Knowledge Management (KM) comprises a range of practices used in an organisation to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organisational processes or practice.
An established discipline since 1991, KM includes courses taught in the fields of business administration, information systems, management, and library and information sciences. More recently, other fields have started contributing to KM research; these include information and media, computer science, public health, and public policy.
Many large companies and non-profit organisations have resources dedicated to internal KM efforts, often as a part of their 'Business Strategy', 'Information Technology', or 'Human Resource Management' departments. Several consulting companies also exist that provide strategy and advice regarding KM to these organisations.
KM efforts typically focus on organisational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, and continuous improvement of the organisation. KM efforts overlap with Organisational Learning, and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. KM efforts can help individuals and groups to share valuable organisational insights, to reduce redundant work, to avoid reinventing the wheel per se, to reduce training time for new employees, to retain intellectual capital as employees turnover in an organisation, and to adapt to changing environments and markets.
Strategies Knowledge Management
Knowledge may be accessed at three stages: before, during, or after KM-related activities. Different organisations have tried various knowledge capture incentives, including making content submission mandatory and incorporating rewards into performance measurement plans. Considerable controversy exists over whether incentives work or not in this field and no consensus has emerged.
One strategy to KM involves actively managing knowledge (push strategy). In such an instance, individuals strive to explicitly encode their knowledge into a shared knowledge repository, such as a database, as well as retrieving knowledge they need that other individuals have provided to the repository.
Another strategy to KM involves individuals making knowledge requests of experts associated with a particular subject on an ad hoc basis (pull strategy). In such an instance, expert individual(s) can provide their insights to the particular person or people needing this.
Other knowledge management strategies for companies include:
- rewards (as a means of motivating for knowledge sharing)
- storytelling (as a means of transferring tacit knowledge)
- cross-project learning
- after action reviews
- knowledge mapping (a map of knowledge repositories within a company accessible by all)
- communities of practice
- best practice transfer
- competence management (systematic evaluation and planning of competences of individual organization members)
- proximity & architecture (the physical situation of employees can be either conducive or obstructive to knowledge sharing)
- master-apprentice relationship
- collaborative technologies (groupware, etc)
- knowledge repositories (databases, etc)
- measuring and reporting intellectual capital (a way of making explicit knowledge for companies)
- knowledge brokers (some organizational members take on responsibility for a specific "field" and act as first reference on whom to talk about a specific subject)
- social software (wikis, social bookmarking, blogs, etc)
A number of claims exist as to the motivations leading organisations to undertake a KM effort. Typical considerations driving a KM effort include:
- Making available increased knowledge content in the development and provision of products and services
- Achieving shorter new product development cycles
- Facilitating and managing innovation and organisational learning
- Leveraging the expertise of people across the organisation
- Increasing network connectivity between internal and external individuals
- Managing business environments and allowing employees to obtain relevant insights and ideas appropriate to their work
- Solving intractable or wicked problems
- Managing intellectual capital and intellectual assets in the workforce (such as the expertise and know-how possessed by key individuals)
Debate exists whether KM is more than a passing fad, though increasing amount of research in this field may hopefully help to answer this question, as well as create consensus on what elements of KM help determine the success or failure of such efforts.
Early KM technologies included online corporate yellow pages as expertise locators and document management systems. Combined with the early development of collaborative technologies (in particular Lotus Notes), KM technologies expanded in the mid-1990s. Subsequent KM efforts leveraged semantic technologies for search and retrieval and the development of e-learning tools for communities of practice.
More recently, development of social computing tools (such as blogs and wikis) have allowed more unstructured, self-governing or ecosystem approaches to the transfer, capture and creation of knowledge, including the development of new forms of communities, networks, or matrixed organisations. However such tools for the most part are still based on text and code, and thus represent explicit knowledge transfer. These tools face challenges in distilling meaningful re-usable knowledge and ensuring that their content is transmissible through diverse channels.