Can knowledge management move from “nice to have” to “must have?” Tying it to making money is one way. 

Supplying Labor To Meet Demand in the March 21st issue of Information Week is a must-read for knowledge managers. It begins by describing a system the US military uses to match the right people to open jobs:

“This [DOD] system reflects a new trend to manage the workforce much like a traditional supply chain, where assets are matched to specific orders in the most profitable way. Backing the trend: software and services that are much smarter than traditional labor-management and human-resources tools because they let businesses more effectively match employees’ expertise and knowledge to customers’ needs and deploy the right people in much the same way assets would be deployed in a supply chain.”

In the private sector, IBM is leading the charge with its “Workforce Management Initiative.” The company

built a taxonomy, or structure, that outlines internal and external skills and provides a minute-to-minute view of IBM’s labor-supply-chain activities. The system runs on IBM’s DB2 database and WebSphere business-integration software. ‘It catalogs skills, creating common descriptors around what people do, what their competencies are, what experiences and references they have, which goes beyond a basic job description,’ says Patrice Knight, VP of business transformation at IBM’s Integrated Supply Chain division.” (emphasis added)

The taxonomy of skills, combined with numerous other systems, allowed IBM to achieve a 3% to 5% increase in time consultants spent with clients and reduce expenses.

Large, multi-office, multi-practice law firms surely could benefit from better matching the needs of clients with their lawyers worldwide. Beyond the potential to boost billable hours, better matching would improve client service and professional development. Building expertise locators today is often difficult because lawyers typically don’t provide updated expertise profiles and software makes imperfect guesses. If law firms could better deploy lawyers through the approach described in the article, there would be a much bigger institional motivation to capture expertise accurately than exists today. And this approach would also require classifying matters into a taxonomy, which would also help on the KM front.

The article does not mention any off-the-shelf products that provide the functionality developed by IBM and the military but IBM plans to commercialize its offering.