Paul Medley - Problem Solver

Technologies For Personal Knowledge Management

02/27/2009 10:57


Technologies for Personal Knowledge Management


"Technology is common in the domain of knowledge distribution, but it rarely enhances the process of knowledge use. Distribution delivers knowledge to the potential user's desktop but cannot dictate what he or she does with it thereafter. It would be interesting to envision technologies that help to manage personal knowledge as it applies to decisions and actions."
(Davenport T., Prusack L. - Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know - 1997)

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), the set of processes a knowledge worker needs to set up in order to get the best out of his knowledge during his/her daily activities, has often been considered as the missing block in most KM plans within knowledge intensive organisations, as Davenport and Prusack reckoned in their KM classic "Working Knowledge".

PKM is supported today by several different technological tools covering the whole range of knowledge processes. Almost seven years after the publication of "Working Knowledge", is the technology actually available to the knowledge workers able to fully embody Davenport and Prusack’s vision and to exploit personal knowledge within an empowered decision process?

Which processes, techniques and needs do we refer to then, when we talk about PKM?

Steve Barth, one of the main experts on the topic, has pointed out that:

"PKM involves a range of relatively simple and inexpensive techniques and tools that anyone can use to acquire, create and share knowledge, extend personal networks and collaborate with colleagues without having to rely on the technical or financial resources of the employer."

The same view is shared by many others who tend to equate PKM to PIM (Personal Information Management), so focusing on those activities that allow for a fast and effective access to information, and an efficient way to organize it.
This is of course the realm of tools, from the most innovative, often ill-supported open source projects, to the best-selling applications so common on every digital desktop.

Frand and Hixon tried to encompass techniques and tools into a general, more standardized knowledge acquisition process:

"PKM is a conceptual framework to organize and integrate information that we, as individuals, feel is important so that it becomes part of our personal knowledge base. It provides a strategy for transforming what might be random pieces of information into something that can be systematically applied and that expands our personal knowledge."

Their approach covers both the skills and technological aspects. First, one has to develop a mental map to depict the working knowledge. Second, an organisational structure needs to be created to facilitate the location of both personal and professional information. At the end, appropriate technologies are needed as organic/enabling tools to organise and extend the personal memory, as well as to synergise and process ideas for effective problem solving and decision making.

According to professor Paul A. Dorsey in fact, PKM has to be considered mainly as "a set a problem-solving skills that have both a logical or conceptual as well as physical or hands-on component."

The seven skills he identifies:

retrieving information
evaluating/assessing information
organizing information
analyzing information
presenting information
securing information
collaborating around information

entail a view totally shifted towards Information Management, only a starting point for any effective Knowledge Management practice.

This is a very limited view according to many KM experts like David Gurteen, who thinks that "like KM, the term PKM has been 'hijacked' to equate to technology and tools", or Denham Grey who sees PKM as "a paradox: knowledge [...] is socially constructed - it is not about organizing your thoughts, learning to use tools or developing individual competencies - it is about dialog, community and collaboration."

So, what is PKM really about?

In few words, we can say it is a framework designed by individuals for their own personal use. It involves skills that go beyond each individual’s technological competencies; it embraces personal habits and preferences more than any predefined and standardized activity aimed at organizing information; it goes towards social networking when thinking of the power of interactions as the main source to enrich our expertise and personal knowledge.

As Lilia Efimova (a keen KB member and SIG editor) pointed out, "personal KM is about being aware of conversations you engage in [...], relations that enable them, and ideas that you take from and bring into these conversations". PKM then "shifts responsibility for learning and knowledge sharing from the company to individuals, which is a challenge to both sides, and in this sense companies must create the conditions for PKM to emerge among knowledge workers."

Steve Barth also reckons that "the accusation that personal knowledge management is somehow antisocial or discounts the importance of collaborative learning and innovation is entirely inappropriate. The whole point is that collaborative work requires more of the individual - not less. And we are ill-equipped to handle those obligations and responsibilities."

The 'Personal' in PKM then applies to all the processes that involve the single individual as an agent, in parallel with the enhanced social-driven processes for which David Gurteen has coined the term IPKM (Inter-Personal Knowledge Management). In order to be effective both at personal and at organisational level, knowledge exploitation activities need to be supported by tools that make both the collection and the organisation and distribution of information seamless enough for the single individual to empower his/her knowledge creation, organisation and sharing activities.

In an attempt to compare the various PKM tools viewing at the classic KM processes, Eric Tsui has provided an effective map organised as a feature comparison matrix.
Starting from Tsui's analysis, the following tool categories are, in our opinion, those that can more appropriately be considered as supporting PKM processes:

tools that help searching through gigabytes of text by indexing local and networked drives. See for example "Onespace Professional" (Enfish) or "dtSearch Desktop" (dtsearch)

tools that consolidate results of searches performed by different engines like for example CNET ( or Copernic 2000 (Copernic 2000)

Associative links:
online thesaurus, dictionaries or hyperlinks to web resources starting from any document, like for example "GuruNet One-Click" (GuruNet)

Unstructured information capturing:
tools that help supporting the re-organization and structuring of unstructured information and documents finding the hidden key within them. Examples in this category are the "Stratify Discovery System" (Stratify) or the "Decision Intelligence Platform" (APR Smart Logic)

Concept/Mind mapping:
visualization tools that help organizing and connecting different chunks of information, supporting personal and collective brainstorming. Among others "MindManager" (MindJet
) and PersonalBrain (TheBrain Technologies) are to be mentioned.

E-Mail management, analysis and Unified Messaging:
beyond simple e-mail clients, all those applications that enhance and integrate different communications systems, facing problems liking message overload or contact management.

Voice Recognition:
"voice-driven" interfaces to be applied to a wide range of PKM tools. "Dragon Naturally Speaking" and "IBM Via Voice" are the main products belonging to this category.

A bridge towards the social-driven activities can then be built through another important "Search tools" category:

People/Expert finding:
social networking tools that allow searching for experts or like-minds often enhancing the connections that stem from personal document repositories. Due to its inner nature, these are often web-based tools like the "Spoke Network" (Spoke) or the "Friendster Community" (Friendster) just to name a few.

This is an incomplete list to be considered as just a starting point for further discussions on the topic.

We do think PKM is the cornerstone for a new KM architecture, that goes "from content to connectivity, with social networking applications and expertise-finding and community-building processes taking over in priority from the populating and management of massive, just-in-case, context free repositories of documents, and from corporate content management to personal content management, with simple, intuitive tools, personalized processes and one-on-one personal effectiveness training taking over in priority from complex, one-size-fits-all intranet tools, portals, 'productivity' software, and undifferentiated training", as Dave Pollard has recently written in one of his essays.

Where to go from here:

Steve Barth's website

Frand and Hixon's "Personal Knowledge Management : Who, What, Why, When, Where, How?"

Paul Dorsey's "What is PKM?"

David Gurteen's "Opening Thoughts: Defining IPKM"

Denham Grey's "PKM" weblog post

Lilia Efimova's "My personal KM" weblog post

Steve Barth's "Three thousand communities of practice"
Eric Tsui's "Technologies for Personal and Peer-to-Peer KM"


Silverio Petruzzellis, Fulvio Iavernaro
Editors, Technology Newswire


Paul Medley

4820 Yelm Hwy SE Ste.B177
Lacey, WA 98503

(360) 489-2605

Search site



An emerging academic discipline and management process that addresses how people, workgroups, and organizations use knowledge principles, processes, technologies, and training to leverage intellectual capital by increasing knowledge flow, organizational learning, innovation, and performance 

Knowledge management caters to the critical issues of organizational adaptation, survival, and competence in the face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change. 


“Today’s KM processes are contingency planning for tomorrow’s decisions.”    
 - Alex Bennet, Chief Information Officer for Enterprise Integration for the Department of Navy


KM in a organization is concerned with strategy, processes and technologies to acquire, store, share and secure organizational understanding, insights and core distinctions.

Knowledge management gives priority to the way in which people construct and use knowledge.

Managing knowledge consists of deciding with whom to share, what is to be shared, how it is to be shared, and ultimately sharing and using it.


We can quibble endlessly over what makes "information" different from "knowledge," but the important point is that we should always be trying to add value to what we have by turning data into information and information into knowledge

Managing knowledge is ultimately everyone's job. Virtually every industry today is becoming knowledge-intensive. What your organization knows is clearly one of its only sustainable competitive advantages. 


Working with objects (data or information) is Information Management and working with people is Knowledge Management.




Do you remember this ?


The knowledge drain from the boomer retirement wave already has had some far-reaching consequences. As author David DeLong reports in his book, Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), NASA lost the plans for the Saturn 5 rocket, which was used to launch the lunar landing craft.  No one knows where the plans are. DeLong writes:

In an era of cost-cutting and downsizing, the engineers who designed the huge Saturn 5 rocket ... were encouraged to take early retirement from the space program. With them went years of experience and expertise about the design trade-offs that had been made in building the Saturn rockets.  Also lost were what appear to be the last set of critical blueprints for the Saturn booster, which was the only rocket ever built with enough thrust to launch a manned lunar payload. 


An article in Management Issues – September 2007 stated that research by online recruiter Monster suggests that a mere one in five American companies have a formal strategy in place to capture critical knowledge and experience from older employees approaching retirement and transfer this knowledge to newer employees.  To make matters worse, only 12 percent of human resource managers said that knowledge retention was seen as high priority within their organizations - despite the fact that a third of them acknowledge that 20 per cent or more of their workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next few years. 

The study suggests that while HR managers may recognize the looming issue of losing institutional knowledge due to retirement, many face barriers to establishing strategies and tactics that could help to pre-empt the problem.  The article further stated that concrete steps organizations can take to help mitigate the affects of brain drain include appointing a Chief Knowledge Officer responsible for organizational knowledge.  



Implementing programs to identify knowledge assets, sources, and offering knowledge-sharing incentives for employees and incorporate standards in performance reviews.  Employing other tactics including leveraging technology – using things like blogs and wikkis to enable employees to redistribute and access organizational knowledge.  There are many remedies, and one size does not fit all.  

Although the brain drain is a looming problem for employers, it also presents an excellent opportunity for innovative companies to position themselves for better competitive advantage. 


Paul Medley© 2010 All rights reserved.

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