What is Knowledge Management?Thus, KM is about supporting and enhancing the following:
KM is about creating the conditions and developing the tools and practices that enable people and groups in organizations to more effectively share, create, access, and retain knowledge.
Conceptually, KM is a framework for designing an organization's strategy, structures, and processes so that the organization can use what it knows to learn and to create economic and social value for its customers and community. [see What is KM graphic]
- Sharing knowledge — so that we are always working with the benefit of our collective knowledge and experience;
- Creating knowledge — so as to innovate and develop new capabilities;
- Accessing knowledge — so as to efficiently access information and locate expertise;
- Retaining knowledge — so as to retain learning gained from past endeavours and the knowledge of experienced staff;
- Transfer knowledge — so that knowledge acquired in one domain or area can be transferred to another.
A KM framework involves designing and working with the following elements:
- Categories of organizational knowledge
(tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge, cultural knowledge)
- Knowledge processes
(knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, knowledge utilization)
- Organizational enablers
(vision and strategy; roles and skills; policies and processes; tools and platforms)
There is no single, universal recipe for KM. Each organization has to think through and design its own strategy and approach. For each of the elements above, research and practice in KM has identified key questions, principles and lessons learned that may be used to develop a KM strategy. The overarching goal is to create organizational conditions and practices that enable and promote the creation, sharing, and use of knowledge.
What are the Benefits of Knowledge Management?
KM improves decision making, fosters collaboration and innovation, and promotes learning and development at all levels of the organization. Practitioners have identified four kinds of benefits from systematically managing knowledge:
- Create new value through new products, programs or services (innovations);
- Enhance current value of existing products, programs or services (knowledge about clients or customers);
- Reduce/avoid costs/promote reuse (knowledge about processes);
- Reduce uncertainty/increase speed of response (knowledge about the environment).
Can we quantify the benefits?
Organizations that have adopted KM approaches have applied the following metrics:
Speed of response
Time taken to respond effectively to major issues or needs raised by the community or customers. Time taken to develop new products, services or programs.
Reuse of knowledge
Frequency and impact of utilizing the organization's knowledge assets. Avoidance of re-work and "re-invention of the wheel."
Value generated from new services or products
Economic or social value of the organization's products, programs or services. Proportion of a firm's revenues derived from new products.
Employee empowerment and satisfaction
Growth and development of knowledgeable staff. Ability to attract and hire talented staff. Retention of experienced, knowledgeable employees.
What methods and tools have been found to work?
Communities of Practice
Groups whose members regularly share knowledge and learn from each other. Communities of practice (1) share common work activities or interests, (2) recognize the collective value of sharing knowledge, and (3) have developed norms of trust, reciprocity, and cooperation. (Xerox, WHO)
Databases of codified knowledge assets that are systematically organized to facilitate searching, browsing, and retrieval. Knowledge repositories may contain lessons learned, best practices, planning documents, project proposals, presentations, and so on. (Accenture, Ernst & Young)
Profiles of employee expertise that are updated, allowing users to locate and connect with individuals who have specific skills and experience. (Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft)
Facilitated processes that occur before, during, and after significant and intensive work activities in which project members collectively analyze and reflect on lessons learned. (US Army, FAO)
Best Practice Transfers
Structured processes that collect, codify, and transfer innovative practices or solutions developed at a particular location to the rest of the organization for possible adoption. (Ford, Shell)
IT plays a major enabling role in most of these applications. IT tools and infrastructure provide the kind of communication, content management, information access, and collaboration capabilities that can support knowledge work.
What is the Difference Between Data, Information and Knowledge?
Consider a document containing a table of numbers indicating product sales for the quarter. As they stand, these numbers are Data. An employee reads these numbers, recognizes the name and nature of the product, and notices that the numbers are below last year’s figures, indicating a downward trend. The data has become Information. The employee considers possible explanations for the product decline (perhaps using additional information and personal judgment), and comes to the conclusion that the product is no longer attractive to its customers. This new belief, derived from reasoning and reflection, is Knowledge.
Thus, information is data given context, and endowed with meaning and significance. Knowledge is information that is transformed through reasoning and reflection into beliefs, concepts, and mental models.
What is the Difference Between Information Management and Knowledge Management?
Information management is the harnessing of the information resources and information capabilities of the organization in order to add and create value both for itself and for its clients or customers.
Knowledge management is about creating the conditions and developing the tools and practices that enable people and groups in organizations to more effectively share, create, access, and retain knowledge.
IM provides the foundation for KM, but the two are focused differently. IM is concerned with processing and adding value to information, and the basic issues here include access, control, coordination, timeliness, accuracy, and usability. KM is concerned with using the knowledge to take action, and the basic issues here include sharing, collaboration, learning, innovation, trust, and community building.
Choo, Chun Wei. 2001. Knowledge Management. In Encyclopedia of Communication and Information, edited by Jorge Reina Schement. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. [PDF]