The vendors at LegalTech 2008 had lots of cool tech toys to sell that purported to solve a host of problems, but knowledge management practitioners speaking at the KM Track sessions told tales of incomplete solutions and dissatisfied users. Why the gap?
There's probably not just one comprehensive answer to that question, but several partial answers. In part, the gap results from differences between how an application works in the vendor's sterile development environment versus how it works in the rough and tumble of the purchasing organization. Very few vendors can fully anticipate user needs. (Unfortunately, not all vendors are willing to work with purchasers to make the incremental changes that move a product from adequate to superior.) In part, the gap is caused by misfires during the planning and implementation by the purchaser. We're only human so we make mistakes. And technology and KM professionals within an organization are almost as susceptible as vendors to the tendency to misunderstand user needs.
However, there are two larger problems that often contribute to user dissatisfaction. The first is the perennial problem of escalating expectations: you deliver an improvement and become an instant hero. Three minutes later, your users now consider the innovation old hat and are looking for more. In this environment, how on earth do you ever achieve lasting user satisfaction?
The other significant challenge is our tendency to search for the KM silver bullet: that killer app that will solve a host of problems and justify a growing investment in KM. In the search for this holy grail, vendors, information technology experts and KM professionals over promise and under deliver. We try to solve too many problems with a single tool. And the bigger the tool, the harder it falls.
The problem of incomplete tech solutions is one that vendors, IT specialists and KM professionals are going to have to tackle together. Without better cooperation among these groups, user needs will not be met adequately. And when the user is dissatisfied, it is unlikely that anyone will be sending bouquets to the knowledge manager who initiated the deficient technology project.