survey. 

The survey was announced on this blog, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn (where it was shared by many people). 75 people answered the survey, which seems like a large enough dataset to be representative. The results are shown above, and in the table below.

Response Number
Buy a copy as a useful guide to KM development 20
Self-audit compliance against the standard 17
No plans to engage with it 14
I didn’t even know there was an ISO KM standard 12
Seek external audit of compliance against the standard 5
Bought a copy to be able to advise clients aiming for it. 1
Bought a copy. Now thinking of how could I use THAT… 1
Hasn’t thought about it in a while but now thinking we should use! 1
If I can access through the library I would look at it but I can’t afford to purchase a copy 1
Use it as a communications tool for senior stakeholders to get buy in for a “serious” approach to KM 1
Utilize audit group internally 1
Need to understand it better before I decide whether I need to consider it relevant in my market 1

Over half of the respondents (42 out of 45) plan to use the survey in some way or another, as a useful guide (27%), as a tool for self-audit (23%) or as a tool for external audit (7%).
14 respondents (19%) do not plan to engage with the standard at all. 
Almost as many (12 respondents, 16%) were unaware that it exists. 
The remaining individual responses vary
  • Three of them are effectively “don’t know” responses
  • One is “I can’t afford it”, which you could say equates to not planning to engage with it, for reasons of expense. 
  • One is “utilise audit group” which I suspect is another vote for internal/self-audit
  • One is a KM consultant planning to use it with clients
  • And the final one is interesting – planning to use the standard as a mechanism to engage senior managers. 
If we eliminate the “Don’t know” answers and the “Unaware” answers, and reassign “can’t afford it” and “utilise audit group” as discussed above, then we have the following stats:
  • 60 people knew about the standard and had a view on its use
  • 45 of these (75%) planned to use the standard in some way (as a guide, for internal or external audit, for communication with stakeholders or for supporting clients)
  • 15 (25%) said they had no plans to use it

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Why buying more technology will not solve your KM issues

Technology is not the main issue in Knowledge Management today, according to available data.

Results from the free Knoco online survey

Here in Knoco we have been taking the pulse of Knowledge Management for many years, through a number of mechanisms, one of which is a free online survey, available here. To date (June 2019) nearly 500 people have taken this survey, which shows that Technology is being the strongest and most mature of all the enabling factors of KM, as shown in the graph attached.

The survey consists of ten “maturity” factors, self-scored by the respondent. It is a “quick and dirty” approach to giving a first pass view of  where you are in terms of KM, and where your relative strengths and weaknesses are.

So what are the conclusions for you, the knowledge manager?

  • Firstly, that most companies have much of the technology they need already. Technology as a factor scores more highly than any other.  If you are looking to improve your Knowledge Management results, then just buying more technology is probably not going to help.
  • Secondly, most companies need to focus on Governance. This is the weakest area and therefore the area that generally needs most attention and which will deliver the best return on effort.
  • Thirdly, many organisations need to focus on aligning KM with the needs of the business. This is the second weakest area.  5 years ago it was the third weakest, but it seems to have gotten worse over the years. 
  • Finally most companies need to focus on KM roles. This is the third weakest element and also generally needs serious attention.
If you want to make the next step forwards on your Knowledge Management journey, then the survey results show that in most cases you would be better to work on Governance, Business alignment, and Roles than on acquiring more Technology.

Buying more technology without addressing these three areas will be money down the drain. 

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How to protect your KM program against the risk of internal reorganization

Did you know that the biggest risk to your Knowledge management program is internal reorganisation? Here is how to protect against this risk.

The graph above is taken from our Knowledge Management survey – a survey of over 700 kmers round the world. Some of these people had been in charge of KM programs that had folded, and we wanted to know, in these cases, what the reasons had been for the abandonment of Knowledge Management.

The most common reason for abandoning KM was Internal Reorganisation.

The Knowledge manager found themselves reporting to a new boss, a new CEO or new management, who were not supporters of the KM program, and the “plug was pulled”.

This sort of reorganisation can happen to any of us at any time. You need to make your KM program reorganisation-proof.  Here’s how, in easy steps.

1) From the start make sure your Knowledge Management program is focused on delivering real business needs and objectives. Read this blog post. Get this business-focus into your Knowledge Management strategy, and get the strategy signed off by senior management. Read this blog post as well.

2) Have some idea of the size of the prize. Value your KM program – find out what it would be worth to the business if all staff had access to the knowledge they needed to make their key decisions. Communicate this value widely.

3) Conduct some early proof of concept exercises. Prove that KM works in your context, and get early endorsement (ideally on camera) from your business customers. 

4) Conduct some business-led pilots, designed to deliver measurable benefit. Get agreement from senior managers before-hand that if the pilots are successful and add enough value, KM will be endorsed from on high as “required behaviour” 

5) Embed KM roles into the organigram, KM processes into the high-level operational processes, and KM technology into the technology suite. Weave KM so tightly into the fabric of the organisation that it can’t be unwoven. 

6) Present KM widely to the external world. Make your company famous for KM.  Get into a position where abandoning KM would be an embarrassment.

Do all these, and you will have the argument, the evidence and the momentum to survive any but the most extreme internal reorganisation.

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The relative maturity of KM in various industries

One of the interesting results from our 2014 and 2017 surveys of KM was to compare KM maturity against different industries.

Our Knowledge management surveys in 2014 and 2017, responded to by over 700 knowledge managers world wide, asked (among many other things) about KM maturity, in two ways:

  1. A question “how long has your organisation been doing KM – please select the closest option” with the following options: 
    • 05 years
    • 1 year
    • 2 years
    • 4 years
    • 8 years
    • 16 years
    • 32 years
    • don’t know
  2. A question “how mature is your KM program”, with the following answers;
    • we do not intend to start KM
    • we are investigating KM but have not started
    • we are in the early stages of introducing KM
    • we are well in progress with KM
    • KM is embedded in the way we work
    • we tried KM and have given up

We also asked the respondents to identify which industry sector their organisation worked in.

Cross plotting these results allowed us to measure the relative maturity of different industry sectors.

1) Length of time.

The average length of time identified by respondents in different industry sectors is shown in the Table below. This suggests that the Legal, Construction, Oil and Gas, Consulting and Military sectors have the longest KM history, with Education and Public Health at the bottom of the list.

Organisation type
Average years KM experience
Legal Services
Construction and Engineering
Oil and Gas
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
Public sector – military and emergency
Non-profit – aid and development
Public sector – government admin
Public sector – other
Administrative and Support Services
Electricity, Gas Supply, Water and Waste Services
Financial and Insurance Services
Information Media and Telecommunications
Transport, Postal and Warehousing
Other Services
Public sector – health
Education and Training

2) Maturity levels

The percentage of responses identifying different maturity levels for the different sectors is shown in the chart below (for example, on the top bar, about 6% of respondents from the legal sector said their organisation was “investigating” KM, 24% said they were “in the early stages” and so on). The industry sectors are shown below in order of maturity. The number of responses for each sector varies from 12 to 110, as any sectors with 10 responses or fewer was not included in the graph.
Again, Legal, Oil and Gas, Construction and Consulting (Professional Services) are at the top in terms of maturity, joined by the Non-Profits. Education and Training is still at the bottom of the list.  


The results of the table and the graph above can give us some idea of the relative maturity of KM in various industry sectors.

Those sectors who have been doing KM the longest, and who are most mature in KM terms, include

  • The legal sector
  • Oil and Gas
  • Construction and Engineering
  • Professional services firms
  • The Military
  • Some of the non-profits (who have not been doing it for long, but who seem to have matured quickly).
Those sectors who have been doing KM for the shortest time, and who are least mature in KM terms, include
  • Education and Training
  • Manufacturing
  • Other services
  • Financial and Insurance

If you want a copy of the complete survey report, please fill in the form on this page

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How long does a Knowledge Management career last?

KM careers last on average 6.3 years, or else become semi-permanent.

For very many years, on Linked-In, I have been seeking connections with Knowledge Managers from around the world, in an attempt to understand the global KM industry a bit better. Recently I have noticed that many of these connections no longer work in KM, so I decided to do a quick survey to see how long an average KM career lasts.

I started working through my Linked-In contacts in alphabetical order, to determine

  • If they no longer worked in KM, how long their career in KM had lasted (taken as the length of time they had held a job with “Knowledge” in the job title, or
  • If they still worked in KM, how long their KM career has lasted to date.
I chose the first 40 people in each category, and the results are shown below.

For those who are no longer working in KM, the average length of a KM career was 6.3 years, and the modal length (most common) was between 4 and 6 years. There is a “hump” of between 0 to 8 years, and a “tail” up to 18 years.

For those still working in KM at the time of survey, the average length of career was 9.5 years, with a Mode of between 10 and 12 years. There were a number of responses – a “mini hump” on the graph between 0 and 6 years, and some of these might be people in a short term KM career who have not yet moved on, but we have no way of knowing. But it certainly seems to be that if you make it to 10 years or so, your career will continue.

In my data set there were more people still in KM that had left it. I counted 50 people still working in KM before I reached the 40th that had left the career.

So although I am not a statistician it seems as if we can conclude 2 things from these figures;

  • Many people have a short-ish career in KM, which lasts about 6 years 
  • About as many people have a long career in KM, which lasts about 10 years or more.

Please note I did not analyse job types, or fields of industry – this was a simple (if time-consuming) exercise of looking at job titles and length of employment.

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How the perception of KM barriers changes as KM develops

As our  KM programs develop, our perception of the main barriers and enablers change

Our Knowledge management surveys in 2014 and 2017, responded to by over 700 knowledge managers world wide, addressed (among many other things) the issues of barriers and enablers to KM programs. You can see the results in an earlier blog post “KM’s biggest barriers and enablers – new evidence“.

Recently I experimented with crossplotting these barriers and enablers against the length of time the respondent’s organisation had been doing KM, to see if the perception of these barriers and enablers change over time. Results are shown below.

These graphs show the percentage of respondents, for each length of time doing KM (half a year, 1 year, 2,4,8 and 16 years) choose each of the barriers and enablers as “the most important”.

Some of the key results are as follows:

  • “Senior management support” grows as a perceived barrier as time goes by
  • “Senior management support” decreases as a perceived enabler as time goes by
  • “Lack of KM roles” and “Lack of defined KM approach) decrease as barriers over time, presumably as these are introduced, and “accountability and roles” develops as an enabler over time
  • “Cultural issues” do not really change very much in their perception as a barrier over time, but grow in importance as an enabler, presumably as an enabling culture is developed.
  • The issue of incentives is quite minor in importance on both graphs, but the lack of incentives grows as a barrier over time
The most interesting result for me is the way that senior management support becomes perceived as more of an important barrier and less on an enabler. This either could be the issue of maintaining senior interest in KM as time goes by, or it could be that KM reaches the attention of seniors over time, and they become more influential in its development.

Certainly the conclusion is that you cannot assume long term senior support for KM, but need to work on this continually, as over time it can become significantly more of an issue.

Contact us if you would like a copy of the survey report

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More data on the global KM market?

Here is some more data on the global interest in KM. The question is, how we interpret this data.

I am always looking for data on the state of the KM market, as a counter to the people who tell us “KM is dead”, or “KM is all about AI nowadays”, based on their personal hunches. 
Here are some more potential datapoints, but it may be difficult to interpret them.
A couple of weeks ago Knoco opened the results of our Knowledge Management survey to the public, and I thought it would be interesting to see where the demand for this survey came from. So after the 100th copy had been ordered, I did a quick review to see where these orders came from.
The results are shown above.
  • 46 requests from the USA/Canada
  • 23 from Europe
  • 10 from Africa
  • 8 from Asia
  • 6 from Australasia
  • 5 from Middle east and North Africa
  • 1 from S America.
These results, dominated by the US and Europe, could just reflect the readership of this blog, and the fact that the blog is an English-language blog.
But see how much the American requests come from their legal market, and how much the African requests from the non-commercial (public and development) sector. There’s something else at work here. Let’s look at these results through a different lens – that of industry (below).

Here we see
  • 29 requests from commercial organisations excluding legal
  • 18 from non commercial (public sector, aid and development)
  • 36 from the legal industry
  • 8 from students
  • 9 from consultants

These results are less likely to be biased by the readership of this blog, because we are no looking at geography.

But geography comes into this as well – look how the legal requests almost all come from the US, and how half the public/development sector requests from from Africa.

Requests from other sectors are pretty well spread across the regions.


If (and it is a big if) these requests represent the state of the global interest in KM, then there is

  • An interest in KM in commercial firms across the world
  • A large interest in KM in US legal firms
  • An interest from development and public sector organisations, which is best developed in Africa
The caveat, of course, is that the distribution of the announcement of the release of this survey may not represent the global market, and that the results are skewed by the way the announcement was forwarded. Perhaps a community of US legal KM folk circulated the announcement?
I will gather more data over time, and refine the picture.

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Knowledge Management Survey report – now free access

We have decided to open the results of our KM Survey to the public.

In April 2014, and again in April 2017, Knoco Ltd conducted a global survey of Knowledge management activity and trends. Participation was free and confidential, and all participants received a free Knowledge Management Survey report. Over 700 people have taken part in the surveys; mostly individuals leading Knowledge Management activities or members of Knowledge Management teams. A combined Knowledge Management Survey report is now available to interested parties.

The main outputs from the report are listed below, and the survey report contains 45 charts and 29 tables of data.  You can order a copy here – all we ask for in return is to know who you are, and what use you plan to make of the survey.

We have put a vast amount of work into the report, we are really proud of it, and we are very interested in what people make of it and how they use it. So please fill in the order form online, and we will mail you a copy within a day or two.

Survey contents include items such as:

  • The maturity of KM across the world, across business sectors, and by company size. 
  • The length of time it takes to reach KM maturity. 
  • The main reasons why people give up on KM. 
  • Typical KM budgets and how they vary with company size. 
  • Typical KM team sizes and how they vary with company size. 
  • The skills within KM teams, and where they report. 
  • The focus areas, business drivers and strategies for KM across business sectors. 
  • The benefits delivered through KM, in dollar terms, and intangibles.
  • Business metrics impacted by KM. 
  • How KM is embedded, and the impact on value. 
  • KM technologies, their function, use and value. 
  • Enterprise content management. 
  • KM processes, their function, use and value. 
  • The main KM governance elements in use, and how these vary with KM maturity. 
  • The most common barriers and enablers for KM. 
  • The effectiveness of various KM metrics and incentives. 
  • The main cultural isues and where they prevail. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of Best Practice approaches, how they work, what value they add. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of Lesson learned approaches, how they work, what value they add. 
  • The popularity and effectiveness of CoP approaches, how they work, what value they add.

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