Knowledge Management – An Effective Management Tool

Knowledge Management – An Effective Management Tool

Knowledge is the insights, understandings and practical know-how possessed by us. It is the fundamental resource that allows us to function intelligently. Unlike the conventional material assets, which decrease as they are used, knowledge asset increases with use. Ideas breed new ideas, and shared knowledge stays with the giver while it enriches the receiver. Knowledge management is the basis for, and the driver of, the post industrial economy since it is the result of learning which provides the only sustainable competitive advantage. It is also the principal factor that makes personal, organizational, and societal intelligent behavior possible. Knowledge is basically of two types.

  • Explicit knowledge – It is formal and systematic that can be easily communicated and shared as in the form of product specifications, scientific formulae, systems, methods, and literature or computer programs.
  • Tacit or implicit knowledge – It is highly invisible and confined in the mind of the knower. It is difficult to formalize and therefore not easy to communicate. Tacit knowledge is normally unrecorded and unarticulated.

Transformation of knowledge from tacit or implicit to explicit form increases its usability and visibility. Capture of knower’s tacit knowledge that resides within him in the form of knowhow and insights is a difficult and challenging process.

Organizations create a great amount of data and information (knowledge) in their daily business activities. It would be essential for the organization to have a system of managing the newly created knowledge so it can be reused to solve new problems or leveraged to value-add to other business activities. One of the advantages of knowledge is that knowledge is dynamic. It can be adapted and evolved through the processes of learning and sharing. The impact made by individual knowledge is not as great as collective knowledge so sharing within the organization is always helpful that needs encouragement.

Knowledge management (KM) is a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of insights and experiences. It is the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge. It is the management of the organization towards the continuous renewal of the organizational knowledge base. KM is used for nurturing, preserving, applying and exploiting knowledge assets and for managing knowledge related  processes which create, build, compile, organize, transform, transfer, pool, apply, and safeguard knowledge. KM efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as performance improvements, competitive advantage etc. The essentials of knowledge management are shown in Fig 1.

Essential of KM process

Fig 1 Essentials of knowledge management

Historically, knowledge has always been managed, at least implicitly. However, effective and active knowledge management requires new perspectives and techniques and touches on almost all facets of an organization. Knowledge management in an organization is to be considered from three perspectives.

  • Business perspective – It focuses on why, where, and to what extent the organization must invest in or exploit knowledge. Strategies, products and services, alliances, acquisitions, or divestments should be considered from knowledge related points of view.
  • Management perspective – It focuses on determining, organizing, directing, facilitating, and monitoring knowledge related practices and activities required to achieve the desired business strategies and objectives.
  • Hands-on operational perspective – It focuses on applying the expertise to conduct explicit knowledge related work and tasks.

Knowledge management is an activity practiced by many organizations all over the world. In the process of knowledge management, these organizations comprehensively gather information by using many methods and tools. Then, gathered information is organized, stored, shared, and analyzed using defined techniques. The analysis of such information is done based on resources, documents, people, and their skills. Properly analyzed information is then store as ‘knowledge’ of the organization. This knowledge is later used for activities such as organizational decision making and training new staff members.

Knowledge management process

 The process of knowledge management is universal for any organization. However the resources used, such as tools and techniques, can vary to suit to the environment of the organization. KM requires a mix of technical, organizational and interpersonal skills. The mix and emphasis varies according to responsibilities, but everyone involved should be able to understand the business, communicate effectively and have at least basic competence in handling information. The KM process has six basic steps assisted by different tools and techniques. When these steps are followed sequentially, the data transforms into knowledge (Fig 2). These basic six steps in knowledge management are described below.

Basic steps of KM process

Fig 2 Basic steps in knowledge management

  • Collecting – This is the most important step of the knowledge management process. If data collected is incorrect or irrelevant then the resulting knowledge may not be accurate. The decisions made based on such knowledge could be inaccurate as well. There are many methods and tools used for data collection. First of all, data collection should have a procedure in the process of knowledge management. This procedure should be properly documented and followed by people involved in data collection process. The data collection procedure defines the data collection points, the data extraction techniques and tools. In addition to the data collection points and extraction mechanism, data storage is also defined in this step. Most of the organizations now use a software database application for this purpose.
  • Organizing – The data collected need to be organized. This organization usually happens based on certain rules. These rules are defined by the organization. The proper organization of collected data helps to maintain data accurately within a data base. If there is much data in the data base, techniques such as ‘normalization’ can be used for organizing and reducing the duplication. This way, data is logically arranged and related to one another for easy retrieval. When data passes the organizing step, it becomes information.
  • Summarizing – In this step, the information is summarized in order to take the essence of it. The lengthy information is presented in tabular form or graphical format and stored appropriately. For summarizing, there are many tools that can be used such as software packages, charts (Pareto, cause and effect diagram etc) and different techniques.
  • Analyzing – At this stage, the information is analyzed in order to find the relationships, redundancies and patterns. An expert or expert team should be assigned for this purpose as the experience of the person/team plays a vital role. Usually, there are reports created after analysis of the information. This is the stage where tacit knowledge is converted into explicit knowledge and is very critical to the success. Without documenting and codifying tacit knowledge, it transfer for the purposes of learning and utilization, both internally and externally, will be difficult to achieve.
  • Synthesizing – At this point, information becomes knowledge. The result of analysis are combined together to derive various concepts and artifacts. A pattern or behaviour of one entity can be applied to explain another and collectively, the organization will have a set of knowledge elements that can be used across the organization. This knowledge is then stored in the organizational knowledge base for further use. Usually, the knowledge base is a software implementation that can be accessed from anywhere through the internet.
  • Decision making – At this stage, the knowledge is used for decision making. The process of decision making gets accelerated and the decisions can be taken with high accuracy.

Organizations may find that they cannot meet their knowledge requirement from their available knowledge assets. In that case the gap is to be filled either by internally developing new knowledge or acquiring the knowledge from external sources. Knowledge creation can only be achieved in a creative environment that encourages teamwork and the use of creative potential. If manage successfully, the process can expand or change the organization’s knowledge base to meet the company’s current and future needs.

It is not unusual for organizations to not know how to generate value from the use of the knowledge assets they have. It is worse when the organization does not even know the kind of knowledge it has. Knowledge Management offers a management system for the organization to ensure that their knowledge assets when created are properly documented, and that the knowledge in different domain owners will be shared within the organization.

When knowledge assets are documented and shared, knowledge utilization will be facilitated. This is the stage in knowledge management where value creation is delivered. By harnessing knowledge from different knowledge domains and competencies across the organization, direct impacts to the missions and goals of the organization can be achieved.