In addition to asking whether it needs a CKO, an organization should also investigate the option and implementation variations of adding a CKA, a chief knowledge architect. A CKA is the person responsible for defining and driving the creation and maintenance of the intellectual and organizational infrastructure that will be the foundation for current and future KM initiatives.
Before looking at how a CKA might fit into various organizations, it will be helpful to look at the activities and characteristics of a CKA.
Knowledge architecture is essentially information architecture on steroids dealing with the organization of knowledge, not just information. This means that it has to go beyond the simple organization and categorization of content repositories. It must create a knowledge infrastructure to support richer, more dynamic categorization schemas than those in information architecture. In addition, it must also create a knowledge infrastructure that supports task-based and audience-based categorization, and then have the ability to integrate all three (content repositories, tasks and people) into one flexible system.
Finally, since so much of KM deals with tacit knowledge, knowledge architecture not only supports connecting people and information, it also provides the framework for connecting people with people. This includes flexible ways of categorizing people into a multiplicity of communities, designing collaboration spaces that support actual work practices, implementing transparent knowledge capture and retrieval solutions, and supporting such KM applications as expertise locators.
A good CKA shares a number of characteristics with a good CKO--with some significant differences. Like a CKO, he or she must be in tune with an organization's broad strategic perspective but, at the same time, be familiar with the details and issues of capturing the cognitive experiences of employees. A CKA must be able to work with librarians, cognitive scientists, educators, creative Web designers and business analysts, but also be able to understand the needs of users.
If that sounds like a bit much for a single human being (and it does), the practical solution to how to cover the prodigious job requirements for a CKO and a CKA is to find a combination of both. In some situations, a CKO and a variety of lower-level knowledge architects might suffice. In other cases, dispensing with a CKO and installing a CKA who reports to the CIO might be a better answer. In the first case, a CKO who understands knowledge architecture would be desirable and in the second case, a CIO who could evangelize KM would be a necessity.
However, I believe that a combination of CKO and CKA would, in more cases than not, produce the best results. The one essential characteristic that a CKA brings is a rigor and depth of knowledge about knowing that is hard to find in someone who is also tasked with the managerial and marketing demands of a CKO. Whether this rigor and depth comes from a background in education or cognitive science or field experience, it is probably the truest defining characteristic of a CKA, and it is an element that must be present for KM initiatives that produce real and measurable results.