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An Important Benchmark for Federal Knowledge Management

Originally published August 18, 2009

Knowledge management (KM) continues its march “inside the Beltway,” and on April 28-29 an important benchmark was reached for the discipline: We held the tenth consecutive annual knowledge management conference in Washington, D.C.

The first event in the series was held in the spring of 2000 by a brand new organization called E-Gov that was looking for emerging technologies, disciplines and themes of interest to the federal government around which to organize educational events. It was an intriguing undertaking, but no one had a clue whether this was going to fly or not. I was invited to put together and chair that first event, and we formed an advisory board to help bring the program to fruition. It was a successful start, and the conferences have continued strong ever since. In effect, this event – now officially the 1105 Knowledge Management Conference – has become the premier forum for knowledge management in the public sector.

For the last ten years, this conference has been the place where one comes to engage the future in government knowledge management. Knowledge management is the key discipline that enterprises must practice if they are to survive in a time of uncertainty, complexity and change. And these have certainly been times of uncertainty, complexity and change.

From the beginning, the most relevant KM tools and techniques have been introduced, discussed, viewed and reviewed to government practitioners at this event. We launched the discussion on collaboration tools, virtual communities, citizen-centric portals, capturing tacit knowledge, managing unstructured data and the importance of storytelling as far back as the year 2000. We started talking about social networks, knowledge organizations and advanced search tools in 2001. We were addressing the need for integrating knowledge management and web services in 2003, as well as the need for new taxonomies (folksonomies) and the use of KM for measuring performance. We were presenting and exhibiting wikis, blogs and social networking sites half a dozen years ago.

There was always a tutorial section, where half-day in-depth sessions were held and where many feds received their first education on portals, communities of practice, business intelligence, search engines or just simply knowledge management.

The format became fairly standard. There were three tracks organized around 1) Management and governance of knowledge management; 2) KM case studies and applications relevant to government; and 3) KM tools and techniques. In ten years, these tracks have seen an impressive parade of experts present their piece of the KM puzzle, and many newbies gain insights to spawn fresh initiatives at other agencies.

The exhibits were pronounced Knowledge Management Labs where one went to get a firsthand look at products and solutions. Demos were performed on demand by the main suppliers, and you could grill them to your heart’s content in relation to their offerings. Virtually everyone in knowledge management has exhibited at some point or another. The list includes the giants, like Google, Oracle, Microsoft, Verizon, Cisco and IBM and move down through a veritable who’s who of business intelligence and knowledge management. Some of them have since disappeared or have been acquired by other firms, but a sampling evokes somewhat of the march of history through the battlefields of the KM marketplace:  Cognos, Business Objects, MicroStrategy Autonomy, Blackboard, Vivisimo, Hummingbird, Informatica, Tomoye, Concept Searching, Elsevier, SER, Interwoven, Fig Leaf Software, Mark Logic, TIBCO , Vignette, Convera, Factiva, Inxight, Ascential, First Logic, Stratify, MetaCarta, Trillium, Hyperion, Teradata, Attensity, and many others.

The Program Advisory Boards were always a critical success factor, and over the years they have included key players such as: the CKOs of the Army, Navy, GSA, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard; the CIO of the CIA and the Brookings Institution; other senior executives, as well as representatives from all the top KM vendors.

Keynote speakers featured over the years included the luminaries in knowledge management, as expected. Larry Prusak, Tom Stewart, Nancy Dixon, Steve Denning, Gary Klein, Debra Amidon and many others imparted their words of wisdom. But key federal executives also provided a sense of direction to the participants. We heard from agency heads, federal CIOs, CKOs and even the Comptroller General explain how they were planning to bring the future nearer through knowledge management.

Two important books that pioneered the early literature on KM in the public sector were birthed by the conferences: Knowledge Management: the Catalyst for E-Government and Building Knowledge Management Environments for Electronic Government. Both of these were co-edited by Alex Bennet (then Chief Knowledge Officer of the Navy), Shereen Remez (then Chief Knowledge Officer of GSA and the first CKO in the federal government) and me.

Lastly, we always conduct a survey (a process that began with the very first conference) in an attempt to learn what the agencies are doing in knowledge management. It gave us a glimpse, even if imperfect, as to what was happening in KM “inside the Beltway.” We’ve tried to maintain consistency over the years by using the exact same six questions dealing with aspects such as the length of their organization’s involvement with knowledge management, the stage of their KM initiatives and the disciplines concerned. Respondents are also asked for comments and new ideas on how to advance knowledge management in the federal government. Readers of my BeyeNETWORK articles know that we report on the results of this survey every year, and it informs the government and the marketplace as to the state of knowledge management in the public sector.

Who comes to these conferences? Government employees, contractors supporting government, academics, journalists and other interested parties. They come primarily from the federal agencies but also from state, local and foreign governments. Over the years, attendees have come from a large number of states and also other countries – Canada, the U.K., Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Brazil, Barbados, Norway, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dubai, Germany, Israel, Japan, Nepal, Turkey, Russia and Romania.

In short, the tenth knowledge management conference is now history. Let us see what happens as we launch it into its second decade.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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