Generative AI's role in the rebirth of knowledge management

Generative AI could help organizations realize the tacit knowledge-sharing benefits that were touted in the late 1990s for the discipline of knowledge management.

I confess I have a soft spot for knowledge management. One of my first jobs in publishing was the editorship of a magazine called Knowledge Management. And great fun it was, too. Sadly, that magazine ceased to exist in the early 2000s, just as knowledge management lost some -- but not all -- of its allure.

Many of the ideas associated with what was, arguably, the heyday of knowledge management seem to be flaring back into life, in association with generative AI (GenAI). In particular, the idea that users can more effectively use subtle forms of organizational and personal knowledge for business and societal value has come back, especially for customer service and contact centers.

How GenAI can aid in knowledge management

In a 2023 paper from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, "Generative AI at Work," Erik Brynjolfsson, Danielle Li and Lindsey R. Raymond examined how GenAI might capture and share knowledge that has eluded prior waves of automation.

This study of over 5,000 customer support workers who use a GenAI-based conversational assistant found that productivity increased by 14% on average, with a 34% increase among newly employed staff. Experienced and highly skilled workers exhibited minimal improvement in productivity. Nevertheless, as 60% of contact center workers quit each year, according to this study's sources, this 14% average improvement bodes well.

Yet, as the authors comment, "because many workplace activities -- such as writing emails, analyzing data, or creating presentations -- rely on tacit knowledge, they have so far defied automation." More automation would be the real knowledge management prize for GenAI.

Is it likely to be achieved? Vendors such as Salesforce and Adobe are putting much effort into making it a reality.

How vendors are embedding GenAI in knowledge management

Salesforce recently announced Unified Knowledge, a system that is currently in beta, to collect information from third-party sources -- including SharePoint, Confluence and Google Drive -- and integrate it into Salesforce. It will work alongside Data Cloud to create AI-generated content for agents.

The system was built in partnership with Zoomin Software. It features such capabilities as automated answer generation for customer inquiries within a bot, based on a company's complete internal and external knowledge base. It connects with Einstein Copilot, which is available in the vendor's mobile app, so mobile workers can ask a question and get an instant response from the full slate of a company's organizational knowledge. The vendor also said it can generate answers to both agent and customer questions from the company's knowledge base.

Adobe also recently announced Acrobat AI Assistant, which is described as a conversational AI tool. It is powered by GenAI and is suited to all knowledge workers that organizations can deploy easily. With this tool, users could generate properly cited information, emails, reports and presentations. These are the sort of activities the National Bureau of Economic Research authors identified as those most intractable to previous waves of work computerization. Adobe also claims that its tool -- released in beta in February -- can help workers spend less time searching for information and more time on high-value work.

Read more about GenAI and knowledge management

How generative AI can improve knowledge management

Pegasystems unveils AI assistant for knowledge management

Executive interview: Adding common sense to generative AI creativity

Recent research from TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group suggested some vindication for vendor claims and academic postulates about the human knowledge augmentation and generalization virtues of GenAI. For example, the study "Code Transformed: Tracking the Impact of Generative AI on Application Development" found that the 325 North American organizations surveyed plan for AI use cases across all realms of application development, including faster code creation and code translation into other languages.

And I have just started a research study into the effect of GenAI on customer service. Some of that will address the knowledge management use cases for the technology and indicate the extent to which those are being realized.

It's all bringing back memories of listening to knowledge management luminaries of the late 1990s. Heady days.

Brian McKenna is a senior analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group, who focuses on business applications. Previously, he was an editor at ComputerWeekly.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Its analysts have business relationships with vendors.

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