El.pub Analytic Issue Number 9
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|Introduction | KM development | KM in practice | Implications for RTD - measurement and focus | Implications for RTD - technology | Conclusion | Comment on this issue | Annex: Knowledge management|
Knowledge management is the systemic and organizationally specified process for acquiring, organizing, and communicating knowledge of employees so that other employees may make use of it to be more effective and productive in their work (Alavi and Leidner 1999). Knowledge management systems (KMS) are tools to effect the management of knowledge and are manifested in a variety of implementations (Davenport et al. 1998) including document repositories, expertise databases, discussion lists, and context-specific retrieval systems incorporating collaborative filtering technologies.
Source: "A framework of knowledge management systems", Jungpil Hahn , Mani R. Subramani, Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Information Systems, December 2000
Fahey and Prusak (1998) argue that the first error in KM is "not to develop a working definition of knowledge," and it is useful to ask participants the basic question, "What is KM?" as a way of exploring what issues need to be addressed when exploring the case further. The discussion can be started by asking the participants whether, having read the case, they agree with the definition of KM given by Ruggles (1998).
Knowledge management is an approach to adding or creating value by more actively leveraging the know-how, experience, and judgement resident within and, in many cases, outside an organization.
Source: "Knowledge Management at E&Y UK", Ezingeard, Leigh, and Chandler-Wilde, Teaching Case, Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Information Systems, December 2000
Knowledge management doesn't have a "one size fits all" definition. "KM enables an organization to capitalize on lessons learned by helping it gain insight and understanding from its own experience. A critical component of the success of knowledge management is the organization's ability to apply this knowledge to generate new knowledge," according to Knowledge Management: The Backbone to Success in the 21st Century, IDC #CA004BIH, January 2001.
"Knowledge Management is an integrated, systematic approach to identifying, managing, and sharing all of an enterprise's information assets, including databases, documents, policies, and procedures, as well as previously unarticulated expertise and experience held by individual workers."
Source: 1999 U.S. Army report
knowledge is not just an explicit tangible "thing", like information, but information combined with experience, context, interpretation and reflection. Many practitioners increasingly see "knowledge sharing" as a better description of what they are about than "knowledge management". Others would prefer to emphasize "learning", since the real challenge in implementing knowledge management is less in the "sending" and more in the "receiving", particularly the processes of sense making, understanding, and being able to act upon the information available.
Karl Erik Sveiby, the author of The New Organizational Wealth: Managing and Measuring Knowledge-Based Assets (Berrett Koehler, 1997), contends that the confusion between knowledge and information has caused managers to sink billions of dollars in information technology ventures that have yielded marginal results. Sveiby asserts that business managers need to realize that unlike information, knowledge is embedded in people, and knowledge creation occurs in the process of social interaction. On a similar note, Ikujiro Nonaka, the first Xerox distinguished professor of knowledge at University of California Berkely, has emphasized that only human beings can take the central role in knowledge creation. Nonaka argues that computers are merely tools, however great their information-processing capabilities may be.
Four different kinds of knowledge
Knowledge is here divided into four categories which in fact have ancient roots (Lundvall and Johnson, 1994).
Know-what refers to knowledge about "facts". How many people live in New York, what the ingredients in pancakes are, and when the battle of Waterlootook place are examples of this kind of knowledge. Here, knowledge is close towhat is normally called information - it can be broken down into bits andcommunicated as data.
Know-why refers to knowledge about principles and laws of motion in nature, in the human mind and in society. This kind of knowledge has been extremely important for technological development in certain science-based areas, such as the chemical and electric/electronic industries. Access to this kind of knowledge will often make advances in technology more rapid and reduce the frequency of errors in procedures involving trial and error.
Know-how refers to skills - i.e. the ability to do something. It may be related to the skills of production workers, but it plays a key role in all important economic activities. The businessman judging the market prospects for a new product or the personnel manager selecting and training staff use their know-how. It would be misleading to characterise know-how as practical rather than theoretical.
One of the most interesting and profound analyses of the role and formation of know-how is actually about scientists' need for skill formation and personal knowledge (Polanyi, 1958/1978). Even finding the solution to complex mathematical problems is based on intuition and on skills related to pattern recognition which are rooted in experience-based learning rather than on the mechanical carrying out of a series of distinct logical operations (Ziman, 1979, pp. 101-102). Know-how is typically a kind of knowledge developed and kept within the borders of the individual firm or the single research team. As the complexity of the knowledge base increases, however, co-operation between organisations tends to develop. One of the most important reasons for industrial networks is the need for firms to be able to share and combine elements of know-how. Similar networks may be formed between research teams and laboratories.
This is one reason why know-who becomes increasingly important. The general trend towards a more composite knowledge base, with new products typically combining many technologies, each of which is rooted in several different scientific disciplines, makes access to many different sources of knowledge more essential (Pavitt, 1998). Know-who involves information about who knows what and who knows what to do. But it also involves the social ability to co-operate and communicate with different kinds of people and experts.
Source: KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IN THE LEARNING SOCIETY, OECD 2000
Brook Manville, Director of Knowledge Management at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Boston, views the implementation of these issues in terms of the shift from the traditional emphasis on transaction processing, integrated logistics, and work flows to systems that support competencies for communication building, people networks, and on-the-job learning. Manville distinguishes between the three architectures needed for enabling such competencies:
- a new information architecture that includes new languages, categories, and metaphors for identifying and accounting for skills and competencies.
- a new technical architecture that is more social, transparent, open, flexible, and respectful of the individual users.
- a new application architecture oriented toward problem-solving and representation, rather than output and transactions.
One of the major risks in knowledge management programmes is the tendency for organizations to confuse knowledge management with some form of technology, whether it be Lotus Notes, the World Wide Web, or one of the off-the-shelf technology tools that are now proliferating. In the process, the essentially ecological concept of knowledge management becomes degraded into a simple information system that can be engineered without affecting the way the work is done. It is not that information systems are bad. Rather, it is important to recognize that knowledge management is a different and better way of working which affects people, and requires social arrangements like communities to enable it to happen on any consistent and sustained basis.
Source: Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
Technologists never evangelise without a disclaimer: "Technology is just an enabler." True enough - and the disclaimer discloses part of the problem: Enabling what? One flaw in knowledge management is that it often neglects to ask what knowledge to manage and toward what end. Knowledge management activities are all over the map: Building databases, measuring intellectual capital, establishing corporate libraries, building intranets, sharing best practices, installing groupware, leading training programs, leading cultural change, fostering collaboration, creating virtual organizations - all of these are knowledge management, and every functional and staff leader can lay claim to it. But no one claims the big question: Why?
Topics of interest to the information and knowledge management community include application of knowledge representation techniques to semantic modeling, development and management of heterogeneous knowledge bases, automatic acquisition of data and knowledge bases (especially raw text), object-oriented database management systems, optimization techniques, transaction management, high performance online transaction processing systems, and security techniques.
even with modern tools, the process of knowledge transfer is inherently difficult, since those who have knowledge may not be conscious of what they know or how significant it is, or be able or willing to share it with others. Even when they are so willing, the readiness to accept the wisdom of others is often not obvious. Thus know-how is "sticky" and tends to stay in people's heads.
The availability of new information technology, particularly the World Wide Web, has been instrumental in catalysing the knowledge management movement. Information technology may, if well resourced and implemented, provide a comprehensive knowledge base that is speedily accessed, interactive, and of immediate value to the user.
However there are also many examples of systems that are neither quick, easy-to-use, problem free in operation, or easy to maintain. The Web, for example, frequently creates information overload. The development of tools that support knowledge sharing in an appropriate and user-friendly way, particularly in organization-wide knowledge sharing programs, is not a trivial task.
Most of the technological tools now available tend to help dissemination of know-how, but offer less assistance for knowledge use. Tools that assist in knowledge creation are even less well developed, although collaborative workspaces offer promising opportunities, by enabling participation, across time and distance, in project design or knowledge-base development, so that those most knowledgeable about development problems - the people living them on a day-to-day basis - can actively contribute to their solution. Some of the more user-friendly technologies are the traditional ones - face-to-face discussions, the telephone, electronic mail, and paper-based tools such as flip charts.
Among the issues that need to be considered in providing information technology for knowledge sharing programs are:
- responsiveness to user needs: continuous efforts must be made to ensure that the information technology in use meets the varied and changing needs of users.
- content structure: in large systems, classification and cataloguing become important so that items can be easily found and quickly retrieved.
- content quality requirements: standards for admitting new content into the system need to be established and met to ensure operational relevance and high value.
- integration with existing systems: since most knowledge sharing programs aim at embedding knowledge sharing in the work of staff as seamlessly as possible, it is key to integrate knowledge-related technology with pre-existing technology choices.
· scalability: solutions that seem to work well in small groups (e.g. HTML web sites) may not be appropriate for extrapolation organization-wide or on a global basis.
- hardware-software compatibility is important to ensure that choices are made that are compatible with the bandwidth and computing capacity available to users.
- synchronization of technology with the capabilities of users is important so as to take full advantage of the potential of the tools, particularly where the technology skills of users differ widely. Knowledge sharing programs that focus on the simultaneous improvement of the whole system, both technology tools and human practices, are likely to be more successful than programs that focus on one or the other.
One of the major risks in knowledge management programs is the tendency for organizations to confuse knowledge management with some form of technology, whether it be Lotus Notes, the World Wide Web, or one of the off-the-shelf technology tools that are now proliferating. In the process, the essentially ecological concept of knowledge management becomes degraded into a simple information system that can be engineered without affecting the way the work is done. It is not that information systems are bad. Rather, it is important to recognize that knowledge management is a different and better way of working which affects people, and requires social arrangements like communities to enable it to happen on any consistent and sustained basis.
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