July 28th, 2012 Knowledge Management
Knowledge Management (KM) comprises a range of practices used in an organisation to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organisational processes or practice. An established discipline since 1995, KM includes courses taught in the fields of business administration, information systems, management, and library and information sciences 1. More recently, other fields, to include those focused on information and media, computer science, public health, and public policy, also have started contributing to KM research. Many large companies and non-profit organisations have resources dedicated to internal KM efforts, often as a part of their 'Business Strategy', 'Information Technology', or 'Human Resource Management' departments. Several consulting companies also exist that provide strategy and advice regarding KM to these organisations.
KM efforts typically focus on organisational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, and continuous improvement of the organisation. KM efforts overlap with Organisational Learning, and may be distinguished from by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the exchange of knowledge. KM efforts can help individuals and groups to share valuable organisational insights, to reduce redundant work, to avoid reinventing the wheel per se, to reduce training time for new employees, to retain intellectual capital as employees turnover in an organisation, and to adapt to changing environments and markets.
History of Knowledge Management
KM efforts have a long history, to include on-the-job discussions, formal apprenticeship, discussion forums, corporate libraries, professional training and mentoring programs. More recently, with increased use of computers in the second half of the 20th century, specific adaptations of technologies such as knowledge bases, expert systems, knowledge repositories, group decision support systems, and computer supported cooperative work have been introduced to further enhance the such efforts.
A broad range of thoughts on the KM discipline exists with no unanimous agreement; approaches vary by author and school. As the discipline matures, academic debates have increased regarding both the theory and practice of KM, to include the following perspectives:
- Techno-centric with a focus on technology, ideally those that enhance knowledge sharing and creation
- Organisational with a focus on how an organisation can be designed to facilitate knowledge processes best
- Ecological with a focus on the interaction of people, identity, knowledge, and environmental factors as a complex adaptive system akin to a natural ecosystem
Regardless of the school of thought, core components of KM include People, Processes, Technology (or) Culture, Structure, Technology, depending on the specific perspective. Different KM schools of thought include various lenses through which KM can be viewed and explained, to include:
- community of practice
- social network analysis
- intellectual capital
- information theory
- complexity science
Knowledge Management Dimensions
Different frameworks for distinguishing between knowledge exist. One proposed framework for categorising the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge represents internalised knowledge that an individual may not be consciously aware of how he or she accomplishes particular tasks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, explicit knowledge represents knowledge that the individual holds consciously in mental focus, in a form that can easily be communicated to others.
Early research suggested that a successful KM effort needs to convert internalised tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge in order to share it, but the same effort must also permit individuals to internalise and make personally meaningful any codified knowledge retrieved from the KM effort. Subsequent research into KM suggested that a distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge represented an oversimplification and that the notion of explicit knowledge is self-contradictory. Specifically, for knowledge to be made explicit, it must be translated into information (i.e., symbols outside of our heads).
A second proposed framework for categorising the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between embedded knowledge of a system outside of a human individual (e.g., an information system may have knowledge embedded into its design) and embodied knowledge representing a learned capability of a human bodyï¿½s nervous and endocrine systems.
A third proposed framework for categorising the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between the exploratory creation of "new knowledge" (i.e., innovation) vs. the transfer or exploitation of "established knowledge" within a group, organisation, or community. Collaborative environments such as communities of practice or the use of social computing tools can be used for both knowledge creation and transfer.
Knowledge Management Strategies
Knowledge may be accessed at three stages: before, during, or after KM-related activities. Different organisations have tried various knowledge capture incentives, including making content submission mandatory and incorporating rewards into performance measurement plans. Considerable controversy exists over whether incentives work or not in this field and no consensus has emerged.
One strategy to KM involves actively managing knowledge. In such an instance, individuals strive to explicitly encode their knowledge into a shared knowledge repository, such as a database, as well as retrieving knowledge they need that other individuals have provided to the repository.
Another strategy to KM involves individuals making knowledge requests of experts associated with a particular subject on an ad hoc basis. In such an instance, expert individual(s) can provide their insights to the particular person or people needing this.
Knowledge Management Motivations
A number of claims exist as to the motivations leading organisations to undertake a KM effort 27 28. Typical considerations driving a KM effort include:
- Making available increased knowledge content in the development and provision of products and services
- Achieving shorter new product development cycles
- Facilitating and managing innovation and organisational learning
- Leveraging the expertise of people across the organisation
- Increasing network connectivity between internal and external individuals
- Managing business environments and allowing employees to obtain relevant insights and ideas appropriate to their work
- Solving intractable or wicked problems
- Managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals)
Debate exists whether KM is more than a passing fad, though increasing amount of research in this field may hopefully help to answer this question, as well as create consensus on what elements of KM help determine the success or failure of such efforts.
Knowledge Management Technologies
Early KM technologies included online corporate yellow pages as expertise locators and document management systems. Combined with the early development of collaborative technologies (in particular Lotus Notes), KM technologies expanded in the mid-1990s. Subsequent KM efforts leveraged semantic technologies for search and retrieval and the development of e-learning tools for communities of practice.
More recently, development of social computing tools (such as blogs and wikis) have allowed more unstructured, self-governing or ecosystem approaches to the transfer, capture and creation of knowledge, including the development of new forms of communities, networks, or matrixed organisations. However such tools for the most part are still based on text and code, and thus represent explicit knowledge transfer. These tools face challenges in distilling meaningful re-usable knowledge and ensuring that their content is transmissible through diverse channels.