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Knowledge Management

A practitioner’s perspective
 What is knowledge management
 Definition(s)
 History
 Key concepts
First, what is knowledge
 In simplest terms, knowledge is the ability of an actor
to respond to a body of facts and principles
accumulated over a period of time
 One way to look at knowledge is as the apogee of the
following continuum – datainformationknowledge
 Data=1 unit of fact; information=aggregation of data;
knowledge=potential for action on information
 Data and information have intrinsic properties, the quality
of knowledge depends on the properties of the agent
What is knowledge
 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 assets
 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
The value of knowledge
 Knowledge assets are often
described as the the intellectual
capital of an organization
 The value of intellectual capital is
often intangible
 A popular measure is the difference
between the cost of capital assets
and the cost of replacing them
The value of KM
 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 environment)
 Our products, services, and environment are more
complex than ever before
 Workforces are increasingly unstable leading to
escalating demands for knowledge
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 organizations’
 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
KM today (catch-all?)
 There is a great risk today of KM
over-reaching itself
 Everything from organizational learning
to business and competitive
intelligence has become fair game for
 There are KM components to each of
these but these spaces are however
best left to specialized practitioners
The scope of KM
 Today, most companies define the
scope of KM as –
 KM mechanics (tools for information
 KM culture (knowledge as a social activity)
 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
 Information management tries to make the right information
available to the right person at the right time though a
variety of database driven information applications
 Information management tools try to capture the human
experience of knowledge through the collecting, classifying,
disseminating, searching, indexing, and archival power of
Limitations of mechanical
 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 critical
KM culture
 All knowledge has a social and
evolutionary facet
 There is a crying need to
continuously subject knowledge to
re-examination and modification
 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
 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
 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 information
 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 (
KM readings/references –
 The KM literature is vast, but good starting points
include –
 Nonaka, Ikujiro, and Hirotaka Takeuchi. The Knowledge-
Creating Company.
 Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice
of the Learning Organization
 Wiig, Karl, M. Knowledge Management Foundations:
Thinking About Thinking - How People and Organizations
Represent, Create and Use Knowledge
 Menou, Michel J. (Ed.). Measuring the Impact of
Information on Development
 Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries in the Western World