Leading management and organization theorists have popularized the concept of treating organizational knowledge as a valuable strategic asset. Organizations are being advised that to remain competitive, they must efficiently and effectively create, locate, capture, and share their organization`s knowledge and expertise, and have the ability to bring that knowledge to bear on problems and opportunities. This increasingly requires making the organization`s knowledge explicit and recording it for easier distribution and reuse. This article provides a framework for configuring a firm`s organizational and technical resources and capabilities to leverage its codified knowledge.
What is knowledge?
Knowledge is commonly distinguished from data and information. Data represent observations or facts out of context, and therefore not directly meaningful. Information results from placing data within some meaningful context, often in the form of a message. Knowledge is that which we come to believe and value based on the meaningfully organized accumulation of information (messages) through experience, communication or inference. Knowledge can be viewed both as a thing to be stored and manipulated and as a process of simultaneously knowing and acting - that is, applying expertise. As a practical matter, organizations need to manage knowledge both as object and process.
" Knowledge Management is concerned with the exploitation and development of the knowledge assets of an organization with a view to furthering the organization`s objectives. The knowledge to be managed includes both explicit, documented knowledge, and tacit, subjective knowledge. Management entails all of those processes associated with the identification, sharing, and creation of knowledge. This requires systems for the creation and maintenance of knowledge repositories, and to cultivate and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and organizational learning. Organizations that succeed in knowledge management are likely to view knowledge as an asset and to develop organizational norms and values, which support the creation, and sharing of knowledge" (Rowley, 2000).
Effective performance and growth in knowledge-intensive organizations requires integrating and sharing highly distributed knowledge. Although tacit knowledge develops naturally as a by-product of action, it is more easily exchanged, distributed, or combined among communities of practice by being made explicit. However, appropriately explicating tacit knowledge so it can be efficiently and meaningfully shared and reapplied, especially outside the originating community, is one of the least understood aspects of knowledge management. Yet organizations must not shy away from attempting to explicate, share and leverage tacit, specific knowledge. This suggests a more fundamental challenge, namely, determining which knowledge should be made explicit and which left tacit. The issue is important, as the balance struck between tacit and explicit knowledge can affect competitive performance.
Knowledge Management Architecture
The management of explicit knowledge utilizes four primary resources.
· Repositories of explicit knowledge;
· Refineries for accumulating, refining, managing, and distributing that knowledge;
· Organization roles to execute and manage the refining process; and
· Information technologies to support those repositories and processes.
A Classification of Knowledge Management Applications
Based on this knowledge management architecture, knowledge processing can be segmented into two broad classes: integrative and interactive, each addressing different knowledge management objectives. Together, these approaches provide a broad set of knowledge processing capabilities. They support well-structured repositories for managing explicit knowledge while enabling interaction to integrate tacit knowledge.
Integrative applications exhibit a sequential flow of explicit knowledge into and out of the repository. Producers and consumers interact with the repository rather than with each other directly. The repository becomes the primary medium for knowledge exchange, providing a place for members of a knowledge community to contribute their knowledge and views. The primary focus tends to be on the repository and the explicit knowledge it contains, rather than on the contributors, users, or the tacit knowledge they may hold.
Regarding the organizational roles for managing integrative applications, acquisition requires knowledge creators, finders, and collectors. Capturing verbal knowledge requires interviewers and transcribers. Documenting observed experiences requires organizational "reporters". Surfacing and interpreting deeply held cultural and social knowledge may require corporate anthropologists. Refining requires analysts, interpreters, abstractors, classifiers, editors, and integrators. A librarian or "knowledge curator" must manage the repository. Others must take responsibility for access, distribution and presentation. Finally, organizations may need people to train users to critically interpret, evaluate and adapt knowledge to new contexts.
Interactive applications are focused primarily on supporting interaction among people holding tacit knowledge. In contrast to integrative applications, the repository is a by-product of interaction and collaboration rather than the primary focus of the application. Its content is dynamic and emergent.
Interactive applications vary by the level of expertise between producers and consumers and the degree of structure imposed on their interaction. Where formal training or knowledge transfer is the objective, the interaction tends to be primarily between instructor and student, or expert and novice, and structured around a discrete problem, assignment or lesson plan.
The Context of Knowledge Management
Knowledge architectures exist within four primary contexts that influence the impact knowledge management will have on the organization`s performance.
Strategic context addresses an organization`s intent and ability to exploit its knowledge and learning capabilities better than the competition. It includes the extent to which the members of an organization believe that superior knowledge provides a competitive advantage, and how they explicitly link strategy, knowledge and performance.
Knowledge context addresses the competitiveness of an organization`s knowledge. Existing knowledge can be compared to what an organization must know to execute its strategy. Where there are current or future gaps, knowledge management efforts should be directed toward closing them, assuring a strategic focus. Organizations must also assess the quality of their knowledge relative to their competition to determine its strategic value.
Organizational context reflects the organization roles and structure, formal and informal, as well as the socio-cultural factors affecting knowledge management such as culture, power relations, norms, reward systems, and management philosophy. Beyond the knowledge management roles proposed earlier, effective knowledge creation, sharing, and leveraging requires an organizational climate and reward system that values and encourages cooperation, trust, learning, and innovation and provides incentives for engaging in those knowledge-based roles, activities and processes.
Technology context addresses the existing information technology infrastructure and capabilities supporting the knowledge management architecture. While the adage is that knowledge management is 10% technology and 90% people, without the ability to collect, index, store, and distribute explicit knowledge electronically and seamlessly to where needed when needed, the organizational capabilities and incentives will not be fully exploited.
To summarize, organizations that manage knowledge effectively
· Understand their strategic knowledge requirements
· Devise a knowledge strategy appropriate to the firm`s business strategy;
· Implement an organizational and technical architecture appropriate to the knowledge processing needs of the organization;
· Enabling them to apply maximum effort and commitment to creating, explicating, sharing, applying, and improving their knowledge.
· Knowledge sharing must typically be incentivised/recognized for optimum success.
Article contributed by :
Senior Lecturer, Department of Computer Applications, VCMCS, India.