Introduction to Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge – and its associated processes of creation, organization, diffusion, use and exploitation.

There are many definitions of knowledge management. We have developed this one since it identifies some critical aspects of any successful knowledge management programme:

  1. Explicit – Surfacing assumptions; codifying that which is known.

  2. Systematic – Leaving things to serendipity will not achieve the benefits.

  3. Vital Knowledge – You need to focus; you don’t have unlimited resources.

  4. Processes – Knowledge management is a set of activities with its own tools and techniques.

It is important to note that knowledge encompasses both tacit knowledge (in people’s heads) and explicit knowledge (codified and expressed as information in databases, documents etc.). A good knowledge programme will address the processes of knowledge development and transfer for both these basic forms.

Many programmes start by focusing on the thrust of better sharing of existing knowledge e.g. sharing best practices. However, our research indicates that it is the second thrust – the creation and conversion of new knowledge through the processes of innovation that gives the best long-term pay-off.
Knowledge Management comprises a range of practices used by organizations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge. Most large companies have resources dedicated to Knowledge Management, often as a part of ‘Information Technology’ or ‘Human Resource Management’ departments, and sometimes reporting directly to the head of the organization. As effectively managing information is a must in any business, and knowledge and information are intertwined, Knowledge Management is a multi-billion dollar world wide market.

Knowledge Management programs are typically tied to organizational objectives and are intended to achieve specific outcomes; these can include improved performance, competitive advantage innovation, lessons learnt transfer and the general development of collaborative practices.

One aspect of Knowledge Management, knowledge transfer, has always existed in one form or another. Examples include on-the-job peer discussions, formal apprenticeship, discussion forums, corporate libraries, professional training and mentoring programs. However, with computers becoming more widespread in the second half of the 20th century, specific adaptations of technology such as knowledge bases, expert systems, and knowledge repositories have been introduced to further simplify the process.

Knowledge Management programs attempt to manage the process of creation (or identification), accumulation and application of knowledge across an organisation. As such Knowledge Management is frequently linked to the idea of the learning organisation although neither practice encompasses the other. Knowledge Management may be distinguished from Organizational Learning by a greater focus on specific knowledge assets and the development and cultivation of the channels through which knowledge flows.

Frequent Knowledge Management practices include:

  1. enabling organizational practices, such as Communities of Practice and corporate Yellow Page directories for accessing key personnel and expertise.

  2. enabling technologies such as knowledge bases and expert systems, help desks, corporate intranets and extranets, Content Management, wikis and Document Management.

  3. The emergence of Knowledge Management has also generated new roles and responsibilities in organizations, an early example of which was the Chief Knowledge Officer. In recent years, Personal knowledge management (PKM) practice has arisen in which individuals apply KM practice to themselves, their roles and their career development.

Most programmes will leverage value through knowledge by concentrating on just a few of these seven levers:

  • Customer Knowledge – the most vital knowledge in most organizations.

  • Knowledge in Processes – applying the best know-how while performing core tasks.

  • Knowledge in Products (and Services) – smarter solutions, customized to users’ needs.

  • Knowledge in People – nurturing and harnessing brainpower, your most precious asset.

  • Organizational Memory – drawing on lessons from the past or elsewhere in the organization.

  • Knowledge in Relationships – deep personal knowledge that underpins successful collaboration.

  • Knowledge Assets – measuring and managing your intellectual capital.

  • KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT ROLES AND ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

    Knowledge management activities may be centralized in a Knowledge Management Office, or responsibility for knowledge management may be located in existing departmental functions, such as the Human Resource (to manage intellectual capital) or IT departments (for content management, social computing etc.). Different departments and functions may have a knowledge management function and those functions may not be connected other than informally.

    KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT REASONS OF FAILURE OR SUCCESS

    There is no established evidence as to the reasons behind failure and success of Knowledge Management initiatives in organizations. Some argue that a failure to sustain investment is one factor, but it can equally be argued that if knowledge management delivered on its promises investment would continue. As with many management initiatives, particularly those with a heavy IT basis (as is the case in Knowledge Management), frequent questions are raised about the level of consultation necessary before a program is started; these questions are linked to issues of cultural change and a willingness to share and collaborate with colleagues. There is no evidence that Knowledge Management, in all these respects, is any different from other management initiatives.