By Dr Eugene Brink
It is almost trite to speak of the contemporary economy as one defined by information, skills and knowledge. But do we really know that these elements should be leveraged to reach strategic business objectives?
This is the reason why knowledge management has sprouted and flourished as a discipline in its own right – and distinct from, yet intertwined with, information technology (IT) – over the last 30 years. The business sector has realised that in order to stay ahead of the curve and innovate, they must leverage and maximise their intellectual capital.
Some definitions and clarification
One of the most famous, simplest and laconic definitions of knowledge management is the one offered by Tom Davenport back in 1994: “Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.”
Emil Hajric, founder of Helpjuice, a knowledge-management software company based in the US, states that knowledge management is “essentially about getting the right knowledge to the right person at the right time”. “This in itself may not seem so complex, but it implies a strong tie to corporate strategy, understanding of where and in what forms knowledge exists, creating processes that span organisational functions, and ensuring that initiatives are accepted and supported by organisational members. Knowledge management may also include new knowledge creation, or it may solely focus on knowledge sharing, storage, and refinement.”
The Gartner Group added the following to knowledge management’s conceptualisation: “Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.”
Different from information management
Although in many ways intertwined, the management of information and of knowledge differs in scope and depth. Hajric says knowledge management solutions today are often nothing more than information management, such as the handling of documents, data, information and even explicit knowledge. However, the most vital aspect of knowledge management, namely tacit knowledge, is left in abeyance.
Explicit knowledge is that which is easy to articulate, write down and share. Tacit knowledge is more experiential, personal and difficult to express.
Information management is largely about know-what and focuses on unstructured and structured facts and figures that are already in codified format. Knowledge management focuses on understanding, knowledge and wisdom and deals with codified and uncodified knowledge. “Uncodified knowledge ─ the most valuable type of knowledge ─ is found in the minds of practitioners and is unarticulated, context-based, and experience-based.”
“Technology is extremely useful, but knowledge management’s focus is on people and processes. IT is great for transferring explicit, codified knowledge, but its role in the transfer of deeper, internalised knowledge is more complex. Since this kind of knowledge is passed from person to person, through interaction, collaboration, mentoring, etc. and preferably in an unstructured environment, IT tools for KM have to support this function,” says Hajric.
Hence, knowledge management is largely about know-how, know-why, and know-who.
What does it entail in practice?
According to Stan Garfield, knowledge management author and speaker, there are ten tenets of a knowledge management strategy: motivate, network, supply, analyse, codify, disseminate, demand, act, invent, and augment.
For instance, rewards and incentives must be provided to obtain buy-in for knowledge-sharing initiatives. Direct contact between people should be encouraged and facilitated. This is where communities of practice are extremely useful. It is a social way of learning, whereby people with shared interests are brought together to tell stories and discuss problems. Knowledge needs to be captured in document form and analysed for application value. Blogs, wikis, newsletters, websites and email messages are all forms of disseminating knowledge to the right users. It needs to support decision-making, in-time action and even innovation.
Michael Koenig, professor and former and founding dean of the College of Information and Computer Science at Long Island University, says knowledge management firstly consists of content management. This means making the organisation’s data and information available to its members through dashboards, portals and content management systems. Expertise location is equally important, and this term denotes the tracking and tapping of the specific knowledge of an expert in an organisation. Lessons learned and best practices are captured in databases and made explicit.
Emil Hajric, 2018, “Knowledge management”, http://www.knowledge-management-tools.net/.
Emil Hajric, 2018, “Information management vs Knowledge management”, https://www.knowledge-management-tools.net/IM_vs_KM.html.
Michael Koenig, 2018, “What is KM? Knowledge management explained”, https://www.kmworld.com/About/What_is_Knowledge_Management.
Rachel Alexander, 16 January 2018, “Implicit, tacit, or explicit: All knowledge is valuable”, https://bloomfire.com/blog/implicit-tacit-explicit-knowledge/.
Stan Garfield, 23 April 2018, “10 types of knowledge management strategies”, https://medium.com/@stangarfield/10-types-of-knowledge-management-strategies-f947f28599a7.