Knowledge Management (KM) was established as a formal field of study with the publication of The Knowledge Spiral, by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hiortaka Takeuk, scholars who theorized that the creation of knowledge is the result of a continuous cycle of four integrated processes: externalization, internalization, combination, and socialization. Since then, KM has gained traction as a rapidly emerging interdisciplinary business model addressing all aspects of knowledge within the context of the firm. This type of knowledge takes the shape of variety of forms, including knowledge creation, codification, and sharing. In addition, KM deals with how creation, codification, and sharing combine together to promote learning and innovation. KM encompasses both technological tools and organizational routines in overlapping areas. Rudy Ruggles, one of the leading scholars on the theory and application of KM, has identified several key concepts as integral features of KM, including creating new forms of knowledge, gaining access to knowledge via outside resources, applying knowledge in decision making, incorporating knowledge in documents, databases, and software, facilitating knowledge through incentives and culture, and developing successful ways to measure the impact of knowledge assets and management. Simply put, knowledge management focuses upon capturing specific sets of knowledge gained by individuals and spreading it to others in the organization in order to manage it better.
A Knowledge Management (KM) system can be as simple as a story or as complex as a million-dollar computer program. Both the story and the computer program attempt to capture a snapshot or picture of the person’s knowledge representation and then transfer the knowledge to others in order to keep the knowledge moving along. This concept is called knowledge harvesting. In the case of a story, the knowledge representation is passed onto others by means of a “verbal snapshot.” In the case of a computer program, knowledge resides in a database that can be accessed and utilized by others. The ultimate goal of KM is to foster experience and learning by transferring and allowing as many people as possible to access this new body of information, combining it with their prior knowledge in order to form a new or modified knowledge representation. This final knowledge representation is then used as solutions for personal or business needs.
Effects of Knowledge Management
Economics and business theorists have alluded to KM as the ultimate competitive advantage for the modern firm. Many organizations are continually ‘reinventing the wheel,’ as they do not know what kinds of knowledge are already known or they do not know where to access the knowledge. Continually having to reinvent the wheel is a costly and time consuming activity which results in inefficiency on multiple levels. Robert E. Cole has identified several key benefits and advantages to implementing solid KM systems, which include the ability of an individual or business to accelerate the pace of change, globalize markets, usher in information technology, reduce costs, improve client relations and response time, and revolutionize products and value.
According to a report conducted by APQC International Benchmarking Clearinghouse, there are a certain fundamental characteristics required for companies to achieve success by utilizing KM. Investment is one such feature. Fifty-six percent of successful KM companies spent more than a million dollars on start-up costs and were committed to incorporating funding for KM in their budget. In addition, businesses which made use of Communities of Practice (CoPs) allowed for distinct groups to be formed throughout the company, categorized by geographic location, topic, and/or discipline in the following areas: sponsorship, roles and responsibilities, and supporting tools, among others. Elevation of key “thought experts” as leaders of these mini-communities supported successful use of KM strategy. Along with focusing on community development, businesses which continually identified cultural barriers and presented solutions to these obstacles were able to more readily implement KM. Lastly, companies which established means of measuring KM efficacy, such as APQC’s The Four-Phase Methodology, contributed to the company’s ability to improve future KM application.
Knowledge Management: Emerging Perspectives- This resource contains writings, articles, and links offering varying perspectives in response to the KM.
Knowledge Management Helps Cut Errors by Half- This article provides an overview and analysis on how doctors are becoming more comfortable with incorporating KM in their practice.
Knowledge Management Special Interest Group- This comprehensive resource provides a wealth of educational and research materials on KM, including published literature in the field, university websites, links to journals, and key organizations utilizing KM.
What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge? In this excerpt from their article in the Harvard Business Review, Professors Morten T. Hansen and Nitin Nohria and colleague Thomas Tierney of Bain & Company reveal two key KM strategies — codification and personalization — and their application among consulting firms.
Knowledge Management Exchange- This resource provides a forum for exchanging ideas about knowledge management.
Understanding Complexity and Knowledge Requirements at Mobil- This presentation discusses the concepts of complexity, knowledge, and energy.
KM Glossary of Terms- This resource provides an extensive collection of terms that are key to understanding the KM process