Corporate memory

Corporate memory (CM) looks at the way we store information, access and learn from a common, persistent, repository. Started by DenhamGrey 09/08/1999

Why bother with corporate memory?

This is a strong and persistent theme in most KM writings and practice. The metaphor and promise that technology will help us to remember, connect, recall and find lost thoughts, fuzzy ideas, passing conversations and re-establish relationships with our artifacts, surroundings and colleagues. The vision is instant access to experience, finding useful contacts, uncovering past lessons and best practices. Corporate or organizational memory is the holy grail of both information and knowledge management movements. As time passes I have come to realize the constraints are cultural - getting persistent engagement and moving folks to a virtual shared spaces is just plain hard! The reality is lack of shared meaning, no common ground or 'lingua fraca, low or poor reciprocity & social capital'' and empty or superficial placeholders.

CM is a key component of helpdesks, CRM, SCM and eLearning, it is a foundational layer in collaborative work, customer service and business intelligence. Key to working in CM is a deep appreciation for shared spaces, building community, persistent conversation, open space, yellow pages, learning community, knowledge spaces

Types and approaches to CM

Techniques vary from: data-, knowledge-, case-, document- or web-based, the focus may be: product, people (directory) or process orientated, the objects / artifacts can be documents, conversations (stories), best practices, learning histories, events and activities. Workflow and security can be open, informal, tightly defined, rigid, sequential, optional or interactive; architecture may be stand alone, intranet, extranet, integrated ecology, the focus may be internal or external. It all depends....

Why sharing makes a difference: on Sept 12, 1999 (by Denham Grey):

I have pondered that same question many times and have seen the benefits of a shared explicit corporate memory when working with co-located teams. let me try to help you make a case here:

1. Reflection: in the fast and furious pace of f2f there is no time for deep reflection. This medium gives you the opportunity to review without the pressures imposed of 'thinking on your feet'. Many of our insights come from making connections and changing our internal models. There is something about 'seeing the text' that helps here. Perhaps it is the very process of moving thoughts from the brain to your finger tips as you type that does it?

2. The Record: so often we forget the bits and pieces that do not matter on their own, but when presented in context or when connected together can deliver magic. Having a record you can return to, that reminds you of commitments, resurfaces tacit ideas and helps with synthesis is a major help. Often my clients find it is not the actual text that is important it is the associated ideas and the insights that crop up and pop up that make this worthwhile.

3. Getting in deep: most groups do not take the time to dig down to the differences that matter. They gloss over assumptions, meld or skip different mental models, do not make the effort to clarify terms and combine to design distinctions. Using language to 'bring forth another world' is an advanced skill that is enhanced by this medium. This approach can surface vision and build alignment that is often not easy face to face.

4. Helping novices: the biggest hurdle new folk face is understanding why: things are done this way, why we believe xyz, why we say abc. A written record (summarized at strategic intervals) goes a long way to bridging the gap between old timers and newbies. Conversations are a lot like stories, after reading through a discussion here you have a different feel and appreciation for people, their beliefs, their fears and their values.

5. Communication: how often have you not wished we had recorded the reason or taken notes of the other things we talked about? Having a sustained practice of using this medium to spread the word, surface ideas, test assumptions, gives the group a decided leverage and advantage. I'm not sure if this will be sustained, but there are definite first mover points to be gained while the rest catch-up to this medium.

Best practices

  • PICK from EU:
  • Take a broad view of memory, AAR, Peer assists, CoPs
  • Workflow and processes to validate claims (methodologies, tools, best practices, skill profiles, pitches, winning engagements)
  • Technology to support collaboration, dialog(exchange) around an artifactual repository
  • Support personalization, push, pull, self-publishing and annotation
  • Use a meta-langauge to type, present & reason around content
  • Develop an ontology to share meaning, gain alignment and sharpen focus

Components of CM

  • Individual memory & recall
  • Personal relationships
  • Databases
  • Work process and support systems
  • Products & services


  • Capturing ideas, thoughts, context and rationale gIbis
  • Adding and enabling interactivity (connecting and annotation)
  • Moving seemlessly between structured formalizations and informal conversation / critique
  • Using the repository to elict and capture evolving insights (idea generations)
  • Validation, weeding, encouraging engagement, creative abrasion & critique
  • Navigation and intuitive access
  • Integration of news with archival functionality
  • Making forward links, i.e. from existing documents to new stuff.

A CM ontology

  • Intelligence gathering & knowledge capture (technical, competitive, strategic, market related, human capital i.e., retirements, departures)
  • Product knowledge (defects, design rationale, enhancements)
  • Relationship orientated (customers, suppliers, stakeholders, staff)
  • Event co-ordination (planning, scheduling, cross-learning )
  • Sharing meaning (best practices, lessons learned, histories, senario planning, decision support)
  • Enumerative description: encapsulation of key issues in a Q&A template, a diagnostic tool?





My activities

  • Contributed to Wikipedia page
  • Start thread on CM in Projectconnections May, 2000
  • Active participant in the KEW cybary project, 1999