Knowledge management

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Knowledge Management (KM) is a term associated with the processes for the creation, dissemination, testing, integration, and utilization of knowledge.

Definition

A widely accepted 'working definition' of Knowledge Management applied in worldwide organizations is available from the WWW Virtual Library on Knowledge Management:

"Knowledge Management caters to the critical issues of organizational adaptation, survival, and competence in face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change.... Essentially, it embodies organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings."

Looking at the definition of "Knowledge", we can find that it is basically two things, information plus experience. The problem relies heavily on how to capture information and experience, so that it is easily accessible in a corporate environment. A better term we can use is "Knowledge Capture". Then managing this capture would allow the system to grow into a powerful information asset.

Supporting research and practice journals in which this definition is explained as well as in-depth research and applications related to this definition are available in the WWW Virtual Library on Knowledge Management.

The development of KM

In a sense KM has been around for ages: librarians, teachers, philosophers and writers have been practising it. In the context of the Information Age and the increasing use of computers, it has come to be seen as a deliberate effort that deals with the process particularly in the context of organizations. Acknowledging the crucial importance of those technologies in KM, the term Knowledge technologies is more and more used to refer to information technologies used to support Knowledge Management.

Managing the instructions

The use of the word 'management' highlights the fact that knowledge is an important resource/asset (in academic accounting regimes it is referred to as instructional capital). Like other styles of capital it requires a focused effort to optimise acquisition, transfer and deployment in an organization and to make sure of its availability and reliability at the right time for decision making. Regardless of how contentious or adversarial this process becomes, an underlying layer of consensus decision making is always required to deal with the choice of language, level of vocabulary, information technology tools, database or ontology. The term knowledge base is often used to describe these foundations. Maintenance of the knowledge base is an additional characteristic of this discipline.

KM is often described as being in step with other organizational initiatives and systems such as quality management and Business Process Reengineering. It may be undertaken in parallel with accounting reform to better optimize the organization to exploit its own instructional capital. It seems also to grow out of software configuration management ambitions.

Advantages of KMS to the organization

The business value of knowledge management systems (KMS) are:

  1. They facilitate the collection, recording, organization, filtering, analysis, retrieval, and dissemination of explicit knowledge. This explicit knowledge consists of all documents, accounting records, and data stored in computer memories. This information must be widely and easily available for an organization to run smoothly. A KMS is valuable to a business to the extent that it is able to do this.
  2. They facilitate the collection, recording, organization, filtering, analysis, retrieval, and dissemination of implicit or tacit knowledge. This knowledge consists of informal and unrecorded procedures, practices, and skills. This "how-to" knowledge is essential because it defines the competencies of employees. A KMS is of value to a business to the extent that it can codify these "best practices", store them, and disseminate them through-out the organization as needed. It makes the company less susceptible to disruptive employee turnover. It makes tacit knowledge explicit.
  3. They can also perform an explicitly strategic function. Many feel that in a fast changing business environment, there is only one strategic advantage that is truly sustainable. That is to build an organization that is so alert and so agile that it can cope with any change, no matter how discontinuous. This agility is only possible with an adaptive system like a KMS which creates learning loops that automatically adjust the organizations knowledge base every time it is used. Examples : business management systems p2p; business workflow analysis.
  4. These three benefits mentioned above can be extended to the whole supply chain with the use of extranet based knowledge portals.

Problems with KMS

  1. There is a reluctance to share knowledge and use KMSs because employees feel that their exclusive control over knowledge gives them power. If they are the only person in the organization that knows how to do a task, they are less likely to get fired, and are more likely to get a raise in pay. Even if they have not taken a microeconomics 101 course, they know that a restriction in the quantity supplied of a good (or skill) will result in a higher price (or wage) for that good (assuming competitive markets and no change in quantity demanded). From an individual's point of view, it makes no sense to share their unique knowledge and skill with others in a competitive situation.
  2. The immaturity of the technology can be a problem. There are problems with integration with other management information systems, particularly older legacy systems.
  3. The immaturity of the knowledge base industry can be a problem. There are few experts. And even they are learning as they go.
  4. Cost - a knowledge management system can be expensive.
  5. People thinking in technology first rather than concepts. This will only create confusion always. Define first where you are and where you want to go with clear concepts before selecting any tools to implement it.

Implementing an KMS

  1. Make it clear that management is 100% behind the project.
  2. Make it clear that this is a permanent addition, something that employees have to deal with.
  3. Set up a cross-functional team to implement the system.
  4. Set up a much larger cross-functional team from all regions to proselytize, train, mentor, and monitor the transition.
  5. Use numerous incentives. Senior management could have some of their bonus tied to the use of the system. Mid level managers received bonuses if they used the system to generate additional sales. Employees could get prizes if they contributed knowledge that was subsequently useful to someone else.
  6. Encouraging a co-operative corporate culture - As long as the culture is fundamentally competitive there will be an incentive for individuals to withhold knowledge. An employees decision will be one of comparing the financial incentives to cooperate (bonuses for system usage and commissions from additional sales) against the institutionalized incentives to compete (security of tenure and importance to the firm). The company must stress not how to divide up the rewards, but how to grow more opportunities. This can be done by shifting the incentive system from an individual basis to a team basis. This will make it clear to employees that cooperation, is in their best self-interest. It will mitigate any incentive to compete with other employees. In a non-competitive environment, the principles of microeconomics 101 mentioned above, do not apply. There is no reason to withhold knowledge.
  7. Among sales staff and senior management highlight the sales generating abilities of the system. An incentive should be given to an employee when either his/her team uses the system to generate additional sales revenue or another team uses his/her contributions to generate additional sales revenue. In the first case this could be a double incentive (additional sales commissions, plus KMS bonus). In either case revenue generating incentives are spread throughout the whole firm; they are not limited to managers and sales people.
  8. An introductory contest could be useful in getting employees involved. A two week, all expenses paid, holiday for two would be enough to get most employees interested. To get a chance at the prize, an employee would have to describe an important part of their work process. This would start people using the system and would "kick-start" the creation of the knowledge base.
  9. Increase the scope of the system - There are network economies associated with this system : the more people use it, the more valuable it is to each user. It should be phased in at all divisions and all functional departments as soon as is feasible.
  10. Incorporating a knowledge portal into the system - The system could be employed on an extranet. This knowledge portal could be used to obtain important information from suppliers and key customers, making it more useful for everybody. Some of the information could also be disseminated to suppliers and key customers.
  11. Incorporating a DSS or AI - The system would be more useful if it drove a Decision Support System (DSS) or an expert system. Computational and analytical models could be applied to the information in the knowledge base so as to support decision making. An inference engine could be applied to the knowledge base so as to make recommendations. Because some questions are better answered with DSS and others with AI, both types of systems should be used to get the most benefit from the knowledge base.

Criticisms of KM - Control versus creativity

However, instructions for humans are not quite like code for computers. Many authors claim that knowledge cannot be "managed". Since management implies control, and knowledge relies on creativity, relationships, and context, they argue that heavy-handed control can stifle knowledge creation [Krogh]. Human development theory for instance draws a strong parallel between the natural capital of the planet's ecologies and the individual capital of human beings, and argues that both simply grow on their own. They gain little from intervention, other than minimal guidance and protection. To put in place any regime of "management", such arguments go, is simply to force these living things into the structures and rules that evolved for infrastructural capital and financial capital. This is unsatisfactory because they respond to very different treatments.

A similar argument applies to customer relationship management and social capital, with detractors arguing that such systems impose social control.

For the above reasons some consultants are now using the terms Knowledge Sharing and Information Management (KS&IM) rather than KM. According to this view, Knowledge cannot be managed; it exists in people's heads and can only be shared. Information, however, can be managed. To achieve a high performing knowledge organization requires a combination of cultural change (to promote sharing) and appropriate infrastructure (to anable information storage and retrieval).

See also


Finding related topics

References

  • Enabling Knowledge Creation: New Tools for Unlocking the Mysteries of Tacit Understanding by Ikujiro Nonaka, Georg Von Krogh, and Kazuo Ichijo, Oxford University Press, 2000, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0195126165
  • Bernbom, Gerald, editor. (2001). Information Alchemy: The Art and Science of Knowledge Management. EDUCAUSE Leadership Series #3. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Graham, Ricci. (2001).
  • Graham, Ricci. (2001). "Benchmarking Jackson State." Knowledge Management, (4): 5. p. 11. May, 2001.
  • Ward, Lewis. (2001). "Collaborative KM Tools: Putting Customer Care Online." Knowledge Management (4):4. pp. CS1-CS6. Special Advertising Section.

External links

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