What is knowledge management?

Your organisation has a lot of knowledge in people and systems, but how do you manage it?

Business knowledge

Defining knowledge management can be somewhat of a challenge. The most widely recognised definition of it goes back to the nineties with a book authored by Thomas Davenport and Larry Prusak called Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know. They defined knowledge management as "the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge". 

In 1998, Bryant Duhon of analyst firm Gartner defined it as: "A discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise's information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers."

In other words, knowledge management is a multidisciplinary way of attaining organisational goals by making the best use of knowledge.

But what does that mean in practice? Essentially, it means putting the right knowledge in front of the right person at the right time. While this is easy to conceive, it gets complicated as it is linked strongly to an organisation's strategy.

This is a strategy of comprehending of where and in what forms knowledge exists, constructing procedures that encompass organisational roles, and making sure that plans are recognised and supported by those within an organisation. 

Knowledge management can also support creation of new knowledge or centre only the sharing, storage and enhancement of knowledge.

Knowing what you know

To determine an organisation's knowledge, there needs to be knowledge discovery. This means finding current sources of knowledge, as well as identifying concealed knowledge in data and information. This knowledge exists both inside the organisation and outside with customers, suppliers, partners, and so on. This knowledge can be the following.

Embedded knowledge this includes monitoring, examination, modelling tools, and reverse engineering, to identify knowledge stored within products and procedures.

Tacit knowledge this includes surveys, questionnaires, personal interviews, team interviews, focus groups and network analysis. 

Explicit knowledge such as document management, intelligence collection and data mining. 

Implementation factors

To implement knowledge management in an organisation, several factors have to be taken into consideration.

Strategy organisations must manage, share, and produce applicable knowledge resources that will help meet their needs. 

People organisations need to identify one or more members from each department who keen to improve organisational functionality. These people can help in supporting the launch of a knowledge management project and can participate in any soft implementation. These people will be useful in giving feedback to improve things.

Culture the culture of an organisation effects the way people cooperate, the environment within which knowledge is created, the opposition they will have towards particular changes, and eventually the way they share (or the way they do not share) knowledge. 

Technology - the tools and systems that suit the organisation's needs. This needs to be appropriately planned and deployed.

Process - the right processes, surroundings, and structures that enable knowledge to be applied in the organisation. 

Management knowledge management needs capable and skilled leadership at all levels.

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