You are on page 1of 25

Ph.D.

PROPOSAL
The organizational implementation of Knowledge Management solutions: Towards a
framework based on Sense Making and Organizing Visions

Kostas Samiotis, MSc. IS


Department of Informatics
Athens University of Economics and Business
76, Patission Str.
10434 Athens
GREECE
E-mail: samiotis@aueb.gr
Words: 4.800
Keywords: knowledge, IS implementation, strategy, resources, work practices,
intervention, adoption

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

Extended Abstract
The quest for technologies with strategic value for the organization but also with empowering
strengths for the work context of the firm has persistently occupied the landscape of information
systems. Knowledge Management is the latest techno-managerial buzzword earmarked for improving
the work processes and creating value for a firms operations. Knowledge Management comprises a
multiplicity of technological offerings for potential applications. Nevertheless, there is scarce
empirical evidence on phenomena, conditions and factors related to the organizational adoption of
these offerings. The research treats Knowledge Management systems as IS innovations by explaining
organizational situations and phenomena related to its adoption.

This research seeks a deeper understanding of organizational phenomena taking place during the
adoption and implementation of KM technical solutions. The author utilizes Weicks sense making
theory to identify the drivers affecting the adoption of Knowledge Management as a new form of
techno-managerial practice, and the potential areas of its application. Subsequently, the research
studies the organizational preparations that accompany the decision to adopt KM practices. This
study is based on the perception of KM as technological innovation and utilizes Burton Swansons
organizing vision to expose the building blocks of relevant organizational behavior.

Empirical work is based on a longitudinal Case Study. The research monitors a Retail Bank in a state
of rapid business development and intense innovative behavior. Knowledge Management is being
considered for adoption as a practice that could facilitate the sustainable development of new
products and services, and beyond that the transition to a radically different set of operational
arrangements. Specifically, the organization under study has recently established an electronic
banking division that is responsible for the creation of awareness for the new electronic services and

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

their promotion to existing and new clients. Ultimately, the strategic orientation of this organization is
to become a virtual service provider (electronic banking).

In tandem with these developments, the Bank in collaboration with the authors institution is
proceeding with the development of an experimental KM infrastructure. This KM infrastructure
consists of a technological solution and a set of guidelines related to the management of its adoption.
This initiative, the focus of the research, targets knowledge resources requirements both of the
functional level, where the clients interact with the bank and, and the tactical-strategic level, where
the design and implementation of the new e-banking services and products is taking place.

One of the challenges related with this research is drawing the distinction between organizational and
individual knowledge in this case. Inevitably, the notion of requirements capturing in the context of
such technological and organizational innovation is also an open concern. Most of the conventional
requirements capturing practices do not cater satisfactorily for radical changes envisaged to
management practice. In the case under study, such practice refers to preparing the existing work
environment to accommodate the intervention introduced through the KM technological solution,
and to familiarization of employees with the notion of knowledge and its role in their work practices
resulting in the introduction of the new work arrangements needed to put knowledge to action. The
research has already started to map the working environment of the Bank and to investigate attitudes
concerning the introduction of a new technological platform, in order to incorporate them in the
behaviour and the functionality offered by the system. At the moment, an environmental analysis is
taking place along with the design and development of the KM system. As soon as the system is
installed in the organization, the research turn to its main concern, namely its interaction with the
organizational context.

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

1.

Introduction

Despite the ambiguities surrounding Knowledge Management more and more organizations start to
realize its strategic potential for coping with the turbulence of the new corporate environment. Within
the knowledge era, it has become widely recognized that the intangible assets of an organization will
be key to both its ability to create competitive advantage, and to grow at an accelerated pace [Itami,
1987][Sveiby, 1996]. According to Drucker, the period we cover is characterized by the shift of
traditional production factors, which used to be capital, land or labor, to the only meaningful resource
that can lead to the obtainment of social and economic results, which is knowledge [Drucker, 1993].
As a result, more and more organizations are showing increased attention to the creation of value
through leveraging knowledge. The importance of knowledge as a strategic resource and its role in the
firms competitiveness has been widely recognized lately by a large number of scholars [Spender,
1996, 1998][Drucker, 1992][Grant, 1996][Davenport and Prusak, 1998][Teece et al, 1997][Teece
1998][Nonaka et al 2000].
The increasing interest in knowledge intensive organizations coincides with the recognition of the
fundamental role knowledge plays in the formulation of business strategies, as the only corporate
resource that can provide sustainable competitive advantage [Rumelt, 1974][Grant, 1996]. New
economy firms comprise companies where most work is said to be of an intellectual nature and
where well-educated, qualified employees form the major part of the work force. The characterization
of a firm, or of particular aspects of work within a firm as knowledge intensive implies that knowledge
has a more important role than all the others production factors, like capital and labor so much as input
as output. Examples of companies in this category are law, accounting firms, management,
engineering and computer consultancy companies, advertising agencies, R&D units, and high-tech
companies [Alvesson, 1995].
The notion of knowledge has inspired lately a surge of research within the field of information
systems. Knowledge management systems are in the center of interest due to the challenges that they

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

raise concerning the issues of organizational design and application, implementation, and use. Despite
the undoubted necessity of appropriate technologies that would enable the organization and
conceptualisation of firms knowledge, there hasnt been until know a comprehensive framework for
the analysis, design and use of KM systems.
The IS community has not paid enough attention up to now to the technological proposal of the
emerging field, and its implications for the adoption and institutionalisation of current technological
solutions. Partly, this is due to the gap that currently exists between the two different perspectives,
adopted within the knowledge management domain. For many researchers, KM is seen as a strategic
business development practice, in which knowledge and organizational competences are closely
interrelated as the source of wealth creation [Teece, 1998][Spender, 1996][Prahalad and Hamel, 1990].
For technology providers and system experts, KM is a technological innovation, which can provide
organizations with intelligent knowledge management systems.
In accordance to the above perspectives, current research proposal refers to knowledge management as
a socio-technical practice, which draws upon relevant IS and organizational theory [Checkland,
1981][Wahsham, 1993]. It is important that a discussion is initiated around the IS character of
knowledge management practice as the convergent notion for strategy and work context. The research
employs theoretical constructs to explore the implications of the development of KM systems from an
IS perspective. We utilize Weicks sense making constructs to highlight issues related to the
organizational character of a KM solution, and Swansons and Ramillers organizing visions to trace
the evolution of a KM solution from a technological design to a sustainable organizational resource.
Central in the current research discussion are the innovative aspects of Knowledge Management, both
methodologically and technologically, and more specifically the issues referring to the exploitation
and contribution of knowledge in an organizational context that transforms and tries to become an ebusiness. The research is engaged in the study of knowledge management notions in terms of
technological and organizational intervention required to support new business environments. To this
purpose, the banking sector, a novel sector that leads several initiatives in the digital economy, has

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

been chosen for the investigation of knowledge management efficiency and effectiveness in its
organizational processes.
The research will be based on a case study of a Banking organization, which has started to apply
Knowledge Management in specific operations that the firm thinks are of strategic importance for its
competitiveness in the digital era. The application of Knowledge Management comprises an
information system and an organizational methodology. The research aims at monitoring the evolution
of the implementation of the KM technological proposition as a means to extrapolate generalizable
evidences for the embodiment of innovative technologies within the work practices of an organization.
The literature review that is presented below does not comprise yet a coherent theoretical framework
that could provide the lens for interpreting the social constructions emerging within the organizational
reality under study. The research is now trying to make sense out of the theoretical pluralism that
characterizes the knowledge management arena with regards to the work practice oriented IS
enablements.

2.

Literature Review

Knowledge management practice has been developed to address the problems of knowledge work
within knowledge intensive organizations [Sveiby, 1992][Drucker, 1988][ Starbuck, 1992]. Initially,
the challenge was to manage the functional aspects of knowledge by categorizing and making it
available. However, knowledge is a social process, which mainly involves the interaction of people.
People gain knowledge through learning and also translate their knowledge into firms routines and
competences, job descriptions, plans, strategies, and cultures. In knowledge intensive companies the
competitive advantage lies mostly in the effective use of human resources [Pfeffer, 1994].
Since knowledge became the focal asset of contemporary organizations, there has been a multiplicity
of arguments regarding issues of definition and exploitation. Before we review these literature streams
in knowledge management field, we have to understand that the concept of knowledge implies more
than an accumulation of information, rather it is an organized collection that reflects the intentions of

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

the humans who create it and interpret it [Laudon et al., 1996]. Thus, knowledge should be treated not
as a factor that simply is put into use for the solving of problems, but is the key feature impacting the
performance of the organization for many organizations and workers [Starbuck, 1992]. Below we try
to make justice of both organizational and strategic perspectives of knowledge theories.
2.1

Aspects and Categories of Knowledge

A variety of aspects and categories of knowledge have been identified in the organisational literature.
Aspects of knowledge like its nature (knowledge as an object, or as a process), its context (i.e. social,
organisational, groups, individual) and its location (i.e. routines, brains, symbols etc) have been
discussed by a variety of scholars. The distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge has a
prominent position in this discussion. Explicit or codified knowledge is the knowledge that is
objective and rational and can be expressed in formal and systematic language [Nonaka,
1994][Nonaka et al, 2000]. Explicit knowledge is very often codified in a written form such as
manuals, brochures, standardized procedures etc. However, as Borghoff and Pareschi [1998] very
correctly point out,
Explicit knowledge defines the identity, the competencies, and the intellectual assets of an
organisation independently of its employees; thus it is organisational knowledge par excellence, but it
can grow and sustain itself only through a rich background of tacit knowledge (p. 6)
Tacit knowledge is what is difficult to be articulated in a meaningful and complete way: the
knowledge of techniques, methods and designs that work in certain ways and with certain
consequences, even when one cannot explain exactly why [Rosenberg, 1982, p.143]. Polanyi
encapsulates the meaning of tacit knowledge in the phrase "We know more than we can tell [1966, p.
4]. Tacit knowledge is subjective, experiential and hard to formalise and communicate. Tacit
knowledge has a personal quality, it is deeply rooted in action and understanding, involves both
cognitive and technical elements, and is non-transferable without personal contact [Nonaka,
1994][Nonaka et al, 2000][Senker, 1993]. According to Kay [1999, p.13]:

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

tacit knowledge can take many forms, is unique to an organisation - and therefore cannot
be copied...The benefits of such tacit knowledge arise only through a culture of trust and knowledge
sharing
In fact the issue of sharing the organisational knowledge, what is called transferability of knowledge,
is one of the most important ones in the knowledge discussion. It seems that there is a powerful
relationship between codification of knowledge and the costs of its transfer; apparently the more a
given item of knowledge or experience has been codified, the more economical is its transfer [Teece,
1998]. Whether the transferred knowledge will be considered useful or not by its recipients depend on
whether they are familiar with the code chosen as well as the different contexts in which it is used
[Teece, 1998][Shannon and Weaver, 1949]. In fact the marginal cost of knowledge transmission rise
very rapidly with "distance" from the context in which the knowledge was generated [Pavitt, 1987].
This happens mainly because of the tacit dimension of knowledge: tacit knowledge is less observable
in use, more complex and less teachable [Shapiro, 1999]. As a result tacit knowledge transfer is slow,
costly and very difficult to take place. While the new information technologies have facilitated the
diffusion of codified knowledge, they have not been equally efficient in facilitating transfer of tacit
knowledge. Some form of direct personal interaction (either physical or virtual) is necessary for
transferring tacit knowledge.
Blumentritt and Johnsons [1999] framework for categorising knowledge puts the primary emphasis
on the degree of difficulty in transferring knowledge. They distinguish four different categories of
knowledge:
!" Codified knowledge, equivalent to information. The knowledge has been made explicit by a

human and it is in a readily transferable form;


!" Common knowledge, knowledge that is accepted as standard without been formally explicit;
!" Social knowledge, knowledge about cultural and interpersonal relationships; Knowledge of

social links and shared values

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

!" Embodied knowledge, tacit knowledge related to experience, background and skills of a person.

According to this framework, the transfer of codified knowledge involves the smallest degree of
difficulty while the transfer of embodied knowledge is the hardest task.
The notion of knowledge is only one part of this research and is being studied in combination with its
strategic implications. To this end, a short overview of the theories related to the notion of knowledge
are presented.
2.2

The Strategic Context: Knowledge as a Resource

Neo-classical theory assumes that firms have perfect knowledge of market conditions and thus they
respond automatically in changes to factor prices. The organisation theory has been dominated by a
paradigm that considers the organisation as a system that processes information and solves
problems. Both perspectives are overly static because they consider information processing as a
problem-solving activity; the emphasis is on what is given to the organisation without due
consideration of what the organisation creates with it. In other words both perspectives assume the
same reaction when a certain set of information is given to different companies. Both approaches pay
little attention to exploitation of unique skills and capabilities.
The resource-based view of the firm, mainly developed by Penrose [1959] and Rumelt [1974],
challenged these approaches by recognising the heterogeneous endowments of resources in different
firms. Decisions about various strategic moves must be taken in the light of capturing rents from
scarce firm-specific resources rather than economic profits from market positioning. New resources
cannot develop quickly since their development is an extremely complex process while firms may
have limited profit from purchasing new ones, at least because assets like tacit knowledge and culture
are simply not tradable. In few words the resource based view of the firm considers the firm as a
repository of resources which are developed by the knowledge-creating activities of an organisation
[Teece, 1984][Rumelt, 1974][Teece et al, 1997][Prahalad and Hamel, 1990][Grant, 1996][Nonaka and
Takeuchi, 1995][Leonard-Barton, 1995][Nonaka, Toyama, Nagata, 2000].

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

2.2.1

The Concepts of Competencies and Capabilities

Members of the academic and the business communities alike recognised that the concepts and tools
of analysis that formed the backbone of traditional organisational studies needed a basic re-evaluation
in order to allow the development of new ideas. One of the more important re-considerations was the
shift of emphasis from specific actions to patterns of behavior underlying these actions [Cooper,
1984]. In Coombs' words [1994, p.384]:
Until the mid 1970s the study of industrial innovation was mainly conducted within a
framework which took the individual instance of innovation as the unit of analysis ... Gradually
however, the focus of research shifted towards taking larger samples of innovations and looking for
distinctive patterns of firm behavior which characterised successful innovation
In other words, the strategic actions through which firms grow require organisations to develop firmspecific patterns of behavior i.e. difficult to imitate combinations of organisational, functional and
technological skills [Teece et al. 1997]. These unique combinations have been called competencies
and capabilities and take place through the firms intangible knowledge applied in its value-adding
processes. Competitive advantage stems from the firm-specific configuration of its intangible
knowledge, through which it adds value to the final product/service [Schumpeter, 1942][Penrose
1959][Grant, 1996][Coombs and Richards, 1991][Teece, 1982, 1984].
Prahalad and Hamel [1990] describe a contemporary firm as a large tree whose "trunk and major limbs
are core products the smaller branches are business units; the leaves, flowers and fruit are end
products. The root system that provides nourishment, sustenance, and stability is the core competence"
(p.82). At the level of core competence the goal is to build leadership in the design and development
of a particular class of product functionality. Conceiving companies as a collection of discrete
businesses inevitably leads to resources confined to individual departments and bounded innovations
since hybrid opportunities rarely take place. But core competence involves many levels of people and
functions.

10

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

Leonard-Barton [1995] explores the concept of capabilities to include the employees' knowledge and
skills, the physical technical systems, the managerial systems of education and rewards and finally the
organisational values and norms which "determine what kinds of knowledge-building activities are
encouraged" (ibid., p.19). She distinguishes between supplemental, enabling and core capabilities. The
first kind of capabilities are "nice to have -but unessential", the second are "the minimum basis for
competition in the industry but that, by themselves, convey no particular competitive advantage" while
the core ones are those that "at least potentially provide a competitive edge" (ibid., p.18).
2.3

Knowledge Management: Towards an Organizing Vision

The problem that is encountered in the current state of knowledge management is related to the
ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding the nature of the innovation it constitutes for an organization.
KM technology is still at an immature state, puzzling as to its future prospects, and eventual form.
Hence, the technology itself and the set of understandings that define its applicability and use are
incomplete and unstable [Rosenberg, 1994]. A relevant theoretical construct for conceptualising KM
as an IS innovation is Swansons and Ramillers organizing vision, which is the collective product of
the actions and decisions of the members of a community for the development and diffusion of an IS
innovation [Swanson & Ramiller, 1997]. The rise of knowledge intensive organizations and the
growing significance of knowledge, as firms strategic resource, stipulate for the need of constructing
an organizing vision for Knowledge Management.
According to Swanson and Ramiller, the organizing vision is defined as a focal community idea for
the application of information technology, in our case a KM technology, in organizations. In other
words, an organizing vision for a KM innovation is, hence, a vision for organizing in a way that
embeds and utilizes technology in organizational structures and processes. In our case, related to
knowledge work, however, a KM innovation - as all IS innovations - cannot be extrapolated from new
technology; rather, the innovation must be willfully cast in future insights and potentials.
The organizing vision for knowledge management entails particularities that refer to its development
process, raised by the fact that the building block of this innovation, which is knowledge, exhibits

11

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

challenges related to its social character. In our research, we adopt concepts of sense making, in order
to develop a shared interpretation that can serve as a guide to KM implementation. Weicks Sense
making explains the organizational reality, by providing the means of making sense of events and
actions that occurred in the past and, hence, constructing meaning. An organization makes sense of its
environment through four sets of interlocking processes: ecological change, enactment, selection, and
retention [Weick, 1995]. In the current research, these processes are used as a guide for the
implementation of KM system.
2.4

Requirements for the support of Knowledge Intensive Work

Knowledge intensive activities can be considered as a type of knowledge work, since they involve the
use and application of knowledge. According to Davenport et al, knowledge work comprises four
activities, which are acquisition, creation, packaging, or application of knowledge [Davenport et al.,
1996]. What makes knowledge work special and different are its characteristics of variety, exception,
complexity, and volatility in contrast with routine, and the fact that it is performed by professional or
technical workers with a high level of skills and expertise. People engaged in knowledge intensive
activities have the above attributes and their work does not follow any predetermined task sequence
that facilitates and guides the generation of the outcome. They operate by an intuitive feel of how to
accomplish their work and through accumulated experience.
Knowledge intensive organizations, with their wealth of knowledge form a challenging arena for
knowledge-focused techniques and tools. The need for the appropriate KM technologies has been
stressed during the last years, as knowledge management became a critical success factors for
competitive organizations [Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995][Davenport and Prusak, 1998]. The aim of these
technologies would be to optimise the creation, dissemination and exploitation of both explicit and
tacit knowledge in order to enhance business value and compete with knowledge.
Through the above elicitations, it is clear that the activities of the knowledge intensive organizations
depend highly on the knowledge and its organization that derives from individuals or groups employed
in such firms. The adoption and application of knowledge management is hence essential, in order to

12

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

facilitate the accession of the appropriate corporate knowledge at the appropriate time. This necessity
is more stressed in knowledge intensive organizations, where most of the work processes rely on
knowledge.
2.5

Sense Making of the Knowledge Management application context

The efficient and effective management of knowledge prerequisites the establishment of the
appropriate business practices and the technologies that best serve this purpose. Sense making is
considered an approach for understanding organisational needs and capturing the knowledge, which
resides within organizations. This approach assist to understand what is happening in the organization
and to develop a shared interpretation that could serve as a guide to action. According to Weick, we
end up making sense about certain environments through four inter-locking processes: ecological
change, enactment, selection, and retention. Each process could guide the implementation of KM
systems through the investigation of the problematic areas and finally their modeling.
The ecological change triggers sense making by urging organizations members to understand and
determine the significance of the knowledge discontinuities taking place in the organizational
environment. Enactment of the environment to which KM technology is applied follows the realization
of the meaning of the changes needed to happen in the knowledge landscape of the organization. In
creating the enacted environment, focus is placed on certain elements of the environment and isolation
of appropriate actions and documents, key persons, and relationships is needed. The output of the
enactment process is the generation of raw information about environmental changes and work
processes, which will subsequently be turned into meaning and action. At this phase, we try to identify
the knowledge that exists, and the knowledge that is missing.
During the selection process, we should determine which of the previous situations can provide
reasonable interpretation of what is the best working practice for the organization. The selection
process reaches into the past to extract history and select a reasonable scheme for interpretation. The
new scheme is validated against the accumulated knowledge, in order to identify any possible
shortages of knowledge or even deficiencies in the process. If this is the case, previous phases should

13

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

be repeated until the new action scheme is viable with the knowledge that has been discovered within
the organization.
The completion of this iterative process will feed retention process, where the products of successful
sense making are modeled for future use. The outcome of the retention process is like a historical
document, which will be stored as a map of relationships between events, actions and information that
can be retrieved and superimposed on subsequent activities.
The resulting organisational intervention do not challenge the current context of work while it
provides increased effectiveness in knowledge sharing and exploitation. Sense making constructs play
a decisive role in the implementation of a KM system that would underpin the organizations
processes and eventually facilitate the creation of new knowledge.

3.

Research Methodology and Context

Our research approach follows the interpretivist paradigm [Walsham, 1993]. We seek to apply our
theoretical constructs into organizational settings with the primary goal of eliciting a deeper
understanding on the phenomena surrounding work practice enactment of knowledge and draw
findings that could inform potential applications of knowledge management practices. Our unit of
analysis is that of an organizational group and the nature of our research output comprises ultimately
organizationally feasible and systemically desirable [Checkland, 1981] proposals for organizational
knowledge support.
Empirical research presented below comprises a single site (organization), longitudinal case study. It
is a 3-year long study in its second year of development. We work with multiple informants within this
business organization all of whom have an expressed stake in encouraging and supporting knowledge
enactment in their firm. Our involvement with this organizational setting is intense and multifaceted.
More specifically:
#"We are responsible for the design and delivery of a knowledge management application within

an organizational unit whose work brief is deemed as critical for the sustainable development

14

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

of the organization as a whole. The design of the system reflects the organization of work
practices around business processes.
#"We have undertaken the commitment to engage in appropriate action to support this

organization in the process of adopting in a meaningful manner the technological proposition


(i.e. the system) that is being developed. The process of embedding this system into
organizational work routines (in essence an organizational intervention) is framed as a sense
making endeavor, drawing on Weicks ideas.
#"We are complementing work done in (i) and (ii) with inquiry into knowledge and learning

enactment and its relation to work practices within this organizational setting. In other words,
we adopt a critical view on the Weicks sense-making framework in terms of its contribution
into knowledge enactment.
Evidence is being collected primarily through interviews, brainstorming and issue resolution meetings
(concerning the knowledge management system and its adoption), and participant observation of
organizational activity (pl. refer the to following section).
In brief, we study the evolution of an organizational intervention comprising knowledge management
technology and its potential for supporting knowledge exploration and expoitation anchored on work
practices. Technology in this research is viewed as (i) enabler for knowledge capabilities development
and (ii) a new type of organizational capability in itself. The particulars of the technical system design
are not being presented in this paper.
3.1

The Case Setting

The organization under study is a medium to small (by EU standards) retail bank. The bank is ranked
fourth in size at a national level, it employs around 4000 people and has a network of 200 branches all
deployed in a single EU country (Greece). The focal organizational unit for our study is the e-banking
department, created in the January 2000. Preparatory work on the development and procurement of the
necessary infrastructure to deliver electronic banking services had started in the bank approximately

15

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

one year before that date. The bank launched its first bouquet of e-banking services to public in
March 2000 with an extensive and intensive marketing campaign. It should be noted that at that time
the bank was the first to offer such an extensive range of electronic banking services in the local
market.
The banks digital strategy (their own term) comprised a number of banking services that its
customers could access through digital channels. Under digital channels, the bank grouped all types
of transactions that a customer could perform over ATMs, Internet, phone (call center), mobile phone
(based on SMS and WAP), while it also plalns to develop services for interactive digital television.
At its inception, the e-banking department comprised groups responsible for marketing and sales,
internet activities, electronic commerce, call center services, ATM operations, and mobile phone
banking services. A few months later, call center operations were consolidated as a separate
(subsidiary) business organization.
E-banking operations were supported within the bank by a network of people, identified as e-banking
agents, located in each branch of the bank network. Initially, the role of the e-banking agent was
assigned to the people that were responsible for the technical maintenance of the transaction systems
in each branch (the platform officers). Very soon it was realized that these people lacked the
necessary customer communications skills needed to promote the new services to the banks large,
disparate and unaccustomed to technology customer base. Subsequently, e-banking agent
responsibilities were redistributed among branch staff already experienced with customer service (e.g.
loan & investments consultants). The assignment of the e-banking agent role to specific employees
and the training of these people was undertaken by the Human Resource Development department.
The brief of the e-banking department was the management of the banking products and services
offered through digital channels (their own words). Management refers to the design and support of
the banking products and services. The e-banking agents are the human interfaces of e-banking
department with banks customers. Their role, at least in the beginning, is to promote e-banking
services and products to external and internal customers. To facilitate the promotion e-banking
16

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

services, agents were periodically subjected to face-to-face training regarding product and services
characteristics, development of communication and marketing skills, and trouble-shooting.
At the time of the e-banking department establishment, a number of relevant initiatives were taking
place in the bank. Of particular interest is the competences mapping project handled by the Human
Resource Development department. The scope of this project, still currently under way, is to reconceptualise the organization of work practices across all bank operations by placing emphasis of the
skills required to meet the requirements in each operational front, rather than on job descriptions
anchored on the detailed specification of tasks. This project, along with other re-organisation
initiatives is the result of a top-level decision to reshape all major operations from inward looking
functional silos, to customer oriented service provision by all bank employees (their own words). The
competences mapping project is hailed by the bank as the groundwork required to inform human
resource development strategy particularly in terms of re-deploying personnel around new and
restructured operations, and in terms of managing training initiatives.
A second significant development was the provision of computer-based training services over the
banks intranet. These services, also launched at the beginning of 2000 were meant as complementary
to traditional classroom based training. Computer based training courses were delivered organizationwide over the banks intranet/extranet infrastructure packaged in what the Bank termed as a first
version of our learning portal. Instructional content developed to date in this portal targets primarily
sales and customer communications techniques.
Last but not least, at the time that our study set-off, the banks main transaction systems had
undergone extensive revamping to exhibit a more customer-centric philosophy (own words). In
essence, the revamping comprised the integration of separate systems into a singe platform, the
redevelopment of all major user interfaces to operational systems, and the deployment of more
management reporting tools. As a result, PC use penetration among the banks employees more than
doubled within the course of a year. An extensive personnel training effort on new systems
functionalities is still under way across the bank.

17

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

The case of the bank for the research described in this paper is not simply an organizational context we
draw data from. Our involvement with the case setting is much more active and includes the
following:
#"The development of a knowledge management application tailored to the needs of the e-

banking department both in terms of providing knowledge oriented support for their internal
work arrangements, and in terms of providing learning opportunities both to them and to ebanking agents located in the branches particularly through knowledge sharing and
collaboration.
#"Appropriate facilitation and support throughout the scooping, specification, and (most

importantly) deployment of (i) with special emphasis given to work context-sensitive adoption
guidance and on alignment of this effort with related projects such as the competences mapping
project, and the development of the learning portal.
Our partners and informants in this study include major stakeholders in the evolution of the e-banking
department and the related developments within its environment (the bank). In fact, the group of
people we are working with share, among them, most of the decision making responsibility for the
development and redefinition of the banks operations. The informant group includes one of the two
Vice Presidents of the bank responsible for IT, organizational development and new products. We are
also in contact with the Human Resource Development Director, who is responsible for the
competence mapping project and the formulation of the training strategy. Regarding the e-banking
department, the main stakeholders we work with are its director and the marketing manager. The
former is responsible for e-banking strategy in terms of digital services and products offered, while the
latter manages their promotion and the development of marketing skills to e-banking agents.
3.2

Stakeholder Perceptions: An Interpretation

At the executive level (according to the VP responsible) the move towards electronic banking services
is regarded as a business imperative. Change in the Banks business environment is seen to call upon
the redefinition of value propositions, highlighting the importance of knowledge and its exploitation
18

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

and the establishment of new organizational forms. At the moment, the Bank is in a transitional
period, in which the above issues are being discussed within the general debate regarding the shape
and form of the Banks future as a virtual financial services institution. The new requirements affect
several work fronts, which are contributing to the strategic reconfiguration of the traditional Bank.
Special emphasis is given by our stakeholders to the exploitation of organizational and individual
knowledge along with the establishment of a knowledge sharing and continuous learning culture that
would set the groundwork of new strategic formulations. They perceive knowledge as the resource
that would ensure the longevity and sustainable competitiveness of their organisation in the emergent
digital business landscape and therefore our stakeholders believe that knowledge should be
accumulated systematically and most importantly incorporated within the design of electronic banking
services and products. Traditional and hence physical paradigms of conducting banking operations are
not viewed as useless though; they are being valued for the cumulative experiences they convey from
traditional work practices derived from the daily interaction of employees with customers. This
knowledge, which is tacit most of the times, is believed that it should be exploited not only by the
people who are still engaged in traditional functions but that it should also be supplied to those who
are building and transforming traditional banking services and products to electronic artifacts.
An important observation here is that in our case setting work practices are increasingly being
perceived throughout the bank from a business process perspective. This point is exemplified by the
emphasis placed on the customer orientation of all operations and the integration of systems
supporting day-to-day work (with its significant side-effect of creating of a central pool of
information resources). Further to that, work practices in the newly established e-banking department
have a definitive business process rather than functional orientation as the manner in which this
department operates is crossing traditional functional hierarchies and creating virtual work teams
(collaboration with the e-banking agents).

19

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

3.2.1

Setting Priorities for Knowledge Enactment

When confronted with the issue of developing and exploiting knowledge resources, our respondents
have articulated three areas of concern: (i) capturing customer knowledge and responses and
communicating them at top management (strategic learning implications), (ii) facilitating the design of
new products and services (capability learning implications) and (iii) improving existing business
processes related with the promotion and support of electronic banking (routinisation learning
implications).
The customer and knowledge related to him are of primary concern to bank. The expressed
requirements of our respondents (stakeholders) are the capturing and exploitation of this knowledge
strategically i.e. in terms that affect directly the enhancement and expansion of the spectrum of
electronic services and products offered. To this end, they expect a supporting information system that
will be deployed to facilitate the relevant knowledge processes of the organization.
Our inquiry in the case setting thus far, but also our planned intervention through the system and the
organizational support that we will provide, need to target the sources and carriers of knowledge. As
explained in section 2.1, knowledge assets can be generally assigned to two categories. The first
category is knowledge of the customer and the other is individual and organizational knowledge.
Both types of knowledge are closely interrelated. Through the technological and organizational
support envisaged, we actually seek to develop within the e-banking processes the capability to
manage both types of knowledge and ultimately help to the organization to incorporate them in its
organizational routines (i.e. knowledge enactment). Our intervention (system and organizational
support) needs to involve the users in a process of personal knowledge exploration and exploitation
anchored on work practices.

4.

Expected Results

The interpretation of the organizational situation described in this paper, is evolving in parallel with
the actual deployment of the knowledge management initiative in which we are actively involved.

20

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

The outcome of this process will provide useful indications of how the firm can approach knowledge
enactment and how it should evolve to cope with the knowledge requirements of its organizational
work practices and vice versa. Knowledge as a resource is difficult to grasp; this research aims at
revealing the methods that can deployed to best utilize this resource within the context of the work
practices of the organization. It is in the intentions of the research to identify the relevance of ICT in
the development of capabilities and define the terms under which this is happening. Moreover, we
have to distinguish and discuss further the different types of learning enactment we encounter, and
look into how they are induced by the introduction of a technology in the management of knowledge.
The contemporary knowledge environment of firms and the characteristics of its evolution comprise
the drivers for describing the arrangements taking place in the work context. We propose a
technological intervention, and we are primarily guided by this to explain the need and thereupon the
phenomena, meaning the conditions and factors related to the organizational adoption of the
knowledge-oriented ICT offerings. The research will approach the need of a work related knowledge
management system from a social, organizational and certainly technological perspective.
Despite the research efforts made up to now, knowledge management remains an immature field
lacking integrative initiatives. It is, certainly, still early to talk about an organizing vision, but its
existence is indispensable. The fact that knowledge is the only corporate resource that is unique and
therefore can provide competitive advantage, assures the future of knowledge management. Though its
managerial character, knowledge management should be guided by appropriate technologies that
would enable, at least, learning representations and mechanisms for knowledge enactment.
Technology needs the assistance of research, otherwise it will take wrong direction. Therefore, it is
essential to gradually close the gap between theory and practice, if we need real KM systems.
The current research goes through its exploratory phase, trying to investigate the organizational
environment that will be the subject of an innovative technological intervention. The aforementioned
theories will be used for the contextualization of this intervention in terms of the knowledge and
learning processes enacted. Further actions suggest the filtering of the theoretical streams towards a

21

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

selective usage of constructs and the strengthening of the stream that is related to the social and
organizational construction of technology. The final contribution of this research would probably be a
framework describing the characteristics and processes that constitute the technological capability of
knowledge-intensive organizations.

References
Alvesson M. (1995), Management of Knowledge-Intensive Companies, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.
Blumentritt, R., and Johnston, R., (1999), "Towards a Strategy for Knowledge Management",
Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, Vol.11, No. 3
Burton E. Swanson & Ramiller Neil C. (1997), The Organizing Vision in Information Systems
Innovation, Organization Science/Vol. 8, No. 5.
Boutelier R., Gassmann O. and von Zedtwitz (1999), Managing Global Innovation, Springer.
Checkland P. (1981), Systems thinking, Systems Practice, Wiley.
Choo C. W. (1998), The Knowing Organization, Oxford University Press.
Coombs, R., (1994), "Technology and Business Strategy" in Dodgson, M. and Rothwell, R. (eds.), The
Handbook of Industrial Innovation, Edward, Cheltenham, pp. 384-392
Coombs, R. and Richards, A., (1991), "Technologies, Products and Firms' Strategies Part 1-a
Framework for Analysis" in Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, Vol. 3, No 1, pp.77-85
Cooper, R., (1984), "The Strategy-Performance Link in Product innovation" in R&D Management,
Vol. 14, No 4, pp. 247-259
Davenport Thomas H., Sirkka Jarvenpaa L. & Beers Michael C. (1996), Improving Knowledge Work
Processes, Sloan Management Review.
Davenport Thomas H. and Prusak Larry (1998), Working Knowledge, Boston: Harvard Business
School Press.

22

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

Davis S. & Botkin J. (1994), The Coming of Knowledge-Based Business, Harvard Business Review, 5,
165-170.
Drucker, P. (1988), The coming of the new organization, Harvard Business Review, January-February,
pp. 45-53.
Drucker P. (1993), Post-Capitalist Society, New York: Harper Business.
Grant R. M. (1996), A Knowledge-based Theory of Inter-firm collaboration, Organization Science, 7,
pp.375-387.
Itami H. & Roehl T. W. (1987), Mobilizing Invisible Assets, Harvard University press, Cambridge,
MA.
Kay, J. (1999), "Money from Knowledge", Science and Public Affairs, April, pp. 12-13.
Laudon K. & Starbuck H. (1996), Organizational Information and Knowledge, London:
Routledge/Thompson Business Press, Vol. 4.
Leonard-Barton, D., (1995), Wellsprings of Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, Boston,
Masachusetts
Nonaka, I. (1994), A Dynamic Theory of Organisational Knowledge Creation Organisation Science,
Volume 5, Number 1.
Nonaka Ikujiro & Takeuchi Hirotaka (1995), The Knowledge-Creating Company, Oxford University
Press, New York.
Nonaka, I, Toyama, and Nagata, (2000), A Firm as a Knowledge-creating Entity: A New Perspective
on the Theory of the Firm, Journal of Industrial and Corporate Change, Vol. 9 No.1, pp. 1-20.
Pfeffer J. (1994), Competitive Advantage through People, Boston:Harvard Business Press.
Hamel, G. and C.K. Prahalad (1990), The Core Competence of the Corporation. Harvard Business
Review, 68: p. 79-91.

23

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

Pavitt, K. (1987) On the Nature of Technology, Brighton, University of Sussex, SPRU.


Polanyi, M., (1966), The Tacit Dimension Magnolia, MA: Peter Smith.
Prahalad, C. K. and Hamel, G., (1990), "The Core Competence of the Corporation" in Harvard
Business Review, May-June, pp. 79-91
Prahalad, C. K. and Hamel, G., (1994), "Strategy as a field of study: Why Search for a New
Paradigm?" in Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 15, special issue on Strategy: Search for a New
Paradigm, Summer, pp. 5-16
Ramkrishnan V. Tenkasi (1998), Exploring Knowledge Diversity in Knowledge Intensive Firms: A
new Role for Information Systems, Journal of Systemic Knowledge Management.
Rosenberg N. (1994), Exploring the Black Box: Technology and Economics, Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Rumelt R. P. (1974), Strategy, Structure, and Economic Performance, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, MA.
Senker, J., (1993), "The Contribution of Tacit Knowledge to Innovation" in AI & Society, Vol. 7,
Spinger-Verlag, London, pp. 208-224
Shannon, C. and Weaver, W. (1949), The Mathematical Theory of Communication University of
Illinois Press.
Shapiro, G., (1999), Inter-Project Knowledge Capture and Transfer: An Overview of Definitions,
Tools and Practices, Working Paper, CENTRIM, University of Brighton, August
Speel Piet-Hein, Shadbolt, de Vries Wouter, van Dam Piet-Hein and OHara Kieron (1999),
Knowledge Mapping for Industrial Purposes.
Spender, J.C. (1996), Making Knowledge the Basis of a Dynamic Theory of the Firm, Strategic
Management Journal, 17(Winter Special Issue): p. 45 62.

24

Kostas Samiotis PhD Proposal

Starbuck W. H. (1992), Learning by Knowledge-Intensive Firms, Journal of Management Studies,


29(6): 713-740.
Sveiby K. E. (1996), Tacit Knowledge, www.sveiby.com.
Sveiby K. E. (1992), The Knowledge Company: Strategy Formulation in Knowledge-Intensive
Industries, International Review of Strategic Management, Vol. 3, D. E. Hussey ed. John Wiley &
Sons Ltd.
Teece, D.J. (1998), Capturing Value from Knowledge Assets, California Management Review, 40(3):
p. 55-78.
Walsham G. (1993), Interpreting Information Systems for Organizations, Wiley.
Wasko M. M. (1998), A Framework for Successful Knowledge Management Implementation,
Association for Information Systems (AIS), 1998 AMERICAS CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS.
Weick K. E. (1979), The social Psychology of Organizing, Rading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Weick K. E. (1995), Sensemaking in Organizations, Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage.

25