If so few Mergers & Acquisitions are successful why is Knowledge Management so often ignored?

“The best year of my life as we tried to maximise the synergies…”

was how Chris Collison described the year following the largest industrial merger in the history of the oil industry. As one of the award winning KM team in BP the merger (acquisition) of Amoco some 20 years ago presented unique challenges and a great opportunity to demonstrate the real value inherent in Knowledge Management.

“We were faced with merging intranets, capitalising on the communities of practice both organisations had developed and the BP Connect system (which at that point had 20k employee profiles) proved invaluable in matching skills and people.”

Yet KM has barely featured in Mergers and Acquistions (M&A) transactions in the intervening two decades?

M&A activity shows no sign of abating as this recently published survey from Accenture demonstrates but perceived wisdom is that fewer than 25% of all transactions fail to realise the projected synergies.

A few weeks back I had the great pleasure of exploring this topic in more detail with 100 or so senior global legal professionals.

I’d been invited by the organisors, ALM (American Lawyer and Legal Week), to give the opening address to their annual European Strategic Technology Forum at a magnificent venue (Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees & SPA) on Lake Maggiore, Italy.

Testing a hypothesis

I began by drawing on Chapter 7 of “Navigating the Minefield” A Practical KM Companion”I felt that was not enough so ahead of the event I decided to test the findings in “Navigating…”.  I approached:

  • A leading expertise discovery organisation: surely it makes sense to try and locate then validate /compare expertise in the to be merged organisations? People are at the fulcrum of of any successful merger and key in the realisation of the synergies often cited as the rationale for the transaction.
  • A world leader in the use of social network analytics: as an acquiring organisation you’d want to know what’s behind an org. chart, who are the people that make it tick? Increasingly SNA is being used to see how strong networks are in a business.
  • A recently merged industrial group: when one is a leader (and award winner) in KM surely their KM team would have a role?
  • A previous winner of the prestigeous European Law Firm of the Year award: as an organisation who has invested heavily in KM and grown through acquisitions surely they woud have built KM into their due diligence and integration strategies?

Astonishing insights

Here’s what I discovered:

  1. The anticipated demand for expertise discovery systems from organisations engaged in M&A activity has failed to materialise. It seems organisations are not interested in knowing what they know and what they are getting by way of expertise.
  2. In very few instances and in retrospect only do organisations undertake in depth analysis of networks in either the acquired or acquiring organisation.
  3. The KM team in the merged entity had to work really hard to reestablish a position since one of the organisations had a KM function and the other did not. It was not involved prior to the merger but acting quickly was able to demonstrate value through facilitating aspects of the organisation’s integration plan.
  4. In an organisation which has invested in KM capability and where knowledge is the core asset (Law Firm) any new entrant (firm or lawyer) has as a matter of urgency to contribute to the organisation’s knowledge base.

Why KM is Ignored

A part of the senior management team of Sopheon PLC during the dot com boom I was tasked with overseeing the integration of many of the acquisitions it made. I worked closely with HR / Organisational Learning and Marcoms functions as well as Software Engineering and Product Development.  We’d made the strategic decision and then looked in depth at the target and it’s skill base but often that was from a savings and efficiency perspective. We had no formal KM function yet products had years of knowledge and expertise  embedded and we ran an extremely successful global knowledge network.

I fear many people in KM are not close enough to the seat of power and seen as a tactical resource (fixers not originators) rather than people who help develop and drive through strategic initiatives.

So how might we change that and get them a seat at the M&A table?

A blueprint for the future?

Some years ago I was retained by a prominent venture capital group to help with techncal and managerial due diligence on acquisitions and investments.  The model that a former colleague James Macfarlane and I developed looked at inter alia the culture of an organisation, it’s management style, who people went to for assistance and perhaps most importantly how it coped when the pressure was on.  We also looked at how it used what it had learned before and fed that into how it developed its products.

I realise now that much of what we were doing is what I’d expect a good Knowledge Manager to be able to do today on any M&A transaction. However tools and process are important so they will need to have a range of faciiltation and diagnostic techniques they can apply. The impending publication of the ISO KM Standards might be just one of those since it will require those who have signed up to it to evidence adherence to a set of principles that rather neatly pick up many of the indicators that were in mine and James’ original Due Diligence Model.

The Knowledge Manager’s M&A Checklist

Here’s a very rudimentary set of questions to be focusing on.

Watch this space: in the coming months I will be expanding on this.

And finally

I have been remiss in not keeping up on postings. However the last two months have been extraordinarily busy with an assignment (helping to embed KM into the workstream of an organisation undergoing transformation), speeches, working on CILIP’s Knowledge Manager Certification process, getting started on a new co-authored book and working with Portugal’s Zero Food Waste movement to develop an application to improve the process of donation.

Paul delivering the opening address in Stresa to the Strategic Technology Forum

 

Sophia, AI and the importance of curation: KIM is safe (for the time being)!

I’m lucky. I get to travel to some of the most interesting places on the planet and experience different cultures. These last few weeks for example I’ve been on a book / Masterclass / conference trip to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and SIngapore.

Book launch hosted by Petronas KL

More on the issues that arose around KIM accreditation and the outcomes from KM Asia in separate blogs.

Over dinner in Hong Kong I got to talk about “Sophia” the locally based Hanson Robotics model that controversially has been given citizenship of Saudi Arabia. While hugely impressive and a major advance in sensory technology two quotes about Sophia stuck with me:

Why are we humans obsessed with creating life forms in our own image?” and

“Dogs are able to sense what their master’s mood is. Imagine if we could replicate that in Sophia?”

“Km has gone thru peak of inflated expectations which AI is now going thru”

This was one of KM Asia’s Day Two Chair Les Hales opening remarks.

It’s a good backdrop to focus on the ever increasing clamour I sense around the use of AI / machine learning technology to improve effiiciency and outcomes, reduce headcount +/or free up time for more added value work. In the Masterclasses and presentations I suggested AI is addressing 3 questions on expertise, transactions / news and process:

I noted there has been a lot more in the way of measurable progress on transactions / news and process enhancement than on expertise. In his presentation at KM Asia, Eric Chan of Hutchinson Global Communications showed examples of a couple of regionally based organisations who now used Chat Bots

His examples above which focused on the process question confirmed the widely held assumption that many industries are ripe for disintermediation by AI technology. I noted a couple of his comments:

“Replacing customer service agents by chatbots powered by AI. Achieves 9/10 satisfaction and not subject to selective memory and

1/3rd of work can be done by machines = disruptive stress”

What was really interesting about the Chatbot example? How the difficult customers (the ones who shout) get routed thru to a human!

So where does this leave Knowledge & Information Management? Actually not badly if Eric Hunter’s comment is to be believed:

“The rise of newer forms of technology is challenging the way codified knowledge is managed leading to the need for KM professionals to work with new types of colleagues such as business process improvement specialists and AI providers.”

Note the use of the phrase to work with not be replaced by. Here’s why I believe this to be the case.

The importance of Curation (…ate #7)

One of many positives to emerge from every stop on my Asian adventure was a reaffirmation of the importance of curation, a term Patricia Eng and I described in our book thus:

#7 Curate: So much of what passes for Knowledge Management is about creating and storing content and making it available for reuse. It’s more than the role formerly undertaken by Information Professionals and Librarians, here we are talking about being a custodian of organisational knowledge and organisational knowledge bases.

Technology has for some time been knocking at this door.  Indeed companies like Profinda have made significant strides so it was fascinating to read this very well written piece on Microsoft’s evolving Yammer strategy by Antony Cousins, Director of Customer Success which reflects my ongoing concern that Technology is not Knowledge Management:

Lost knowledge. With the same room structure as Yammer, there will be popular generic rooms where far too much is shared, too little is relevant to users and, should they ever want to find that document or that chat thread which was relevant to them, good luck. It’s lost in the never ending deluge of chat never to be seen again. If we can’t easily find previous answers and solutions or reference points, we’ll be as doomed on Microsoft Teams, as we were on Yammer, to ask the same questions over and over or worse, repeat the same mistakes…. So, in general, well done Microsoft for making things that were quite easy about 6% easier. Now can we please focus on the really big problems still faced by those of us trying to resolve the collaboration problem for big business?

I continue to argue that one of the key aspects of the role of KIM’ers is acting as Curators of organisational knowledge as well as signposts / navigators. In fact this was the premise behind my Masterclasses in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and the need for those skills:

KIM’ers have to be good at understanding technology and its implications for the business. But they are one of the few groups organisationally who see across silos and should be able to analyse business needs!

And finally

My concern is that organisations increeasingly see technology in its new guise as KM and are jumpiing on the bandwagon to put social tools behind the firewall expecting staff to find the expertise / historical knowledge automatically. In previous pieces I’ve argued that assisted search is still important.

I can also see a shift towards HR / Talent Management as the logical resting place for the discipline where the driver is one of mitigating the risk of knowledge loss when people leave.

But I still see in the short to medium term at least a need for what good KIM’ers do.

AI driven expertise & profiling: hype, hope or déjà vu?

May was a busy month. Apart from helping establish then launch a real estate and mortgage business (Bees Homes) I was in Lisboa for Social Now and London for KM Legal UK.

I attended both in the expectation of learning more about the onrush of Artificial Intelligence and its implications for the Knowledge Management profession.

Specifically, I wanted to see how the encouragingly styled Talent and Knowledge Matching / Profiling systems might tackle the challenges of knowledge loss when people depart, of onboarding when people arrive and identifying / ranking expertise that might otherwise be opaque when pulling together teams.

It’s not a new topic: back in the late 90’s I was Business & Strategy Advisor to Sopheon PLC when we acquired Organik (a technology for identifying expertise) and built systems for US Insurers looking to establish the best teams for clients based upon expertise. We never cracked it even though we knew what the issues were (usually motivation)!

Seeking answers at SocialNow Lisboa while Keynote speaker Ellen Trude watches.

Armed with a list of ‘use cases’ I’d worked on with Martin White I set off in search of answers to these questions from both vendors and KM practitioners?

  • Onboarding: A new employee with many years of highly relevant experience joins the firm. How long will it be before their experience is ranked at the same level as their predecessors?
  • Legal: Is the profiling process compatible with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation? The thoughts of the Information Commissioner on this are worth a look. Profiling & Automated Decision Making
  • Functionality: Do they offer the ability to present a list of people ranked by expertise?
  • Language: In multinational companies where it is especially difficult to know all the experts, how does the vendor coppe with the fact that documents, meetings and social media traffic will be in local languages?
  • Chinese Walls: How does the application cope with expertise gained on projects that are secure, a common issue in law, finance and R&D where walls need to be erected to prevent commercial information being divulged>
  • Testing: What User Testing is undertaken with a client before signing a contract to verify that the profiling system works?

So, what did I discover? Thierry de Bailllon in his closing Keynote put it very succinctly but with a caveat:

Embrace or die? 88% of technologies already include AI.

Self reinforcing bias?

it’s not Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)!

This Twitter exchange between Ana Neves and Luis Suarez prompted by a question I posed of the Workplace (Facebook at Work) team following their presentation is revealing:

May 12 there’s been a few questions about expertise location 2017 I don’t remember that being the case in previous years #SocialNow

May 12 Well, I think people are starting to understand how critical it is to know who is who within the org beyond just content, right?

Replying to totally! It surprises me it took so long. It’s amazing the role #ESN can have in unveiling that expertise #SocialNow

On the surface the case for ESN is compelling. Yet the majority of vendors at SocialNow focus on information exchange and conversation rather than the capturing and cataloguing of it. One,@mangoappsinc, had a neat tool (they won the “coolest app” prize) with the ability to upgrade comments from threaded discussions and posts to create ranked knowledge resources from the mass of information and conversation.

So, ESN can show who has answered what question, conduct searches across conversations and in many cases act as a project management tool, the new Facebook at Work (Workplace) now allows the creation of documents for example.

Provided the application is linked to HR systems it is possible to retrieve profiles and see what expertise an individual might have. As one vendor (@OrangeTrail showcasing Facebook at Work)) who uses bots to generate responses put it:

‘Questions’ is the key to find experts as people don’t keep profiles updated.

I concur and they are great facilitation platforms though with advanced features that will suffice for many. Yet I left Lisboa though feeling organisations will need to rely on assisted search for some time if they want to take a deep dive into expertise

know what you don’t know

Peer Assist “Problems” for discussion

So onto London and KM Legal UK. An interesting Day One ended with a psuedo Peer Assist in which AI was raised a lot.

One observation (facilitation tip): the session failed to commit the ‘owner’ of the problem to action so as a result the feedback loop to plenary became a series of “we said this.”

Again, as in previous years I felt the focus was on operational tools and techniques which means that KIM Professionals in Legal are more at risk from the onrush of technology.

It reminded me of the issue Librarians faced with the arrival of end user search in the mid 90’s which finished their monopoly of being the people who found stuff in organisations.

Day Two took a deeper dive into technology and its potential impact.

AI in Legal today

This slide sets out where AI is making a difference in Legal.

I tweeted having heard Cliff Fluet’s excellent presentation:

Paralegals beware. AI is coming. Adapt or die?

And I questioned:

How wide is scope of AI? More than Doc Analysis / Creation. Opportunity to broaden knowledge base

As yet no one had focused on expertise and profiling so when one presenter cited the case where a newly arrived CEO asked the Head of HR / Talent Management to let him have profiles / competencies of the staff using their system it got my attention.

I asked whether the results the HR head gave the CEO inferred a level of expertise. It didn’t which got thinking that if the data set is incomplete and the issue of self reinforcing bias is not addressed then over reliance on one source for identifying ‘experts’ is dangerous. Imagine your career prospects if for whatever reason your name wasn’t on the ‘expert’ list given to the CEO?

and finally

So where do I see the state of expertise and profiling systems? Patchy!

Yes there are certainly companies who ‘get it’ but can they do it?

I am indebted here to Martin White who in an excellent report “People and expertise seeking – an overview” summarises the predicament thus:

The most important lesson learned is the need for an expertise location strategy that is linked into HR processes, knowledge management, training, job appraisals and social media development. Finding people with expertise is not a ‘search problem’.  Good search tools can certainly help but without attention being paid to profile quality (even if other types of content are being searched) and a commitment by employees to share their knowledge expertise discovery will not be as successful as anticipated or required.

My takeaways:

  • KIM professionals need a clear strategy (working in partnership with other stakeholders such as HR and IT) and be clear on the questions being solved by any system;
  • They need to be clear what they are getting, what’s missing and how it mitigates the potential for self reinforcing bias when they enter discussions with vendors around automating expertise seeking and profiling;
  • They need to recognise the importance of their role in facilitating the adoption of such systems and accept this is just a part of a portfolio of approaches of identifying, capturing and retaining expertise;
  • They need to be clear what critical knowledge actually is in their organisation and who is likely to have it in order to assess the veracity of the results of any pilot;
  • It doesn’t matter what solution you adopt, if your environment is not conducive to the sharing of expertise and people don’t see the value in it then save the money; and
  • In any event you cannot capture everything people know; we learn and share through stories (failures rather than successes) and those often remain hidden.

Challenges and Opportunities facing Legal KM: interview for KM Legal Europe

A few weeks back I wrote a  post Future of the Internet and Legal KIM in an artificial world ahead of an interview I was giving to the organisors of January’s KM Legal Europe Amsterdam.  Here’s that interview which includes a snapshot of the sessions I will be facilitating.

Future of the Internet and Legal KIM in an artificial world

Yesterday was interesting. I was in the cloud metaphorically speaking.

future of the Internet

our-internet-panel-at-

From left: Patricia Lewis, Carl Bildt, Dame Wendy Hall, Michael Chertof, Sir David Omand

It started at Chatham House and a fascinating discussion held “on the record” on the future role of the Internet (“the most important infrastructure in the world”) prompted by a report from a very well qualifiied group of 28 experts led by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt.

This quote from their report targeted at public policy makers caught my eye:

The Internet has connected more than three billion people in just a few decades, however, over half of the world’s population remains off-line. If the rest of humanity is not given the opportunity to come online, digital and physical divides both within and between societies will widen, locking some into a permanent cycle of exclusion from an increasingly digital global economy.

Countries cannot hope to compete in the global marketplace of ideas if their business communities and broader populations are not online.

One Internet can be found here. Distributed under a creative commons licence Its worth a read. A few of my many takeaways from yesterday’s event:

  • Internet is in danger of becoming the ‘splinternet’ as governments seek to improve cybersecurity and restrict who can access what
  • Cybersecurity wears many hats. In totalitarian regimes it means controlling access to what is considered ‘destabilising’ and salacious material not merely espionage
  • False news is on the rise underpinned by the self reinforcing bias of Social Media sites (more on this later)
  • The role of educators is vital to equip tomorrow’s workforce to be digitally literate (see Arab Times article by Dana Winner for more on initiatives in Kuwait)
  • “Its the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the digital age” and “we are coming to the point of contraction” (Quotes from Dame Wendy Hall)

2017 Legal KM Objectives

This very nicely set up the afternoon’s video session at Ark Group ahead of the forthcoming KM Legal Europe Conference in Amsterdam.  I was asked half a dozen questions. Here I will focus on:

What do you think are the key challenges facing knowledge managers in law firms specifically right now?

To answer this I approached two dozen practitioners and thought leaders in Legal KM last Thursday. I used LinkedIn for some and a personal direct email for others. I received 14 responses within a day a response rate for which I am extremely grateful.

Here is a truncated snapshot of the responses (my groupings) with anonymity preserved:

Cultural & Organisational Measurement & Regulatory Process & Innovation Tools & Techniques
New roles needed: business and data analysts and legal project managers. Getting good enough metrics to convince lawyers that it is worth spending time and money on KM

 

Building knowledge into business processes by automating workflows using lightweight new technologies such as HighQ Artificial Intelligence for law firms (as we are not a magic circle firm so we could not invest millions in this)

 

Essential Collaboration between Knowledge, IT and procurement teams Court Proceedings are ‘going digital’ as of the beginning of February. That’s a big challenge! We have to get our dms, our processes and our technical infrastructure ready Increasing client pressures to redact documents or not to share documents in KH is putting pressure on open KH systems AI tools that can mine unstructured content for insight – is it the death of the document?
How to maintain lateral and peripheral vision towards the business goals, where their area of practice fits in to the greater perspective at hand. What can be done daily, weekly, monthly, to take time to do this, when their entire perspective is tied to billing in 6 minute increments, tied to AFA agreements built on efficiency and transparency geared towards the client and their practice area billing requirements? Measuring ROI on client relationship development activities – i.e. not winning new clients, but deepening existing relationships

Getting engagement from fee earners as they struggle to meet their chargeable targets

 

How can knowledge (in widest sense) help firms deliver on the more for less agenda, both internally and to clients?

Preserving client-lawyer face-time, trust and intimacy in a time of online communication

How to better share knowledge with our clients (meaning the clients of the firm)?

 

Understanding how to harness the power of AI in the business:

– to what / where is it best applied?

– is there a first mover advantage or should we wait, learn from innovators’ mistakes and leapfrog with v2.0?

Platforms for commodity work, Artificial Intelligence in all its form, Block chain, Big Data. It is hard to keep up and very unpredictable what it will bring and how it will change the legal business

Move from paper sources and library towards a digital Knowledge Centre, while trying to cope with the increasing information overload. Disruption of legal services

Horizon scanning for us and for our clients.

 

Untangling the appalling hype and confusion about AI

A few stood out (some strategic, some operational): act or wait (in relation to AI); responding to a change in regulation; creating a Digital Knowledge Centre (will AI make that obsolete?); and how to resolve the difficult challenge of preserving client-lawyer relationship when technology makes advice more of a commodity.

future of Legal Knowledge and Information Management in an artificial world

You will note how often AI comes up in the 2017 objectives. This is the question I was asked:

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal sector right now. How do you think AI can really boost efforts to better manage knowledge within a firm?

Many books have already been written on this topic and thousands of articles. Its the new nirvana. Even though AI has the potential to lower barriers to entry have we been there before? Not according to Professor Mohanbir Sawhney in an excellent article in  September’s Harvard Business Review entitled Putting Products into Services he argues:

…By leveraging the power of algorithm-driven automation and data analytics to “productize” aspects of their work, a number of innovative firms are finding that, like Google and Adobe, they can increase margins as they grow, while giving clients better service at prices that competitors can’t match. Productivity rises, efficiencies increase, and nonlinear scale becomes feasible as productized services take over high-volume tasks and aid judgment-driven processes. That frees up well-paid professionals to focus on jobs that require more sophistication—and generate greater value for the company.

I see this as being an evolution rather than a revolution. We are at stage 3:

  1. Stage 1 Search: Making documents, images and audio/video available and tagged
  2. Stage 2 Review & Connect: Analysing and summarising documents, images and audio/video and pushing to relevant people. Identifying patterns and making connections.
  3. Stage 3 Predict & Facilitate: Using the raft of data, information and accumulated knowledge to predict what the likely outcome of an event or series of events might be and to then help facilitate those outcomes.

If you accept that 80% of a company’s data is unstructured there is ample scope. So what options do firms have?

  • Partner
  • Build
  • Buy (or rent)
city-road

Two of the new buildings in City Road, London

Some of the biggest firms have already moved forward: Dentons has gone down the partner route investing in Next Law Labs and acting as a test bed for their ideas; Pinsent Masons have opted to build their own, a do it yourself AI called TermFrame; Linklaters signed up to buy/rent from RAVN and in a really interesting move Cotswold Barristers have become ‘barristers direct’ marketing their fixed fee services to potential claimants.

What’s interesting is how well represented the UK is in the AI field and how many of the emerging businesses can be found around City Road in Tech City, London.

Yet despite the hype AI has a chequered recent history:

  • Both the US Presidential Elections and Brexit Referendum were called the wrong way
  • The challenge of the self reinforcing bias is not met which makes outcomes susceptible to false news and accentuates the Prism Effect
  • Humans are still needed for interpretation, managing of networks and facilitation of outcomes.

and finally

I am going to draw on two quotes from the respondents (both highly visible and respected Legal Professionals who find themselves in roles that have KM components):

AI and automation models if put in place successfully would augment the journalists*, augment the attorneys, make them more successful for themselves, the client, and the business.

*This was in reference to a John Oliver sketch on US TV about the impact AI is having on journalism. See Chicago Tribune summary here.

The rise of newer forms of technology is challenging the way codified knowledge is managed leading to the need for KM professionals to work with new types of colleagues such as business process improvement specialists and AI providers.

If you want more, I suspect one of the topics for discussion in the Open Space Peer Assist session I will be running at KM Legal Europe will be on the impact of AI. There’s still time to register for that event and I’m sure Ark will put online the video interview I conducted yesterday.

Stop Press:

Today DeepMinds and Royal Free Hospital’s App is launched. It is a great example of how data can be analysed and outcomes presented to the clinician for recommended treatments. Substitute the Lawyer for the Clinician and it’s clear similar search, retrieval and analysis tools might be used in Legal.  See here for more.

References:

Thanks to Martin White (self styled ‘Virtual Librarian’) for these hugely helpful links:

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/how_artificial_intelligence_is_transforming_the_legal_profession

https://artificiallawyer.com/

https://blogs.thomsonreuters.com/answerson/artificial-intelligence-legal-practice/

AI & The Business of Law III: The Rise of Administrative Automation

http://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/business-services/law-firms/survey.html

Also to Exponential Investor who provided this interesting interview transcript as part of its investor service:

They know what you’re going to buy…