Knowledge Management System

Knowledge Management System

In the present day environment, an organization needs systematic work on the quality of knowledge and the productivity of knowledge. The performance capacity of the organization, if not its survival has increasingly become dependent on these two factors in the knowledge society of today.

Knowledge can be defined as (i) awareness or familiarity gained by experience (of a person, fact, or thing), (ii) a person’s range of information which can be either a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, language, etc. or the sum of what is known or both, and (iii) true, justified belief which means certain understanding, as opposed to opinion.

Knowledge is the key resource, for the organizational strength. It is fundamentally different from the other traditional key resources such as land, labour, and even capital. The organization needs systematic work on the quality of knowledge and the productivity of knowledge. The performance capacity, if not the survival, of the organization in the knowledge society has become increasingly dependent on these two factors related to knowledge.

In the present day environment, the most vital resource of the organization is the collective knowledge residing in the minds of the organizational employees, customers, and suppliers. Learning how to manage this organizational knowledge has many benefits, some of which are readily apparent, others are not. These benefits include leveraging core business competencies, accelerating innovation and time-to-market, improving cycle times and decision-making, strengthening organizational commitment, and building sustainable competitive advantage. In short, they make the organization better suited to compete successfully in a challenging and demanding environment.

Knowledge management is the concept under which the organizational knowledge is changed into actionable knowledge and made available effortlessly in a usable form to the organizational employees who can leverage it according to their needs. It consists of the transformation of knowledge in the form of insights, understandings, and practical know-how which the employees possess in other manifestations like books, technologies, practices, and traditions within the organizations of all kinds and in society in general. It is also related to the concept of intellectual capital.

Knowledge management is simply defined as doing what is needed to get the most out of knowledge resources. It focuses on organizing and making available important knowledge, wherever and whenever it is needed. It is all about the application of the available knowledge in the organization in various situations faced during its functioning. It is an important activity of the organization since it promotes the creation, sharing, and leveraging of the knowledge available with the organization for improving the organizational performance.

Knowledge management is the organizational discipline which promotes an integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of the organizational knowledge assets. These assets include structured databases, textual information such as policy and procedure documents, and most importantly, the tacit knowledge and expertise resident in the heads of individual employees.

Knowledge management is the systematic management of the organizational knowledge assets for creating value and meeting its tactical and strategic requirements. It consists of the initiatives, processes, strategies, and systems which sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement, and creation of knowledge. The organization is needed to define knowledge management in terms of its objectives.

Knowledge management is an important activity of the organization and has two primary aspects namely (i) execution of the knowledge component of organizational activities as an explicit concern of its strategy, policy, and practice at all levels of the organization, and (ii) maintaining a direct link between the organizational intellectual assets both explicit (recorded) and tacit (personal know-how) and positive operational results.

Forces which drive knowledge management in the organization are (i) increasing complexities in the area of operation, (ii) intricacies of internal and external processes, (iii) rapid advancement of technology, (iv) accelerating market volatility, (v) intensified speed of responsiveness, and (vi) diminishing individual experience because of high employees’ turnover rates.

In an effective knowledge management system, knowledge is first created in the employee’s minds. The knowledge management practices are to first identify ways to encourage and stimulate the ability of employees to develop new knowledge. The methodologies and technologies of the knowledge management are to enable effective ways to elicit, represent, organize, re-use, and renew this knowledge.

Knowledge management system expresses a deliberate, systematic and synchronized approach to ensure the full utilization of the organizational knowledge base, combined with the potential of employees’ skills, competencies, thoughts, innovations, and ideas to create a more efficient and effective organization. It incorporates both holding and storing of the knowledge perspective, with respect to the intellectual assets. It has four sub-systems consisting of (i) knowledge discovery system, (ii) knowledge capture system, (iii) knowledge sharing system, and (iv) knowledge application system.

Knowledge management cycle is a process of transforming information into knowledge within the organization. It constitutes as a continuous cycle of three processes, namely (i) knowledge creation and improvement, (ii) knowledge distribution and circulation, and (iii) knowledge addition and application. The knowledge management cycle explains how knowledge is captured, processed, and distributed in the organization. It is the deliberate and systematic collaboration of the organizational human resource, technologies, and processes (Fig 1). It is styled and structured in order to add value through reuse and innovation.

Fig 1 Knowledge management

Integrated cycle of knowledge management strategy

The integrated cycle of knowledge management strategy (Fig 2) when introduced in any organization has three major stages. These are (i) knowledge capture and/or creation, (ii) knowledge sharing and dissemination, and (iii) knowledge acquisition and application.

Knowledge capture is the identification and frequent codification of existing (normally unnoticed earlier) internal knowledge and know-how within the organization and/or external knowledge from the environment.  Knowledge creation is the advancement of new knowledge and know-how innovations which has not existed earlier within the organization.

Once, it is clear that the newly identified content is of sufficient value, the next step is to contextualize the content. This involves maintaining a connection between the knowledge and those knowledgeable about that content.  Contextualization also indicates identifying the key elements of the content in order to better match the needs of different users in the organization. Finally, contextualization succeeds to when the new content is firmly, precisely yet seamlessly, embedded in the various processes of the organization.

The knowledge management cycle is then rechecked as users understand and decide to make use of content.  The users are to update usefulness, and they are to signal when it becomes out of date or when this knowledge is no longer applicable.

Fig 2 Integrated cycle of knowledge management strategy

General issues related with knowledge management

The important influencing factors which relates to the management of knowledge in the organization include (i) the nature of knowledge, (ii) the nature of the employees, and (iii) the organizational environment. Each of these has a remarkable impact on the knowledge management.

The nature of knowledge – It is often said that knowledge is something which develops in the people’s minds by a combination of data, information and experiences. There are two general categories of knowledge, which is required to be differentiated. These categories are (i) tacit or implicit knowledge, and (ii) explicit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge is the internal knowledge which is hard to describe. It is highly invisible and confined in the mind of the person having the knowledge. It is difficult to formalize and hence not easy to communicate. Tacit knowledge is normally unrecorded and unarticulated. On the other hand, explicit knowledge is codified knowledge, that is, knowledge written down. It is formal and systematic which can be easily communicated and shared as in the form of product specifications, scientific formulae, systems, methods, and literature or computer programs.

Knowledge is generated only in people’s minds. Also, it is very complex, since human actions depend on a large number of parameters. It is the complexity which enables the adoption to different kind of situations. It provides different reactions depending on the situation similar to a procedure in a programming language, which can solve a certain number of problems by using parameters to define a concrete problem. In contrast to a code, the parameters of knowledge are unfortunately not easily countable and definable. This makes it difficult to record or document knowledge in such a way that others can benefit from it. It is difficult but possible, however, to turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. This kind of knowledge can be stored and transferred and be later turned into implicit knowledge by the receivers. However, such explicit knowledge never describes the original tacit knowledge as a whole, but instead assumes a common basis of understanding on which the transmission back to implicit knowledge is based.

Since the human minds can be assumed to have knowledge about many things, another problem is how to locate knowledge, i.e. find out who has knowledge about what. This is not always a problem in small organizations where there are limited numbers of employees. But when the number exceeds somewhere between 200 and 300 employees, it becomes very difficult for everyone to know who knows what. Also organizational knowledge held by a group of individuals requires that a number of storage places be taken into account instead of only one specific one. A distributed environment is very difficult with large organizations, and it becomes more and more difficult with large organizations functioning from many locations. Hence, besides storage, a major problem is how to make knowledge locatable, which is a precondition for an effective and efficient use.

But even if knowledge is stored and can be located, the problem of determining who needs what knowledge, and when, stays. At this point, it becomes important to interface the knowledge management processes with other processes of the organization. This is required to be done in such a way that it allows the identification of needs for knowledge and accurate determination of these needs based on which the stored knowledge can be then accessed.

Present day technologies offer various possibilities, such as codification to videos/animations, transmissions across distances, and communications via video conferences etc. Hence, the use of proper technology plays an important role in knowledge management. However, since the knowledge is associated with humans only, the role of technology can simply be of assisting nature.

The nature of the employees – Knowledge management is also difficult due to the nature of the employees of the organization. This is especially problematic, since the possibilities to influence people are not only limited and but also difficult. This is because people’s decisions heavily depend on their personal attitudes. Knowledge is part of what makes the employee’s personality. Passing of the knowledge by an employee to other employee also means enabling the other employee to perform the same task in a similar way. This means that the original employee having the knowledge becomes more easily replaceable. Despite the fact that this is positive and desired from the organizational point of view, employees often tend to keep their knowledge to themselves since they have fear that they would not be needed anymore after passing their knowledge to others.

Without motivation and a supporting environment, organizational employees hence tend not to share their knowledge. And even if the employees know about the necessity to share their knowledge with colleagues, they require a certain amount of trust to do so. This especially is more problematic when the employees do not know each other, which is often the case in a large organization. It is also problematic when employees compete while going up in their career.

The usability of knowledge further depends on the way people express it. There are differences in the ability to transfer knowledge directly between employees, depending on the will (as mentioned above) and the communicational skills but also simply the language they are using.

Another important issue is that employees have different viewpoints on various matters. Knowledge is not simple as an instruction and depends on values and beliefs. This leads to problems when transferring knowledge. So even if a best practice is followed, it may not be effective since the employees believe that there is no need to change anything as far as they are concerned. Employees generally do what seems rational for themselves based on their own agendas and goals. This may appear irrational from the organizational viewpoint. Very often, in a large organization with multi location units, it becomes very difficult and sometimes even impossible to get transfer the best practices of one unit to other unit.

There is another psychological factor which is important in the assessment of knowledge residing with the employees of the organization. When the knowledge is valued in the organization, then the knowledge is a synonym for power and influence. Hence, during the assessment of their knowledge, employees may not be transparent and provide incorrect information. This happens because the employees either do not know how well they know things or because they try to present themselves as good as possible. Here, the organizational culture play very important role since it drives the employees to certain attitudes, which can, in the context of knowledge management be good or bad.

Organizational environment – An organization consists of a number of employees connected to each other in different ways (departments, hierarchies, and rules etc.). The willingness of individual employees to share their knowledge in the organization heavily depends on the organizational environment. In addition to providing the infrastructure, organization needs to invest in having smart employees and to provide incentives for sharing information. It also needs to provide enough unstructured time to let employees talk face to face. For motivating the employees towards knowledge sharing, all the activities needed for it are required to be encouraged and rewarded from the top management in order to make it clear that sharing knowledge is seen as something important for the organization. Knowledge management is to be provided in the organization a status which is similar to other improvement activities. Without this, the natural tendency of the employees is to prevent the flowing of knowledge.

The organizational management is not only to provide a visible support, but also to provide funds for knowledge management projects which are usually of long-term nature. Experiences with the knowledge management projects show that the benefits are initially difficult to express in financial terms since they are, at least partly, intangible. Hence, the organizational management getting convinced with the necessity of the knowledge management projects is normally difficult.

Further knowledge is something which is creative and thus it is continuously developing. Hence, knowledge management policies of the organization are required to be flexible and capable of steadily adapting to the changing environments. As creativity cannot be predicted, there is necessity for a space for unexpected happenings. This combination of being hardly predictable on one hand and having a long-term pay-off on the other hand makes the benefits of knowledge management difficult for the organizational management to appreciate.

The large organizations and the organizations having multi locations have normally distributed culture. This causes additional problem areas such as lesser face-to-face meetings, different cultures and languages, different time-zones, etc.  Also, organizations tend to introduce more hierarchies when growing large, thus become inflexible. But knowledge can initiate changes, since the higher level of knowledge can cause a frequent dissatisfaction and the capacity of questioning what seems to be already understood. The organization needs to be flexible to accept this kind of questioning. The management has to understand that the knowledge is having complex nature which is often messy. The organizational management is to understand that without initiatives the development of knowledge is blocked and when the knowledge stops evolving, it turns into opinion or view.

Because knowledge is complex and difficult to handle, employees who process knowledge need time. Hence, it takes even more time before knowledge influences actions and hence can lead to improvements. This underlines once more the long-term nature of the knowledge management so that an immediate return on investment cannot be expected. Further, the outcomes of the knowledge management projects are difficult to measure and predict.

For addressing these issues, it seems sensible to start with a tight focus which improves the everyday work of the employees in a measurable way. This enables an understanding towards knowledge management within both (i) management, addressing the willingness to finance and support further knowledge management activities, and (ii) the employees, supporting the development of a supportive culture. This provides full synergy to the knowledge management movement in the organization.

Further, in an organization with frequent changes in the top management, the top management is generally only loosely bound. This makes knowledge management issues principally more complicated while these at the same time become more important. At the same time, the geographically distributed environments in case of organizations functioning from multi locations require to be especially addressed in knowledge management activities.

The strategic planning for knowledge management

The overall goal and possible focuses and strategies for the knowledge management are described below.

Some of the strategies  which are followed by various organizations for the knowledge management are (i) knowledge as a product which means the knowledge is generated, packaged and marketed, (ii) identification of best practices and knowledge in a part of the organization and transfer them to other parts of the organization, (iii) customer-focused knowledge which includes capturing customer’s needs, preferences and businesses to increase sales, (iv) personal responsibility for knowledge means supporting every single employee identifying, maintaining and expanding his knowledge, (v) intellectual-asset management includes organizational level management of specific intellectual assets like patents, technologies and operational and management practices. These strategies indicate that there are several different options on what knowledge management can focus.

Knowledge management principally seems desirable to share existing knowledge as extensively as possible in the organization from synergies point of view. As an example, knowledge about a product is helpful not only in product development but also in marketing.

It is to be understood that for starting of knowledge management initiative in the organization, a tight and reasonable focus is needed. The work can start in a small way which can be later expanded. For developing knowledge management in the organization, processes are first to evolve according to the actual scope and then they are to be adopted in the units where management desires to implement the knowledge management. Later this can be extended to the entire organization. Thus this leads to turn the organization into a learning organization, which is also an objective of the knowledge management.

Knowledge management requires (i) continuous learning of individuals and integration of knowledge to the routines and actions of the organization, (ii) effective knowledge generation and sharing initially among the employees of the organization and eventually also outside the organization by embodying in the products or services, (iii) critical, systematic thinking allowing the questioning of established procedures, (iv) a culture of learning, where new ideas are honoured and rewarded, (v) a spirit of flexibility and experimentation including the possibility to take risks in order to innovate, and (vi) an employee-centred environment, which cares about the development and well being of the employees.

Since the knowledge, in a strict sense, is created only in human minds, hence, a transition from individual knowledge to organizational knowledge is required to be carried out. This process can be described as a spiral and consists of (i) socialization or tacit – tacit under which the tacit knowledge is shared among individuals allowing the creation of new knowledge, (ii) externalization or tacit – explicit under which the tacit knowledge is formed into explicit knowledge by the creation of concepts, (iii) combination or explicit – explicit under which the created concept is justified through a combination with existing knowledge, e.g. against the criteria cost, profit margin, etc., and (iv) internalization or explicit – implicit under which the new external knowledge is shared within the organization. Employees create tacit knowledge from the explicit knowledge by internalization, thus adding this knowledge to their knowledge pool, which can start the spiral up again.

Knowledge management in the organization is considered to be ideal when it covers all the sections and activities of an organization, i.e. all the knowledge of the organization is managed. However, it appear to be ideal for an organization in the present environment. Knowledge management can, however, efficiently connect such distinct areas as research, quality management, process improvements, product development, and marketing, etc.

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