Does Knowledge Flow Scale? Or, are you still putting out fires?

May 3rd, 2013 : By Anna Griffith :

business woman putting out firesAre your current methods for knowledge management, knowledge sharing and training scalable?

Or do you feel like your pivotal performers are continuously putting out fires?

Do you think knowledge harvesting doesn’t scale?


Let’s start with talking about two dimensions of scalability:  horizontal and vertical.


  • Administrative      scalability: The ability for an increasing number of organizations or      users to easily share a single distributed system.
  • Geographic      scalability: The ability to maintain performance, usefulness, or usability      regardless of expansion from concentration in a local area to a more      distributed geographic pattern.
  • Load      scalability: The ability for a distributed system to easily expand and      contract its resource pool to accommodate heavier or lighter loads or      number of inputs. Alternatively, it’s the ease with which a system or      component can be modified, added, or removed, to accommodate changing      load.

Current technology makes the horizontal problem easy to solve.  Cloud computing, as well as, fast and dynamic hardware have made these issues virtually non-existent for all but the most complex software packages.  The only problem here is if your organization is using outdated technology. This isn’t a small issue, but rather a large issue since capital purchases can cause roadblocks.


  • Functional      scalability: The ability to enhance the system by adding new functionality      at minimal effort.

It takes a lot of time, motivation and payoff to dedicate resources to adapting, revising and adding knowledge to documents, communities of practice, presentations, training material, or social networking.

The technology supporting horizontal scalability has solved this problem to some extent.  Social networking, wiki’s and cloud computing have made knowledge easily accessible and has therefore increased the functional scalability of knowledge flow.  However, knowledge has breadth and depth.  The horizontal scalability of knowledge flow has helped the breadth of knowledge available but it has not facilitated the depth of knowledge flow.  Although search is improving constantly, there is plenty of documentation on how much time is wasted searching the cloud or a proprietary repository.  Wikis are a great way to organize information in an adaptable approach but the information is usually declarative or procedural – a shallow representation of the knowledge in people’s heads.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are having issue with getting to depth.  It has long been accepted that classrooms are good for “book” knowledge but offer the value of interaction with instructors and peers.  In a MOOC setting the “book” knowledge is available but getting instructor assessment and peer review limits the depth of knowledge that flows.

These implementations of knowledge flow do not scale because they are not based on the strategies and mental models needed for problem solving.  Updating and revising takes a minimal amount of time but the reward in terms of knowledge development is commensurate.

I would like to be able to say that people are striving to find ways to develop the vertical scalability of knowledge flow because they are striving to share knowledge, but I think there are different reasons pushing the boundaries.  Regulations, policy, shrinking budgets and public demand for transparency are forcing vertical scalability of knowledge.  Regulations and policy alone are preventing people from conducting their “blocking and tackling” of everyday problems.  Shrinking budgets mean cutting corners in every regard – including capital improvements, hiring and training.

If you would like to learn how Discovery Machine can build a knowledge flow system that provides horizontal and vertical scalability, download this free paper.


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