Book Review: “The New Edge In Knowledge”


The New Edge In Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing The Way We Do Business


by Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert, APQC (

2011 John Wiley & Sons, USA

236 pages; 11 chapters, 4 case studies


28 April, 2011: Review by Madanmohan Rao

(see my other book reviews at




The American Productivity and Quality Centre (APQC) has been benchmarking knowledge management (KM) initiatives for almost 20 years and will be holding its 16th annual Knowledge Management Conference next month. This book’s co-authors Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert are prolific writers and speakers (eg. see my review of “The Executive Role in Knowledge Management” (


I attended the eighth annual KM conference of APQC in 2003 (, and my 2004 book “KM Tools and Techniques” includes a chapter by APQC: “Building a Knowledge-sharing Network: Plan, Design, Execute… Reap?” (


The co-authors do a good job of culling key learnings in KM over the past two decades, while also identifying emerging challenges and opportunities. The book begins by addressing KM’s “new playing field” – Enterprise 2.0 tools, ubiquitous mobile devices, retiring baby-boomers, and incoming digital natives.


The book draws on in-depth case studies of KM in ConocoPhillips, Fluor, IBM and MITRE (all headquartered in the US), and also has inputs from organisations outside the US such as SAP, Research in Motion, Petrobras and Singapore Armed Forces. (My next book on KM in the public sector and government includes a case study of Singapore Armed Forces.)


The material is solidly focused on making a business case for KM, ranging from strategy and governance to tools and metrics. “KM was born to address the teachable moment,” the co-authors begin. Practitioners and business leaders should begin (or re-assess) their KM journey by identifying the competitive value of their knowledge, its innovative and customer contributions, and how it will ensure business success. This will involve three kinds of knowledge maps: enterprise, cross-functional and process-explicit.


APQC’s five Levels of KM Maturity are as follows: Initiate (awareness), Develop (involvement), Standardise (alignment), Optimise (outcomes) and Innovate (improvement). These should be applied not just to IT and content management but culture and communication as well. Each level in turn has different outcome measures: activity, process efficiency and business performance.


Depending on level of human interaction and tacit nature of knowledge, the co-authors classify KM approaches into four categories: self-service, lessons learned, communities, and best-practice transfer. In addition to proven KM approaches such as CoPs and best practices, emerging approaches such as social computing promise to democratise relationships and content.


Social computing decreases content publishing time, increases the number of publishers and consumers, improves ability to ‘chunk’ content, gives employees more control, and adds an element of fun. Cited examples include wikis in Siemens and Rockwell Collins, RSS alerts in Accenture, internal mashups in HP, blogs at Royal Dutch/Shell, social tagging in IBM, and micro-blogging at MITRE (via its own tool TWITRE).


The spread of mobile devices requires us to make sure that enterprise knowledge can be brief, be there and be quick. “Being there at the teachable moment and speed of response is a direct predictor of satisfaction and participation in KM approaches,” the co-authors advise.


Knowledge managers should try to imitate what works in consumer social media, but also observe what really happens in the enterprise. The key is to mix communication and education without sidetracking into frivolity, and find a balance between security and flexibility.


The majority of global MNCs initially spent well over US$1 million to implement their first KM program. Majority costs are for people, followed by technology. Examples are provided of funding and sponsorship models for KM in Shell, Schlumberger and Fluor.


The chapter on knowledge leadership is superb, and identifies 10 categories of knowledge champions: progressive, investigative, all-for-one, trusted, methodical, visionary, implementation, observant, innovative and follower-centric. The treatment of the importance of fun in knowledge work is most welcome and refreshing.


“KM is not static. What keeps it exciting and fresh are the way KM professionals respond to the cultural forces swirling around us,” according to the co-authors.


“Your KM program will demand a lot. You will need stamina and persistence, steadfast conviction of your beliefs on what will work and the courage to say so, and change management and communication skills so employees will listen,” the co-authors conclude.


In sum, this book is a terrific resource for organisations launching their KM initiatives — as well as for those in intermediate stages to re-calibrate their approaches, and those in advanced stages to reach for industry leadership. Also check out the book’s Web site for a wealth of resources:




Madanmohan Rao is editor of five book series including “The KM Chronicles”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>