Knowledge management (KM) comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization 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 organizations as processes or practices.
An established discipline since 1991 (see Nonaka 1991), KM includes courses taught in the fields of business administration, information systems, management, and library and information sciences (Alavi & Leidner 1999). More recently, other fields have started contributing to KM research; these include information and media, computer science, public health, and public policy.
Many large companies and non-profit organizations have resources dedicated to internal KM efforts, often as a part of their business strategy, information technology, or human resource management departments (Addicott, McGivern & Ferlie 2006). Several consulting companies also exist that provide strategy and advice regarding KM to these organizations.
Knowledge management efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration and continuous improvement of the organization. KM efforts overlap with organizational learning, and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the sharing of knowledge.
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, intranets, and computer-supported cooperative work have been introduced to further enhance such efforts.
In terms of the enterprise, early collections of case studies recognized the importance of knowledge management dimensions of strategy, process, and measurement (Morey, Maybury & Thuraisingham 2002). Key lessons learned included: people and the cultural norms which influence their behaviors are the most critical resources for successful knowledge creation, dissemination, and application; cognitive, social, and organizational learning processes are essential to the success of a knowledge management strategy; and measurement, benchmarking, and incentives are essential to accelerate the learning process and to drive cultural change. In short, knowledge management programs can yield impressive benefits to individuals and organizations if they are purposeful, concrete, and action-oriented.
More recently with the advent of the Web 2.0, the concept of Knowledge Management has evolved towards a vision more based on people participation and emergence. This line of evolution is termed Enterprise 2.0 (McAfee 2006). However, there is an ongoing debate and discussions (Lakhani & McAfee 2007) as to whether Enterprise 2.0 is just a fad that does not bring anything new or useful or whether it is, indeed, the future of knowledge management (Davenport 2008).
KM emerged as a scientific discipline in the earlier 1990s. It was initially supported solely by practitioners, when Skandia hired Leif Edvinsson of Sweden as the world’s first Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). Hubert Saint-Onge (formerly of CIBC, Canada), started investigating various sides of KM long before that. The objective of CKOs is to manage and maximize the intangible assets of their organizations. Gradually, CKOs became interested in not only practical but also theoretical aspects of KM, and the new research field was formed. The KM ideas taken up by academics, such as Ikujiro Nonaka (Hitotsubashi University), Hirotaka Takeuchi (Hitotsubashi University), Thomas H. Davenport (Babson College) and Baruch Lev (New York University). In 2001, Thomas A. Stewart, former editor at FORTUNE Magazine and subsequently the editor of Harvard Business Review, published a cover story highlighting the importance of intellectual capital of organizations. Since its establishment, the KM discipline has been gradually moving towards academic maturity. First, there is a trend towards higher cooperation among academics; particularly, there has been a drop in single-authored publications. Second, the role of practitioners has changed. Their contribution to academic research has been dramatically declining from 30% of overall contributions up to 2002, to only 10% by 2009 (Serenko et al. 2010).
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.
- Organizational with a focus on how an organization 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 (Spender & Scherer 2007). Different KM schools of thought include various lenses through which KM can be viewed and explained, to include:
- community of practice (Wenger, McDermott & Synder 2001)
- social network analysis
- intellectual capital (Bontis & Choo 2002)
- information theory (McInerney 2002)
- complexity science
- constructivism (Nanjappa & Grant 2003)
The practical relevance of academic research in KM has been questioned (Ferguson 2005) with action research suggested as having more relevance (Andriessen 2004) and the need to translate the findings presented in academic journals to a practice (Booker, Bontis & Serenko 2008).
Different frameworks for distinguishing between different 'types of' knowledge exist. One proposed framework for categorizing the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge represents internalized knowledge that an individual may not be consciously aware of, such as 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. (Alavi & Leidner 2001). Similarly, Hayes and Walsham (2003) describe content and relational perspectives of knowledge and knowledge management as two fundamentally different epistemological perspectives. The content perspective suggest that knowledge is easily stored because it may be codified, while the relational perspective recognizes the contextual and relational aspects of knowledge which can make knowledge difficult to share outside of the specific location where the knowledge is developed.
Early research suggested that a successful KM effort needs to convert internalized tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge in order to share it, but the same effort must also permit individuals to internalize 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) (Serenko & Bontis 2004). Later on, Ikujiro Nonaka proposed a model (SECI for Socialization, Externalization, Combination, Internalization) which considers a spiraling knowledge process interaction between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995). In this model, knowledge follows a cycle in which implicit knowledge is 'extracted' to become explicit knowledge, and explicit knowledge is 're-internalized' into implicit knowledge. More recently, together with Georg von Krogh, Nonaka returned to his earlier work in an attempt to move the debate about knowledge conversion forwards (Nonaka & von Krogh 2009).
A second proposed framework for categorizing 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 body’s nervous and endocrine systems (Sensky 2002).
A third proposed framework for categorizing 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, organization, 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 may be accessed at three stages: before, during, or after KM-related activities. Different organizations 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 (push strategy). 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. This is also commonly known as the Codification approach to KM.
Another strategy to KM involves individuals making knowledge requests of experts associated with a particular subject on an ad hoc basis (pull strategy). In such an instance, expert individual(s) can provide their insights to the particular person or people needing this (Snowden 2002). This is also commonly known as the Personalization approach to KM.
Other knowledge management strategies and instruments for companies include:
- rewards (as a means of motivating for knowledge sharing)
- storytelling (as a means of transferring tacit knowledge)
- cross-project learning
- after action reviews
- knowledge mapping (a map of knowledge repositories within a company accessible by all)
- communities of practice
- expert directories (to enable knowledge seeker to reach to the experts)
- best practice transfer
- knowledge fairs
- competence management (systematic evaluation and planning of competences of individual organization members)
- proximity & architecture (the physical situation of employees can be either conducive or obstructive to knowledge sharing)
- master-apprentice relationship
- collaborative technologies (groupware, etc.)
- knowledge repositories (databases, bookmarking engines, etc.)
- measuring and reporting intellectual capital (a way of making explicit knowledge for companies)
- knowledge brokers (some organizational members take on responsibility for a specific "field" and act as first reference on whom to talk about a specific subject)
- social software (wikis, social bookmarking, blogs, etc.)
- Inter-project knowledge transfer
- 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 organizational learning
- Leveraging the expertise of people across the organization
- 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 (Wilson 2002).
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 (Capozzi 2007). Knowledge management systems can thus be categorized as falling into one or more of the following groups: Groupware, document management systems, expert systems, semantic networks, relational and object oriented databases, simulation tools, and artificial intelligence  (Gupta & Sharma 2004)
More recently, development of social computing tools (such as bookmarks, 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 organizations. 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(Andrus 2005).
Software tools in knowledge management are a collection of technologies and are not necessarily acquired as a single software solution. Furthermore, these knowledge management software tools have the advantage of using the organization existing information technology infrastructure. Organizations and business decision makers spend a great deal of resources and make significant investments in the latest technology, systems and infrastructure to support knowledge management. It is imperative that these investments are validated properly, made wisely and that the most appropriate technologies and software tools are selected or combined to facilitate knowledge management.
Knowledge management has also become a cornerstone in emerging business strategies such as Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) with companies increasingly turning to software vendors to enhance their efficiency in industries including, but not limited to, the aviation industry.
"Knowledge manager" is a role and designation that has gained popularity over the past decade. The role has evolved drastically from that of one involving the creation and maintenance of knowledge repositories to one that involves influencing the culture of an organization toward improved knowledge sharing, reuse, learning, collaboration and innovation. Knowledge management functions are associated with different departments in different organizations. It may be combined with Quality, Sales, HR, Innovation, Operations etc. and is likely to be determined by the KM motivation of that particular organization.
Knowledge managers have varied backgrounds ranging from Information Sciences to Business Management. An effective knowledge manager is likely to be someone who has a versatile skills portfolio and is comfortable with the concepts of organizational behavior/culture, processes, branding & marketing and collaborative technology.
Knowledge Management System
Knowledge Management System (KM System) refers to a (generally generated via or through to an IT based program/department or section) system for managing knowledge in organizations for supporting creation, capture, storage and dissemination of information. It can comprise a part (neither necessary nor sufficient) of a Knowledge Management initiative.
The idea of a KM system is to enable employees to have ready access to the organization's documented base of facts, sources of information, and solutions. For example a typical claim justifying the creation of a KM system might run something like this: an engineer could know the metallurgical composition of an alloy that reduces sound in gear systems. Sharing this information organization wide can lead to more effective engine design and it could also lead to ideas for new or improved equipment.
A KM system could be any of the following:
- Document based i.e. any technology that permits creation/management/sharing of formatted documents such as Lotus Notes, SharePoint, web, distributed databases etc.
- Ontology/Taxonomy based: these are similar to document technologies in the sense that a system of terminologies (i.e. ontology) are used to summarize the document e.g. Author, Subj, Organization etc. as in DAML & other XML based ontologies
- Based on AI technologies which use a customized representation scheme to represent the problem domain.
- Provide network maps of the organization showing the flow of communication between entities and individuals
- Increasingly social computing tools are being deployed to provide a more organic approach to creation of a KM system.
KMS systems deal with information (although Knowledge Management as a discipline may extend beyond the information centric aspect of any system) so they are a class of information system and may build on, or utilize other information sources. Distinguishing features of a KMS can include:
- Purpose: a KMS will have an explicit Knowledge Management objective of some type such as collaboration, sharing good practice or the like.
- Context: One perspective on KMS would see knowledge is information that is meaningfully organized, accumulated and embedded in a context of creation and application.
- Processes: KMS are developed to support and enhance knowledge-intensive processes, tasks or projects of e.g., creation, construction, identification, capturing, acquisition, selection, valuation, organization, linking, structuring, formalization, visualization, transfer, distribution, retention, maintenance, refinement, revision, evolution, accessing, retrieval and last but not least the application of knowledge, also called the knowledge life cycle.
- Participants: Users can play the roles of active, involved participants in knowledge networks and communities fostered by KMS, although this is not necessarily the case. KMS designs are held to reflect that knowledge is developed collectively and that the “distribution” of knowledge leads to its continuous change, reconstruction and application in different contexts, by different participants with differing backgrounds and experiences.
- Instruments: KMS support KM instruments, e.g., the capture, creation and sharing of the codifiable aspects of experience, the creation of corporate knowledge directories, taxonomies or ontologies, expertise locators, skill management systems, collaborative filtering and handling of interests used to connect people, the creation and fostering of communities or knowledge networks.
A KMS offers integrated services to deploy KM instruments for networks of participants, i.e. active knowledge workers, in knowledge-intensive business processes along the entire knowledge life cycle. KMS can be used for a wide range of cooperative, collaborative, adhocracy and hierarchy communities, virtual organizations, societies and other virtual networks, to manage media contents; activities, interactions and work-flows purposes; projects; works, networks, departments, privileges, roles, participants and other active users in order to extract and generate new knowledge and to enhance, leverage and transfer in new outcomes of knowledge providing new services using new formats and interfaces and different communication channels.
The term KMS can be associated to Open Source Software, and Open Standards, Open Protocols and Open Knowledge licenses, initiatives and policies.
Benefits & Issues of knowledge management
Some of the advantages claimed for KM systems are:
- Sharing of valuable organizational information throughout organizational hierarchy.
- Can avoid re-inventing the wheel, reducing redundant work.
- May reduce training time for new employees
- Retention of Intellectual Property after the employee leaves if such knowledge can be codified.
- time management
Knowledge Sharing remains a challenging issue for knowledge management, and while there is no clear agreement barriers may include time issues for knowledge works, the level of trust, lack of effective support technologies and culture (Jennex 2008).
- Knowledge community
- Knowledge ecosystem
- Knowledge engineering
- Knowledge management software
- Knowledge transfer
- Legal case management
- Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management
- Journal of Knowledge Management
- Journal of Knowledge Management Practice
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