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Are you knowledgeable about knowledge management?
Let’s start with the concept of knowledge as it applies to a corporate environment and drill down. Knowledge creation occurs naturally during the course of doing business. Basically, knowledge is usable, pertinent information that a company has gleaned from assorted facts and figures put into context.
Knowledge has always been considered an invaluable commodity. Back in 1597, Sir Francis Bacon proclaimed this fact when he came to the realization that “Knowledge is power.”
A couple of decades later, in his book The Way to Wealth, Benjamin Franklin reflected that “If a man empties his purse into his head no man can take it from him. An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
In the modern era, it dawned on thinkers that in order to make the most of knowledge, you’ve got to manage it.
When in modern times did knowledge management become hip?
Management consultant and author Peter Drucker came up with the phrase “knowledge management” in the 1980s as consultants were noticing that the Internet was a game changer. With the creation of tools like online dashboards, self-service customer support, content management systems, and intranets, they could easily see that finding ways to organize and share large amounts of information, as well as automate systems to facilitate that, was going to be key to improving business metrics.
The term “knowledge management” became better known in the 1990s, when knowledge management strategy was, for all intents and purposes, born; several key people fleshed out the details. One architect of the concept was Tom Davenport, who (along with co-author Larry Prusak) wrote a 1997 bestseller called Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know; it’s still considered the bible on the topic.
Successful knowledge management preserves and makes available an organization’s intellectual capital, leading to less re-creation of existing content, improved efficiency for employees, conceivably higher profit margins, and lots of other associated benefits.
Newly aware of these potential upsides, companies began investing in information management.
They started consciously collecting it, documenting it, organizing it, and sharing it with relevant stakeholders. Doing this was also prudent given that the amount of corporate know-how was proliferating and data was stored in multiple locations — such as in paper documents, in different types of knowledge bases, and on websites — to the point that people searching for information didn’t always have the time or patience to scour every single prospective information source.
What kinds of knowledge were companies seeking to collect and preserve? The consensus is that when it comes to corporate knowledge management programs, there are three types of knowledge: explicit, implicit, and tacit.
Tacit knowledge may be difficult to put into words, which can, of course, also make it difficult to convey to other people. According to Davenport, in terms of knowledge management systems in the workplace, not a great deal of tacit information is particularly relevant. Still, even a single piece of relevant tacit knowledge should arguably be collected.
Davenport defined knowledge management as “the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively utilizing knowledge.” Other experts have said it involves defining, structuring, and retaining information.
Most applications of knowledge management revolve around information flow in the corporate world, which typically includes a variety of disparate information structures, such as content management systems, databases, and information technology help-desk interfaces.
One objective of managing corporate knowledge is to use organizational techniques and technology to leverage it. In an office environment, this would translate into a multipart process of identifying, organizing, storing, and sharing key information so that it can be easily found through enterprise search and efficiently accessed by the right people when they need it.
This relatively loose definition of knowledge management was adopted for a few years, until the Gartner Group decided to formulate and announce its own, more specific version:
Knowledge management is 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.
Refining the original concept proved instructive, as more and more companies were creating and disseminating vast amounts of corporate knowledge, while also starting to realize the inherent value of their growing treasure troves of data. Statistics like these were being released and mulled over:
In short, it was looking like companies were needing some sort of comprehensive system to manage their burgeoning amounts of knowledge.
This one’s easy: a knowledge management system is an IT apparatus that a company uses to help it organize information and make it available to customers (both internal and external), or to other groups of people who need it for the express purpose of improving their understanding, as well as for ultimately facilitating collaboration and alignment in business processes.
There are various types of knowledge management systems. Some of them stand on their own as silos, while others may have areas of overlap, such as when a tech support portal is accessible through an HR intranet. A typical knowledge management system might house information in the forms of case studies, webinars, FAQs, tutorials, and a community user forum.
A knowledge management system can be exclusive to a particular team or organization, or it can be widely accessible by the entire company (employees and salespeople) or the public.
Some examples of knowledge management systems include:
The knowledge management process typically consists of three stages (in some cases, four), which may vary based on an enterprise’s goals.
This first step involves finding, identifying, and gathering up all the right information, plus documenting any missing details that should ideally be included. This information collection process is achieved in various ways, including:
This second stage revolves around setting up the right system so that knowledge will be easy and efficient to retrieve. The process could include:
Now comes the payoff: seamless distribution of the information so it can be utilized in whatever ways make sense to enhance efficiency, productivity, process improvement, and innovation. This final stage might include:
Let’s go back to Bacon’s old adage that knowledge is power.
So how, specifically, can a company’s effectively organizing and managing its acquired knowledge improve its business processes and employee productivity to facilitate greater success?
Let us count the ways. Effective management of key knowledge can facilitate:
When considering all of these wide-ranging, tangible benefits, which can also cross-enhance each other for even greater gains, most ambitious organizations choose to embrace knowledge management.
Of course, knowledge management is not a perfect science.
Setting up an effective knowledge management system, groundbreaking is that may be, is only the first step. For optimal efficiency, the system must be actively maintained. Here are a few of the most commonly cited challenges and pitfalls that companies experience in their adventures with knowledge management:
Basically, a company could end up in a worse spot because of knowledge mismanagement. If the knowledge management system is not regularly revisited and maintained, what seemed like a great initiative in the beginning could quickly become an outdated mess or obsolete.
Phew…that was a ton of blog-post knowledge to manage and share with you in an optimal way.
To sum up what you’ve learned: knowledge management lets employees, customers, and other interested parties easily find needed information, which can vastly improve worker efficiency and productivity, which can lead to a competitive advantage and higher sales for the enterprise.
According to McKinsey & Company, an effective knowledge management system can reduce the amount of time people must search for information by up to 35%, plus improve organizational productivity 20–25 percent. So all in all, instituting an effective knowledge management system is considered a great investment for companies wanting to up their game.
Looking for the right knowledge management tools for your company? Algolia provides advanced search technology that lets employees and customers easily, efficiently access their data using a single search interface. Contact us to find out more.