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Knowledge Management Basics

What is knowledge management?

• There is no universal definition for knowledge management
• At its broadest, KM is the ‘process through which organizations generate
value from intellectual and knowledge based assets’

Knowledge Management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge -

and its associated processes of creation, organization, diffusion, use and exploitation - in
pursuit of business objectives.

There are many definitions of knowledge management. We have developed this one since
it identifies some critical aspects of any successful knowledge management programme:

• Explicit - Surfacing assumptions; codifying that which is known

• Systematic - Leaving things to serendipity will not achieve the benefits
• Vital Knowledge - You need to focus; you don't have unlimited resources
• Processes - Knowledge management is a set of activities with its own tools and

The value of KM:

• There are two types of knowledge assets –
• Explicit or formal assets like copyrights, patents, templates,
publications, reports, archives, etc.
• Tacit or informal assets that are rooted in human experience and
include personal belief, perspective, and values

Knowledge management (KM) refers to a range of practices used by organizations to

identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse and learning across the
organization. Knowledge management applications/ knowledge management tools are
used to tie organizational objectives to the achievement of specific business outcomes
such as improved performance, competitive advantage, and higher levels of innovation.

The need for Knowledge Management:

Some of the most common reasons that makes having a knowledge management
solution imperative:

• Volumes of unorganized unsearchable knowledge.

• Knowledge transfer is time consuming.
• Email overload due to knowledge transfer by email.
• Secure sharing of sensitive knowledge among limited people
• Loss of knowledge when people leave or hardware devices fail.
• Ongoing security and backup of knowledge


• It is important to manage knowledge assets because –

• Organizations compete increasingly on the base of knowledge (the only
sustainable competitive advantage, according to some)
• Most of our work is information based (and often immersed in a computing
• Our products, services, and environment are more complex than ever before
• Workforces are increasingly unstable leading to escalating demands for
knowledge replacement/acquisition

The Essentials

Most programmes will leverage value through knowledge by concentrating on just a few
of these seven levers:

• Customer Knowledge - the most vital knowledge in most organizations

• Knowledge in Processes - applying the best know-how while performing core
• Knowledge in Products (and Services) - smarter solutions, customized to users'
• Knowledge in People - nurturing and harnessing brainpower, your most precious
• Organizational Memory - drawing on lessons from the past or elsewhere in the
• Knowledge in Relationships - deep personal knowledge that underpins
successful collaboration
• Knowledge Assets - measuring and managing your intellectual capital.

The development of KM

• Knowledge began to be viewed as a competitive asset in the 80s, around the

same time that information explosion started becoming an issue
• The trend was fueled by the development of IT systems which made it simple
to store, display, and archive classified, indexed information
• The process received a fillip after Drucker (and others) stressed the role of
knowledge as an organization resource, and Senge popularized ‘learning
• Seeds of KM may also be found in business practices like TQM and BPR to
which KM is often compared

The sources of KM:

• Today, KM draws from a wide range of disciplines/practices –

• Cognitive science
• Groupware, AI, KBMS


• Library and information science

• Document management
• Decision support systems
• Technical writing
• Organizational science
• Many more


A wide variety of practices and processes are used in knowledge management. Some of
the more common ones are shown in the table below:

Creativity Techniques
Data Mining
Text Mining
Creating and Discovering Environmental Scanning
Knowledge Elicitation
Business Simulation
Content Analysis
Communities of Practice
Learning Networks
Sharing Best Practice
After Action Reviews
Sharing and Learning
Structured Dialogue
Share Fairs
Cross Functional Teams
Decision Diaries
Knowledge Centres
Expertise Profiling
Knowledge Mapping
Organizing and Managing
Information Audits/Inventory
IRM (Information Resources Management)
Measuring Intellectual Capital

Tools and Techniques

A large number of tools, many computer based, are also significantly boosting the
effectiveness of knowledge management. We have identified over 80 categories (often
overlapping), including:

• Infrastructure: groupware, intranets, document management, KM suites


• Thinking: concept mapping, creativity tools

• Gathering, discovering: search engines, alerting, push, data mining, intelligent
• Organizing, storing:data warehousing, OLAP, metadata, XML
• Knowledge worker support: case based reasoning, decision support, workflow,
community support, simulation
• Application specific: CRM, expertise profiling, competitive intelligence

KM today (catch-all?)
• There is a great risk today of KM over-reaching itself

• Everything from organizational learning to business and competitive Iintelligence

has become fair game for KM
• There are KM components to each of these but these spaces are however best left
to specialized practitioners

The scope of KM

o Today, most companies define the scope of KM as –

o KM mechanics (tools for information management)
o KM culture (knowledge as a social activity)
o KM systems (knowledge sharing as part of an organization’s DNA)

KM mechanics
• Information management may well be considered the first wave of KM (and is
still often considered synonymous with KM)
• Information management tries to make the right information available to the right
person at the right time though a variety of database driven information
• Information management tools try to capture the human experience of knowledge
through the collecting, classifying, disseminating, searching, indexing, and
archival power of technology

Limitations of mechanical KM

• Reliance on technology produces consensual knowledge (over-reliance on best

practices for instance) and may stifle innovation
• The notion that ‘right information’ is predictable and flows from historical data
may be flawed
• Making information available in not enough; getting people to use it is more

KM culture


• All knowledge has a social and evolutionary facet

• There is a crying need to continuously subject knowledge to re-examination and
• It is important to keep the human and social elements of organization involved in
all stored knowledge

KM culture through CoP

• Communities of practice (or thematic groups) are a popular way of injecting KM
culture in an organization
• CoPs are fora where members share information and experiences, develop new
insights, assimilate and transform knowledge
• CoPs emphasize shared interests and work across locations and time zones (often
using technology developed during KM’s first wave

KM systems
• KM succeeds fully when it is woven into the fabric of an organization and
becomes intrinsic to an organization’s processes
• Common practices include –
– Formal KM leadership
– Formal rewards and recognition for KM oriented work
– Tools and mechanisms that encourage knowledge sharing
– Development of knowledge bases
– Intellectual asset management
– Metrics to evaluate KM initiatives

KM systems today
• In many ways, the systemic approach is the logical culmination of KM mechanics
and KM culture
• Many KM systems are however not yet robust enough –
– KM metrics (surveys, benchmarking, cost/benefit studies, service
evaluation) are still an inexact science
– Knowledge workers are often KM resistant (KM is frequently considered
an oxymoron)

KM – the report card

• Clearly, the jury is still out on KM though there is increased acceptance that KM
can be central to organizational success
• The key achievements of KM have been in emphasizing that –
– There is a tacit dimension of knowledge creation which must be
recognized and valued
– Knowledge is subjective and interpretative and distinct from raw data or
– Meaning is central to knowledge creation
– Knowledge is social and interactive in nature


– Technology is an inalienable aspect of KM

KM readings/references
• Good sources on the internet include
– The KM forum (
– The CIO magazine’s knowledge management research center
– The KMNetwork (
– The KM resource center (
– Alberthal, Les. Remarks to the Financial Executives Institute, October 23,
1995, Dallas, TX
– Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Bantam, 1988
– Bellinger, Gene. Systems Thinking: An Operational Perspective of the
– Bellinger, Gene. The Effective Organization
– Bellinger, Gene. The Knowledge Centered Organization
Csikszentmihalyi, Miahly. The Evolving-Self: A Psychology for the Third
Millennium, Harperperennial Library, 1994.
– Davidson, Mike. The Transformation of Management, Butterworth-
Heinemann, 1996.
– Fleming, Neil. Coping with a Revolution: Will the Internet Change
Learning?, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand
– Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning
Organization, Doubleday-Currency, 1990.