Knowledge is increasingly being recognized as the new strategic imperative of organizations. The most established paradigm is that knowledge is power. Therefore, one has to hoard it, keep it to oneself to maintain an advantage. The common attitude of most people is to hold on to one’s knowledge since it is what makes him or her asset to the organization.
Today, knowledge is still considered power - an enormous power in fact - but the understanding has changed considerably, particularly from the perspective of organizations. The new paradigm is that within the organization knowledge must be shared in order for it to grow. It has been shown that the organization that shares knowledge among its management and staff grows stronger and becomes more competitive. This is the core of knowledge management - the sharing of knowledge .
In order to comprehend knowledge management ,it is necessary to first understand the concept of knowledge. What is knowledge? How is it different from information? And how is information different from mere data?
What is data? Data is a number or word or letter without any context. For example, numbers like 5 or 100, without any context, are mere data. Without reference to either space or time, these numbers or data are meaningless points in space and time. The key phrase here is “out of context”. And since it is out of context then it has no meaningful relation to anything else.
A mere collection of data is not information. This means that if there is no relation between the pieces of data, then it is not information. What makes a collection of data information is the understanding of the relationships between the pieces of data or between the collection of data and other information. In other words, what is essential in making data or a collection of data information is the context, that is, the relation between the pieces of data.
For example. If we are given numbers like 1 and 7, they do not mean much. We may relate to the number 1 as being less than 2 and greater than 0, while 7 is a number greater than 6 but less than 8. At this level of understanding, these numbers are mere data. However, if we associate 7 with the number of days in a week, then we create context. With context, these data become information. And the information given by that context is that there are 7 days in 1 week. We have established a relationship between the two pieces of data 1 and 7. We have associated the number 1 with week and the number 7 with days. We have placed the data within a context thus producing information.
We see from this example that information entails an understanding of the relations between data (e.g. the relation between the number 1 and number 7 in the context of the number of days in a week). In general, information remains relatively static in time and linear in nature.
Since information merely provides the relationship between data, it therefore does not provide a foundation for why the data is what it is and does not indicate as to how the data is likely to change over time. In short, information is a relationship between data that is dependent on context for its meaning and with little implication for the future.
An example: data, information and knowledge
This example uses a bank savings account to show how data, information and knowledge relate to the principal, interest rate and interest.
The numbers 100 or 5%, completely out of context, are just pieces of data. Interest, principal, and interest rate, out of context, are not much more than data as each has multiple meanings which are context dependent.
If I establish a bank savings account as the basis for context, then interest, principal, and interest rate become meaningful in that context with specific interpretations. Principal is the amount of money, $100, in the savings account. Interest rate, 5%, is the factor used by the bank to compute interest on the principal.
If I put $100 in my savings account, and the bank pays 5% interest yearly, then at the end of one year the bank will compute the interest of $5 and add it to my principal and I will have $105 in the bank. This pattern represents knowledge, which, when I understand it, allows me to understand how the pattern will evolve over time and the results it will produce. In understanding the pattern, I know and what I know is knowledge. If I deposit more money into my account, I know that I will earn more interest, while if I withdraw money from my account, I know that I will earn less interest.
When information is further processed, it has the potential for becoming knowledge. Information is further processed when one finds a pattern relation existing among data and information. And when one is able to realize and understand the patterns and their implications, then this collection of data and information becomes knowledge. But unlike mere information that is context dependent, knowledge has the tendency to create its own context. In other words, the patterns representing knowledge have a tendency to be self-contextualizing.
These patterns which represent knowledge have a characteristic of being complete - a feature that mere information does not contain. These patterns are dynamic. They are constantly changing. But when these patterns are fully understood, there is a high level of predictability and reliability as to how the patterns will change or evolve over time.
In the modern economy, the knowledge that it is able to harness is the organization’s competitive advantage. This competitive advantage is realized through the full utilization of information and data coupled with the harnessing of people’s skills and ideas as well as their commitments and motivations. In the corporate context, knowledge is the product of organization and systematic reasoning applied to data and information. It is the outcome of learning that provides the organization’s only sustainable competitive advantage. As such knowledge is an essential asset that has become more important than land, labor or capital in today’s economy.
In general, there are two types of knowledge: tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is that stored in the brain of a person.
Tacit knowledge is personal. It is stored in the heads of people. It is accumulated through study and experience. It is developed through the process of interaction with other people. Tacit knowledge grows through the practice of trial and error and the experience of success and failure.
Tacit knowledge, therefore, is context-specific. It is difficult to formalize, record, or articulate. It includes subjective insights, intuitions and conjectures. As intuitive knowledge, it is difficult to communicate and articulate. Since tacit knowledge is highly individualized, the degree and facility by which it can be shared depends to a great extent on the ability and willingness of the person possessing it to convey it to others.
The sharing of tacit knowledge is a great challenge to many organizations. Tacit knowledge can be shared and communicated through various activities and mechanisms. Activities include conversations, workshops, on-the-job training and the like. Mechanisms include, among others, the use of information technology tools such as email, groupware, instant messaging and related technologies.
In managing tacit knowledge, the very first hurdle to most organizations is identifying the tacit knowledge that is useful to the organization. Once relevant tacit knowledge is identified, it becomes extremely valuable to the organization possessing it because it is a unique asset that is difficult for other organizations to replicate. This very characteristic of being unique and hard to replicate is what makes tacit knowledge a basis of the organization’s competitive advantage. Accordingly, it is essential for an organization to discover, propagate and utilize the tacit knowledge of its employees in order to optimize the use of its own intellectual capital.
In any organization, tacit knowledge is the essential prerequisite for making good decisions. A new executive not yet familiar with the organization will find it difficult to make good decisions since he or she has yet to acquire tacit knowledge about the workings of the organization. Tacit knowledge is therefore crucial to getting things done and creating value for the organization.
This is the essence of the “learning organization”. Management and employees need to learn and internalize relevant knowledge through experience and action. And they need to generate new knowledge through personal and group interactions within the organization.
Explicit knowledge is that contained in documents or other forms of storage other than the human brain. Explicit knowledge may therefore be stored or imbedded in facilities, products, processes, services and systems.
Explicit knowledge is codified. It is stored in documents, databases, websites, emails and the like. It is knowledge that can be readily made available to others and transmitted or shared in the form of systematic and formal languages.
Explicit knowledge comprises anything that can be codified, documented and archived. These include knowledge assets such as reports, memos, business plans, drawings, patents, trademarks, customer lists, methodologies, and the like. They represent an accumulation of the organization’s experience kept in a form that can readily be accessed by interested parties and replicated if desired. In many organizations these knowledge assets are stored with the help of computers and information technology.
Explicit knowledge is not completely separate from tacit knowledge. On the other hand, the two are mutually complementary. Without tacit knowledge it will be difficult, if not impossible, to understand explicit knowledge. For example, a person without technical, mathematical or scientific knowledge (tacit knowledge) will have great difficulty understanding a highly complex mathematical formulation or chemical process flow diagram, although it may be readily available from the organization’s library or databases (explicit knowledge).
And unless we try to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, we cannot reflect upon it, study and discuss it, and share it within the organization - since it will remain hidden and inaccessible inside the head of the person that has it.
Interaction between types of knowledge
Both types of knowledge can be produced as a result of interactions or innovations. They can be the outcome of relationships or alliances. They permeate the daily functioning of organizations and contribute to the attainment of their objectives. Both tacit and explicit knowledge enable organizations to respond to novel situations and emerging challenges.
Personal knowledge can become organizational knowledge through the dynamic interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.
This dynamic process is the essence of knowledge creation in an organization. This interaction between the two types of knowledge brings about what is called the four modes of knowledge conversion (Nonaka 1996).
The process of knowledge creation is based on a double spiral movement between tacit and explicit knowledge. Below given Figure shows the four modes of knowledge conversion: socialization (from individual tacit knowledge to group tacit knowledge), externalization (from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge), combination (from separate explicit knowledge to systemic explicit knowledge), and internalization (from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge).
|To tacit knowledge||To explicit knowledge|
|From tacit knowledge||Socialization||Externalization|
|From explicit knowledge||Internalization||Combination|
Socialization is a process of creating common tacit knowledge through shared experiences. In socialization, a field of interaction is built where individuals share experiences and space at the same time. Through this process common unarticulated beliefs and embodied skills are created and developed. In socialization, the tacit knowledge of one person is shared and transmitted to another person and it becomes part of the other person’s tacit knowledge.
Externalization is a process of articulating tacit knowledge into such explicit knowledge as concepts and/or diagrams. The process often uses metaphors, analogies, and/or sketches. This mode is triggered by a dialogue intended to create concepts from tacit knowledge. A good example of externalization is the process of creating a new product concept or developing a new production process. Here the tacit knowledge in the brains of experts are articulated and expressed as concepts or drawings, thus becoming explicit knowledge that can be further studied and refined.
Combination is a process of assembling new and existing explicit knowledge into a systemic knowledge. For example a researcher can assemble an array of previously existing explicit knowledge in order to prepare a new set of specifications for a prototype of a new product. Or an engineer can combine available drawings and design specifications to produce a new process design or equipment. What commonly occurs is the combination of a newly created concept with existing knowledge to produce something tangible (e.g., a new product model).
Internalization is a process of embodying explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge or an individual’s know-how or operational knowledge. An excellent example of this is “learning by doing or using.” Explicit knowledge that is available as text, sound, or video facilitates the internalization process. The use of operating manuals for various machines or equipment is a quintessential example of explicit knowledge that is used for internalization. The instructions are learned and become part of the person’s tacit knowledge.
Knowledge is one of the most important assets of any organization. Unfortunately, very few are able to harness this asset in a meaningful way. Even fewer are organizations that are able to optimize the use of this important asset. In this context, it is helpful to identify two kinds of knowledge: core knowledge and enabling knowledge.
In any organization, certain areas of knowledge are more important than others. The kind of knowledge that is critical to the attainment of the organization’s goal and the fulfillment of its strategy is called “core knowledge”. Because core knowledge is critical to the organization, the management of core knowledge must be kept within the organization. It must be developed and nurtured inside the organization.
Core knowledge alone cannot fully support an organization and make it competitive. There is need for knowledge that can maintain the effectiveness of the organization. Such knowledge is known as “enabling knowledge”. When combined with the core knowledge, such enabling knowledge leads to the development of new products, processes and services. By its very nature, the management of enabling knowledge can be outsourced.
The core and enabling knowledge in organizations are more than a pure competitive advantage. This organizational knowledge makes possible focused and collective action. But as important as organizational knowledge is organizational memory. A great deal of the knowledge of the organization is created and stored at individual level. They are in the heads of people and groups of people who work in the organization - the employees, managers and top executives.
While much of the organizational knowledge is available as explicit knowledge, a significant portion of core and enabling knowledge remain tacit. The willingness to share this tacit knowledge is influenced to a large extent by the managerial approaches to identify, capture and integrate that knowledge. These approaches include award and punishment systems and organizational procedures for assessment of individual performance. The effective implementation of these approaches can contribute to wider sharing of tacit knowledge within the organization.
This is the knowledge challenge. Organizations contain vast reservoirs of untapped core knowledge and enabling expertise. The problem is that top management usually does not know who has what information. Few top executives are aware of where core and enabling knowledge reside and how to enable this knowledge to flow through the organization. This is the very purpose of knowledge management .Knowledge management addresses this problem directly and pointedly. Thus, the importance of knowledgemanagement !
There is no universally accepted definition of knowledge management .But there are numerous definitions proffered by experts. Put very simply, knowledge management is the conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and sharing it within the organization . Putting it more technically and accurately, knowledge management is the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge based assets . Defined in this manner, it becomes apparent that knowledge management is concerned with the process of identifying, acquiring, distributing and maintaining knowledge that is essential to the organization.
If one considers knowledge management in the broadest context, then there are multifarious definitions of knowledge management. All these definitions hint at the same idea but each one focuses on a particular aspect of knowledge management business intelligence + collaboration + search engines + intelligent agents ”. .For example, a results-oriented definition may state that knowledge management is “to have the right knowledge at the right place, at the right time in the right format.” On the other hand, a process-oriented definition may describe knowledge management as “the systematic management of processes by which knowledge is identified, created, gathered, shared and applied”. And a technology-oriented definition may present a formula for knowledge management as “
There are two main aspects of knowledge management ,namely, information management and peoplemanagement .Viewed from this perspective, knowledge management is about information, on one hand, and people, on the other.
Most entrepreneurs and managers are familiar with the term information management .This term is associated with the management of knowledge related to objects that are identified and handled by information systems. The practice of information management developed and became widely accepted when executives realized that information was an important corporate resource that could and should be managed to improve the company’s competitiveness. As a consequence of the growth in the practice of informationmanagement ,the concepts of “information analysis” and “information planning” developed, thus providing additional tools for practitioners.
The second aspect of knowledge management is people management .Basically, this involves the management of tacit knowledge that resides inside the heads of people. In actual practice it entails managing the knowledge that exists alongside organizational processes involving a complex set of dynamic skills, know-how and other knowledge-related capabilities. In order to effectively manage the people that possess the desired tacit knowledge, it is essential to take into consideration their cultural and social values, attitudes and aspirations, and likes and dislikes. If this can be done successfully, it can lead to the creation of new knowledge that otherwise cannot be accomplished by information management alone.
Both aspects of knowledge management embody two immediate concerns:
- to make organizational knowledge more productive
- to produce benefits that are significantly greater than those envisioned.
Knowledge management offers an excellent opportunity to adopt previously impossible business strategies. For example, it can open the door to the creation of an almost unlimited network that enhances the alliances and relationships with customers and suppliers. In enhancing customer relations, knowledge management makes possible the discovery of new issues and opportunities through the optimum use of knowledge assets such as contract sales and records and customer demographics and data, including customer location and contact names.
In order to more fully define and understand knowledge management ,it is useful to consider knowledge management as having four pillars. These pillars are:
- management and organization
- people and culture
- content management systems.
Management and organization
The first and most important pillar of knowledge management is the commitment at the highest levels of management .This commitment is absolutely essential to the success of any knowledge management initiative. Without such commitment, knowledge management initiatives are bound to fail. Sustained efforts to manage knowledge must permeate the entire organization, from the head of the organization down to the rank and file. It is also essential that managers promote appropriate behaviors among employees by setting the example.
The commitment from top management can come in two ways.
Firstly, the managers at the highest levels should serve as role models by sharing and using knowledge themselves. The best way to promote knowledge management and demonstrate its strategic importance is for top management to provide adequate examples of ideal behavior and communicate clearly with all levels in the organization.
Secondly, a structure to support knowledge management should be implemented, including financial, technological and human resources. One way is to create a knowledge management department and designate a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). This department should be given the clear responsibility for the promotion and implementation of knowledgemanagement ,led by the CKO. Its responsibilities should include the establishment of a knowledge-oriented technology infrastructure as well as helping to collect, categorize or monitor the use of knowledge. It should also be assigned the management of organizational resources such as labor and capital to enable it to pursue its objectives effectively.
The responsibility of the CKO should change once the knowledge management system has been established. At the start, the CKO should be involved in the collection and categorization of knowledge. But as the system gets more entrenched, the CKO should serve merely as a facilitator behind the scene playing the role of creating awareness, promoting further progress and monitoring improvements. There should be a conscious effort to allow knowledge to be freely created throughout the organization without too much intervention from the CKO or the knowledge management department.
Another aspect of the management-organization pillar is the management of the value chain, which is a critical enabler for knowledge management. The concept of value chain arises from the fact that organizations do not exist in isolation. They form links joined together in value chains. In these value chains every organization has customers while at the same time being a customer of other organizations. Every organization has to manage the organizational knowledge relating to its customers and suppliers. Such knowledge is generally referred to as customer knowledge, which must be generated, organized, shared and applied - in other words, managed. The main enabling practice with regard to this type of knowledge is customer relationship management .Effective management requires that a rich relationship with customers should be firmly established. In terms of the knowledge management process, this means making sure that the preferences of customers and the feedback that they provide are known to all the relevant persons within the organization.
Why do we have to manage knowledge?
- Marketplaces are increasingly competitive and the rate of innovation is rising.
- Reductions in staffing create a need to replace informal knowledge with formal methods.
- Competitive pressures reduce the size of the work force that holds valuable business knowledge.
- The amount of time available to experience and acquire knowledge has diminished.
- Early retirements and increasing mobility of the work force lead to loss of knowledge.
- Changes in strategic direction may result in the loss of knowledge in a specific area.
The management of customer relationship has two main objectives: to acquire customers and to keep customers. Advertising and promotion can attract and acquire customers. The decision to buy or not a particular product is based on the customer’s perceived value and suitability of the said product. Once the customer makes a decision to purchase, customer relationship management must aim to keep the customer by conveying the message that the product’s value and suitability is maintained or even enhanced. Today, new ICT applications are available to facilitate efforts aimed in this direction and help organizations to improve the ways in which they deal with and keep customers. By the application of customer relationship management it is possible to track customer records and harmonize automated customer interactions.
Once a rich relationship has been established between the organization and its customers (as well as suppliers), the knowledge generated during such relationship can be captured, organized, shared and used internally in decision-making. In this manner, the way in which the organization fits in to the value chain is greatly enhanced, thus giving it competitive advantage. In other words, customer relationship management systems contribute to the smooth operation of customer service processes
and contribute to the creation of a culture that values knowledge sharing. Through customer feedback on a range of subjects, including customer preferences, product requirements, marketing strategy and competitors, new knowledge is generated, thus contributing to the attainment of the organization’s overall objectives.
All knowledge management systems require a certain level of technology and infrastructure support to be effective. As business processes become increasingly complex, knowledge management can be fully implemented only when appropriate information and communication technologies are available. An adequate ICT infrastructure is needed in order to better create, organize, share and apply knowledge. In this sense, ICTs are relevant enablers. Knowledge management solutions that manage both explicit and tacit knowledge must be enabled by a basic communications infrastructure. This basic infrastructure may include, among others, a portal, a virtual workplace or an e-mail environment. The need for such an enabler is greater in organizations that are spread out in many different locations (e.g., a transnational corporation with offices or factories in many countries) since there will be need to communicate and collaborate in productive and meaningful ways across considerable physical distances.
In any knowledge management system, three principal technology infrastructures are needed. These are: firstly, the technology infrastructure needed to organize content; secondly, the technology infrastructure needed to search information, once organized; and thirdly, the technology infrastructure needed to locate appropriate expertise.
In order to organize content, information and communication technology tools are essential. The first step in organizing content is the preparation of the taxonomy or knowledge mapping. In knowledge mapping the contents of an organization are taken and the information classified in a catalogue in an orderly and systematic manner. The way in which workers in the organization think is reflected in the structure of the catalogue. The users recognize taxonomies intuitively since majority of workers apply similar mental models and use established terms in their jobs. As the knowledge management system matures, taxonomies grow in terms of quality and comprehensiveness.
There are multifarious ways to search for needed information. The library is one such source of various kinds of information. In today’s world, the most preferred way of searching for information includes browsing the Internet, exploring electronic databases and seeking digitized documents.
There are a host of document and content management solutions that facilitate the search for information and provide users with unique interface for accessing the Internet as well as information stored in the file servers and databases of the organization. Many technology solutions also provide navigation tools that make them user friendly. By effectively using these document and content management solutions, organizations can become more efficient by finding the needed information faster. In this manner, they are also able to make better-informed decisions.
Technology Appropriate to Knowledge Management Approach
|COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE||
Identifying and locating the relevant expertise for a given task is as important as content availability and classification. Managers make more effective decisions when they have inputs from experienced experts. The process of locating experts within and outside the organization can be greatly facilitated with the application of ICT tools. With such tools it is possible to create “people finders” that identify areas of expertise and “keyword affinities” that describe each expert. An effective searching process normally combines these two ICT tools. By gaining access to the unique knowledge of experts, organizations can enhance their competitive advantage.
People and culture
There is ongoing debate on what is the most important enabler for knowledge management .A number of management analysts contend that technology is the most important. Others consider people to be the most important in knowledge management and argue that knowledge management initiatives that focus mainly on technology can and do often fail. Both are, of course, important to the success of any knowledge management system. But the success of a knowledge management system depends on many factors, and among the most important is the efficient management of people and culture within the organization.
People are the bearers of tacit knowledge. And the sharing of tacit knowledge is crucial to the success of knowledge management .For this reason, perturbations in the composition of the workforce can have significant impact on the organization’s performance. Accordingly, the knowledge management process within an organization must take into account not only the processes and material resources but, more importantly, the people by whom knowledge is generated. This is what is known as the “people and culture” enabler in knowledgemanagement .
People and culture as an enabler of knowledge management requires three important elements. These are:
- the redefinition of organizational structure
- the corresponding human resource practices
- a consistent organizational culture.
The first element, organizational structure, determines the manner by which decision is made as well as the accountability for material and human processes and resources. Organizational structures vary. They can be vertical or horizontal. Depending on the objective of the organization, one type of organizational structure may favor knowledge sharing and knowledge management practices than others. For example, in organizations where creativity and innovation are the most important assets, a horizontal structure that empowers the employees and has few layers of hierarchy will be more conducive to knowledge sharing and management .
The second element, human resources management practices, includes acquiring (recruitment), enabling (training), evaluating (performance measurement), developing (career management )and rewarding (compensation) the knowledge workers. If these practices are effectively carried out, there will be greater impact on the knowledge management practices of the organization as well as in its efforts to create a culture of knowledge sharing among the employees.
The process of recruitment can contribute significantly to the efficient implementation of knowledge management .Effective recruitment practices include, among others, the implementation of joint programs with universities that promote research and knowledge development relevant to the organization. By refining the process of recruitment to ensure that only people with the desired knowledge and relevant experience and abilities are recruited, it would be possible to bring new and useful knowledge into the organization. In addition, such people generally integrate easily into the organization and are able to use and apply existing organizational knowledge quickly and efficiently.
Continuing education and good training practices promote the sharing of knowledge among the workforce. Training methodologies supported by ICTs, such as virtual learning and e-books and train-the-trainer techniques, can be geared towards knowledge sharing and dissemination. In the past, training is generally considered a requirement for promotion. With knowledge management ,organizations today identify the knowledge that is required to meet a certain organizational objective and then design the training to make that knowledge available.
With knowledge management, performance evaluation and compensation systems are now giving increasing importance to knowledge creation and sharing. Increasingly, managers consider not only short-term performance of employees but, more importantly, their knowledge and the speed at which they learn and their contribution to the overall knowledge of the organization. The recognition of employees as experts in their respective areas of specialization is an important key to the success of knowledge management .
In order for the third element - a consistent organizational culture - to flourish, it is important to create a climate of trust and an environment of openness where continuing learning and experimentation are valued, appreciated and supported by everyone in the organization. Concomitantly, an atmosphere conducive to maintaining motivation and the desire to share knowledge must be cultivated and maintained.
The assumptions and values that form the basis of making decisions normally shape the culture of an organization. In order to ensure wide ranging participation of employees in knowledge creation and sharing, there is need to change traditional mindsets and culture from hoarding knowledge to sharing it. This can happen only when there exists a climate of trust within the organization and when employees feel secure about their employment.
On the other hand, motivation gives individuals the desire to share their knowledge. Therefore, it is important to manage the expectations of employees and their motivation schemes. It is not enough to declare the existence of a knowledge sharing scheme but even more important is to provide means to develop their motivation to share knowledge.
Employees can be motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation is more difficult to induce than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation arises from within individuals and is related to the content of their work, organizational goals and the alignment of these with individual objectives. It acts as a powerful force in fostering the growth of tacit knowledge. It may be enhanced by increasing employee’s participation, developing sound personal relationships, and demonstrating positive human resources management decisions such as linking reward to performance.
Extrinsic motivation can be achieved through human resources management practices such as financial compensation or promotion. Money generally provides satisfaction independent of the actual activity. Extrinsic motivation can be achieved by linking the financial motivations of employees to organizational goals and benefits. When tasks are not complex, it is generally sufficient to motivate employees extrinsically. But when tasks are complex, such as the development of a new technology or product, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will be required to promote knowledge sharing.
Content management systems
Content management systems include information assets both internal and external and systems that support the creation and administration of digital information. To ensure the proper functioning of the knowledge management system, programs for managing the content of web sites should be developed and implemented. At the same time, the roles and responsibilities for maintaining and updating content should be clearly delineated. There should also be a way to allow “authors” or “contributors” to provide new content in the form of articles. Content management systems also include some concepts of workflow for target users which define how content is to be routed around the system.
A complete knowledge management system must contain four elements. These are:
- knowledge creation and capture
- knowledge sharing and enrichment
- information storage and retrieval
- knowledge dissemination.
Knowledge Creation and Capture
The first element of knowledge management is knowledge creation and capture. Knowledge is continually being created in any group, corporation or organization since the very interaction among people generates knowledge. One of the primary aims of knowledge management is to capture the knowledge that is produced during such interactions. As a consequence of the highly competitive nature of today’s markets, there is increasing need within corporations and organizations to create new knowledge, generate novel ideas and concepts, and to capture these knowledge, ideas and concepts.
The very survival of a corporation sometimes depends largely on how much new and advanced knowledge it can generate, capture and utilize in order to produce a more competitive or attractive product or service. For this reason, two factors have become of utmost importance in determining competitiveness – creativity and innovation. These two factors have become not only important, but essential, to the long-term viability of the corporation or organization. Unless an organization is able to create new products, develop more efficient manufacturing processes, or introduce improvements in design or function, it will have great difficulty in competing in fast changing markets.
The creation of new knowledge will not be possible without creativity and innovation. These are the two most important traits or skills needed to make the organization more productive and competitive. For this reason, creativity and innovation require proper management .If managed effectively, these skills can be harnessed to discover alternative approaches to doing things, faster way of completing tasks, cheaper methods of producing outputs, and easier paths to accomplishing desired results.
Knowledge Sharing and Enrichment
The second element of knowledge management is knowledge sharing and enrichment. This element is probably the most crucial among the four. It is during the process of sharing that knowledge is usually refined and enriched. Knowledge can be shared by the organization with its employees (e.g., through memos and instructions) and sharing of knowledge can occur between employees of the organization (e.g., through group discussions and internal meetings) as well as with people outside of the organization (e.g., through attending seminars and workshops).
The competitive advantage of many organizations is generally determined by the magnitude of knowledge sharing that takes place within the organization. But knowledge sharing does not automatically take place. It must be encouraged and nurtured. In general, it is necessary to facilitate communication and nurture the right culture within the organization in order for proper sharing of knowledge to take place. A worker with specialized knowledge in one area might ask, “If my knowledge is a valuable resource that makes me an essential asset of the company, why should I share it and create a competition?” On the other hand, a worker confident of his or her expertise in one field might ask, “Why should I use the knowledge of others when it might put to risk the quality of the work that I am doing?” Accordingly, a knowledge manager must take into consideration the natural tendency of human beings to hoard their own knowledge and regard that of others with suspicion when designing a knowledge management system for any organization.
Knowledge sharing can be enhanced through the implementation of appropriate technologies, operations and systems that stimulate collaboration, facilitate the process of sharing, and reward those individuals that share the most knowledge as well as the individuals that actually utilize knowledge that have been shared. Organizations are generally able to make decisions with impact when knowledge is efficiently shared. They are able to make and execute decisions rapidly when individuals throughout the organization can gain access to important strategic ideas. Knowledge managers, therefore, must ensure that employees have direct access to one another rather than requiring them to go through higher management whenever needed information or knowledge are required in the implementation of certain projects or the design of certain products. In this manner, the persons who have the right information or knowledge can readily share it with those who can use it to produce the greatest benefit for the organization.
Information Storage and Retrieval
The third element of knowledge management is information storage and retrieval. The organization should ensure that acquired or shared knowledge is readily accessible to others. This can be done by storing information in a centralized location with sufficient provisions for easy retrieval. For example, reports, statistical data on economic, social and environmental areas can be stored in databases while official documents, once approved, should be categorized and stored electronically in suitable file systems. The documents and information in databases could then be retrieved through the Internet or the organization’s intranet websites.
There are four main options for storing the information that are captured or shared. These are:
- file system storage (local and network directories and folders)
- websites (intranet and external).
In most organizations, the bulk of information is likely to be in relatively unstructured formats. These can be in the form of typical business or office documents such as reports, memos, spreadsheets or emails. These documents normally contain valuable information but they are not easily searched and found. For a knowledge management system to be effective, it must provide for search engines that can deal with such unstructured information. In mostcases, however, some form of information structuring is necessary in order to facilitate subsequent information retrieval and use.
In order to facilitate retrieval, a two-step process has to be implemented: first, the information should be divided into manageable units; and second, each unit should be categorized.
Before the information is divided into smaller units, there is need to determine the size, or granularity, of each meaningful unit. The finer the subdivision or granularity of each unit the more tedious and time consuming the cataloging effort will be. Let us take, for example, the case of cataloging a book describing how to build a particular machine. There are several questions that we need to ask. Shall we consider the entire book as one unit and catalogue it as such. Or, shall we consider as one unit one chapter of the book, or one section or one paragraph of the book? The larger the unit the more difficult it is to find the exact information one is looking for. In some cases, the manner of dividing into units presents itself as obvious. One example is an anthology of short essays by different authors. It is obvious that it can be divided into several units where one unit constitutes one short essay by each author. Some products implicitly assume levels of granularity. For instance, Index Server is based on individual words. On the other hand, databases usually work with fields and records as units for searching and retrieval.
After the information is divided into smaller units, the units must then be categorized by content type. In order to do this, it is necessary to create a list of all the content types for the organization. This list may include classifications such as proposals, invoices, white papers, and correspondence. Each entry is then tagged with content attributes, including metadata such as document title, author, client, and approval status. These predefined categories and attributes constitute the site vocabulary. Microsoft Site Server has facilities for managing content type and attributes.
Once the repository of information is created and populated, the next step will be to provide various means for users to have access to the information needed. This involves designing and providing information retrieval pathways. These pathways should be designed with the user community in mind and made as user-friendly as possible. Since users have different levels of technical expertise and have different purposes for accessing information, multiple access methods will have to be provided. Each access method should be designed to meet a specific user level. In this manner both casual and intensive users will be provided access to the same body of information.
Since different users require different views of the knowledge base, the ability to personalize these views will greatly increase the ease of use. Personalization taps into user profiles to control what content is offered. After the right to access of the user has been verified, personalization can apply the user’s preferences for how and what to present on the page. For example, from the same information database, an engineer may be shown the technical drawing and specifications of a new machine or product that has been entered into the system. On the other hand, a marketing specialist may see the innovative features, the different models and price list of the new product. It is also possible for users to specify the language, font or layout they prefer.
Portals, such as Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard, are capable of showing data from heterogeneous sources side by side and simplifying navigation by consolidating views of data. By using integrated search tools, it is possible to reach across application boundaries to find information. For example, it is possible to integrate human resources, finance, and time and accounting applications by cataloging their data into a single repository. This system can then allow searches against database, file system, and web data in a single query. As a result, a search page can be configured to query multiple repositories at the same time.
There is another form of information retrieval called “push” technology. In this case information retrieval is initiated by the system rather than by a user. In this form of information retrieval, the users subscribe to areas of interest. They then receive updates via e-mail delivery, personalized web pages and personalized corporate portals or home pages. For instance, Site Server provides for pushing information through Active Channels. The Digital Dashboard also offers push capabilities. The consolidation of information from diverse sources can be consolidated using web-based knowledge portals. These portals allow the user to reference, collaborate, and interact with information. These ubiquitous web browsers allow easy access from any location. With these systems, intranets, extranets, and even Internet knowledge management implementations are possible.
The fourth element of knowledge management is knowledge dissemination. Unless knowledge is effectively disseminated, the development impact of knowledge will remain limited. For knowledge dissemination to be effective it will require the transformation of highly individualized tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge that can be more widely shared. In an organization where there is fear of the management or hierarchy, the employees will have a tendency to keep their knowledge to themselves and share it with others only cautiously. In cases such as this, management must take the lead in creating an environment of understanding, cooperation and learning. It should also encourage knowledge sharing, even if the positive results of doing so are not readily apparent. Such results can best be measured in the long term.
Publications, presentations, websites and libraries are the most obvious forms of dissemination of knowledge. Participation in external networks, establishing partnerships with other organizations, and creation of knowledge centers are also effective means to disseminate knowledge. The Asian Development Bank, for example, participates in over 300 networks with professional and other organizations throughout the world, which serve as forums for information exchange and sharing. Through these networks, the Bank is able to disseminate best practices and lessons learned, among many others.
All organizations deal with knowledge in their daily operation. However, only a few have a systematic and formal way of dealing with knowledge. The majority of organizations rely on individuals and ad hoc processes. The consequence of this is that when people leave the organization, they take their knowledge with them resulting in the loss of valuable organizational assets and resources. There are a number of factors that can motivate an organization to establish a formal and systematic management of knowledge. These include the desire or need to:
- get a better insight on how the organization works
- reduce the time and effort in searching for information and documents
- avoid repetition of errors and unnecessary duplication of work
- reduce the response time to questions that are asked frequently
- improve the quality and speed of making important decisions.
Various levels of the organization, including administrative, tactical and strategic, can benefit from a systematic and formal knowledge management .The administrative benefits include significant reduction in Human Resource Management (HRM) workload, better planning of recruitment of employees, personalized training of staff, and improvement in the retention of employees. Knowledge management can provide the employees the necessary tools to auto administer their data. An enterprise portal, for example, can provide the means for employees to update certain data that concern themselves such as home address, bank account and the like. As a consequence of the use of such a portal, the HR department can be relieved of several administrative tasks and focus on other relevant work. In addition, this process gives the employees a sense of being in control of certain aspects pertaining to their personal information.
On the other hand, a web-based skills management system, which can be implemented as a component of the knowledge management system, can enable employees to update and upgrade their own skills. It can also be used to locate or identify people with the right skills. Once all skills of the staff along with their history are stored in a KM system, a knowledge map of the organization can be generated. This map can show the strong and weak points of the organization and indicate emerging trends.
The tactical benefits include faster access to relevant information and documents at any time resulting in accelerated organizational processes. In addition, the knowledge map, which provides an explicit representation of staff competencies and interests, makes possible a better and faster matching of the requirements of particular projects to the skills and interests of people avai