What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management is the process by which the organisation generates resources from its intellectual or knowledge-based assets. These resources or “wealth”, result when an organisation uses knowledge to create more efficient and effective processes. As in the case of re-engineering, it has an outcome impact because it can decrease the organisation’s costs and it also can help reduce the cycle time and workflows of operations, which may improve productivity of an organisation. In other words, it enables the organisation to produce more services and products using the same or less amount of time. This “wealth” is created in the organisation when strategic information is used to generate new knowledge. This knowledge allows the organisation to develop new capabilities, design new products and services, and improve existing products and services.
At i-kno, we believe in a second definition of knowledge management. This refers to anything intangible or without physical extent that has value or can add value and can therefore be measured, and that is entrenched in people or derived from processes, systems, and culture associated with an organisation. This may include individual knowledge, intellectual property, licences, and forms of organisational knowledge such as databases workflows and process know-how.
Why knowledge management?
The choice of the most appropriate way to organise organisational or business memory depends on why and how it is used in other words what is the objective or desired result in implementing a KM process or processes and how will it align itself with the overall organisational or business strategy?
The main function of an organisational memory is to enhance the competitiveness of the organisation by improving the way in which it manages its knowledge. The idea of learning organisations is relevant in this context. Also pertinent is the view that “knowledge assets” or knowledge wealth, as well as the continuous learning ability of an organisation, are a company’s main sources of innovation and a competitive advantage.
Therefore i-Kno utilises four basic knowledge processes:
- Constructing new knowledge. Companies survive through constant progress made by developing new knowledge based on creative ideas, the study of past successes and failures (lessons learnt), and daily experiences. Organisational memories can support these processes by recording failures (lessons learnt) and successes. The other way of constructing knowledge is to “tap into the expertise of its own employees” – a technique popularised by Japanese strategist Ikujiro Nonaka which seeks to convert the tacit knowledge that exists within employees’ minds into explicit knowledge. This is a technique that is currently used by most private and public organisations globally, and involves tools such as setting up a Community of Practice and other KM methodologies such as After Action Reviews, Lessons learnt and developing Peer Processes and using narrative as a means of extracting, recording and sharing tacit knowledge that has been made explicit.
- Embedding knowledge by securing new and existing knowledge. Individual knowledge should be made available and reachable to other individuals in the organisation that rely on that knowledge. This knowledge must be available at the right time and place. Knowledge stored in organisational memories may become repetitive over time and – if properly indexed –can be retrieved relatively easily.
- Disseminating knowledge. Knowledge must be actively disseminated to those who need to use it. The turnaround speed of knowledge is increasingly crucial for an organisation or company’s competitiveness. To support this process, organisational memory needs a facility which can help decide who should be informed about a particular new part of knowledge.
- Combining available knowledge. A company can only perform at its best if all available knowledge areas are combined in its new products or services. Multidisciplinary and cross-functional teams are increasingly developing products and services, the knowledge and expertise that lies within the development of these cross functional teams should therefore be known to the organisation. Organisational memories may facilitate this by making it easier to access knowledge developed in all sections of the organisation. In other words, it functions to construct, embed and disseminate knowledge.
Knowledge needs to be reviewed continuously in order to establish its continued relevance to the development challenges at hand. Early attempts at organisational learning, for instance, resulted in expensive ‘data warehouses’ or ‘publication libraries’ being created, which no longer held any relevance for the organisation concerned. The process of reviewing knowledge is consequently useful for reaffirming a company’s goals and challenges.
Knowledge Management and ICT
Information and communications technologies are one set of a number of major forces that has moved knowledge management to the forefront. These relatively new technologies have made it possible for people to share enormous amounts of information unhindered by the boundaries of geography and time.
At i-Kno, Knowledge Management therefore involves three major components, namely:
These processes can be explained in more detail as people creating and sharing knowledge, processes obtain, produce, organise and share knowledge and technology stores and provides access to knowledge.
Knowledge Management for that reason is the attempt to capture peoples “tacit” knowledge (unrecorded knowledge in the minds of people) and making this knowledge explicit (recording knowledge). This activity requires a basic Knowledge Management process which revolves around four pillars, namely constructing, disseminating, embedding knowledge and combining available knowledge with the utilisation of ICT’s as an enabler of Knowledge Management. Furthermore the focus on Knowledge Management lies in people, which means that people and not IT enable the continuous Knowledge Management processes within an organisation. The organisation therefore needs to develop a knowledge sharing and learning culture.