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How is the Government Doing in Knowledge Management?

Originally published June 12, 2007

As has been the case for the past eight years, the E-Gov Knowledge Management Conference held every April presents the opportunity to conduct a survey of the participants in relation to their enterprises’ involvement in knowledge management. This year was no exception. The event, held at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center from April 3-5, was attended by several hundred participants representing knowledge management practitioners from the public sector at large, but primarily from the federal government.

The survey respondents are not a scientifically representative sample of government, but the results do provide us with some valuable anecdotal insights as to what is happening in knowledge management in that space.

First, who are the respondents? They are somewhat of a cross section of government, including the contractor personnel that support virtually every aspect of public sector activity today. Almost 75% of the survey response came from federal knowledge management practitioners. This was further broken down as follows: almost 48% from the civilian agencies (i.e., the Departments of State, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, etc.) and 26% from defense agencies (i.e., the Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.). The remaining quarter of the respondents represented private sector contractors, as well as state and local governments, and academia.

The questionnaire was very simple in order to make it easy for people to complete. It was one page with six questions. The first question we asked relates to length of involvement of their organization with knowledge management. This year shows a clear maturing of knowledge management (KM) in these agencies. On average, they have been doing knowledge management for about four and a half years, and the percentage that has been involved with KM for more than four years is 38%. To put this in perspective, in the 2002 survey, agencies involved in KM for less than two years outnumbered those that had been at it for more than four years by a ratio of more than six to one. In 2007, that ratio has been reversed, and we see approximately three times more agencies involved in KM for more than four years versus those that have had an initiative in place for less than two years.

The stage of their initiative, as one would surmise, is also changing. We asked respondents to indicate their organization’s knowledge management stage and gave them the opportunity to check the following categories: considering, planning, designing, implementing, deploying or production. Survey respondents were allowed to mark all that applied if more than one initiative was indicated.

As one would imagine, there has been a clear shift to the right in this distribution with the percent indicating that they had an initiative in full production mode this year (2007) being almost three times the number of the equivalent response five years ago (2002).

Lastly, we wanted to identify exactly what they are doing. Clearly, what they are doing is also changing. While we provided a laundry list for respondents to choose from and mark as many as apply – communities of practice, document management, storytelling, data warehousing and data mining, portals, e-learning, customer relationship management (CRM), content management or collaboration – respondents were also allowed to specify “other” and provide a description of what they are doing.

In the past, we have seen a lot of involvement with portals. For a time, it seemed as though building portals was the primordial activity for knowledge management practitioners in government. With a maturing environment, we have now seen a substantial shift. While portals are still high, collaboration is the most frequently cited activity, and communities of practice, content management and document management are also very frequently mentioned.

Data warehousing seems to be back in vogue after what appeared to be a decline last year, but customer relationship management (CRM) – which in government I like to refer to as ZRM (citizen relationship management) – appears to be in a steady decline over the last few years and is now mentioned by a scant 1% of respondents.

This survey, together with the other general activities of the conference, provided us with a rather encouraging picture of the state of knowledge management in the federal government. Given the challenges we face as a nation, this is very good – because there has never been a time when we need it more than now.

  • 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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