The Challenge of Knowledge Management:
A Look into Trends and Applications
Knowledge Management: An Overview
Knowledge Management is a current hot topic in the world of IT and business in general. Let me begin by giving a definition of what Knowledge Management is because depending on whom you talk to you will get a different answer. Knowledge Management is often mistaken for technology or hardware. It is, rather, a strategy to help organize and contain a company’s knowledge and disseminate it to whoever needs it. One good definition of KM is given this way: “The practice of creating, capturing, transferring, and accessing the right knowledge and information when needed to make better decisions, take actions, and deliver results in support of the underlying business strategy” (Horwitch and Armacost). Knowledge Management is basically the idea that you make sure your company and all its components “knows what it knows”.
Interest in Knowledge Management is booming. A recent study revealed that 80 percent of companies are developing Knowledge Management systems at the moment and spending on KM projects will grow to $12 billion dollars by next year (Horwitch and Armacost). Some experts are going further, and saying knowledge management may be the most important element to an organizations success or failure, more important than raw material, and money (Stewart).
Knowledge Management is vital to an organization to stop duplication of effort and to reduce the time it takes to find answers to questions that need to be answered. A recent study found that engineers spend 60 percent of their time searching for proper information (Schick). A large portion was spent re-creating what they couldn’t find and only a quarter was spent on their doing engineer work (Schick). This situation is commonplace for knowledge workers, and is the main reason why KM is so important. In the ever increasing competitive world of business time is, now more than ever, equal to money.
Knowledge Management is not a new idea. Companies have been exchanging data and collaborating on design projects using technology as basic as E-mail since the 1980’s (Whiting). Before that companies would share their knowledge with regular face to face or group meetings, informal discussions, telephone calls, periodicals and even letters. With the advent of technology such as networks there is now a great opportunity to share knowledge amongst workers at never before seen speeds and costs. Knowledge management lets employees access the best problem solving resource they have: each other.
Difficulties of Knowledge Management
Although it is becoming a major trend in business today, knowledge management is not without its problems. Currently, the biggest issue in knowledge management is that it is difficult to implement successfully. No one doubts that KM is potentially very valuable to an organization, but the problem is that it seems few organizations have been able to implement it successfully.
There are several problems when trying to implement a knowledge management strategy into an organization. The first problem is that files are in multiple forms. Many times the information an entity uses is in “anecdotal and heuristic form” and is not easily codified and organized into computer databases (Schick). If an organization tries to organize their files by indexing them with key words then some files that are in video or sound will be overlooked.
The second problem is getting employees to share the knowledge they have and put it in the systems a company has to distribute it. Employees see sharing their knowledge as added work to their already busy schedules (Schick). One solution is to use software to glean info from outbound e-mail and update information databases (Whiting). Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to for employees to put their knowledge into an information system. This is called tacit knowledge or put simply; knowledge inside people’s head. Tacit knowledge is obtained by workers through their experience, training and general know how. Tacit knowledge is usually hard to communicate, difficult to replicate and is a source of competitive advantage (Horwitch and Armacost). Explicit knowledge is more definable. It is generally facts and figures and more easy to enter into a Knowledge Management System. Turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is one of the many challenges knowledge management strategies face today.
The third problem is to choose the right technology. There is no single km product that fills all the km needs of a single company. There are many products that handle things like expertise location, knowledge sharing and peer to peer collaboration.
Companies must decider which one or combination of software is the right fit for their organization.
The fourth problem with km is the issue of security. Deciding who gets what information is an area that shouldn’t be overlooked. Some information may be sensitive in nature and cannot be on display for everyone to see. Precautions should be taken to limit users’ access to such information.
Another problem with knowledge management is that because of the nature of km it is difficult to measure the return on investment. A recent survey revealed that 65 percent of respondents said they do not have the ability to measure their KM initiatives success (Schick). Because it is hard to measure, management has a hard time justifying the high cost of implementing a very expensive KM strategy.
Knowledge Management Trends
There are a number of current trends for the use of KM today. Current trends include: expertise location knowledge sharing and peer to peer collaboration. These all fall under the umbrella of Knowledge Management.
Knowledge Management Applications
There are an infinite number of uses for Knowledge Management. Organizations are using knowledge management to whatever they see fit to use it for. Knowledge Management is most useful for knowledge workers that use experience and know how. They are very useful for experts. Here are some KM products and their applications.
One example of how businesses are using KM is Genuity Europe’s use of the software AskMe. AskMe is one of the more popular KM software applications on the market today. Originally it was a web site for surfers to find experts on whatever subject you can think of.
Tacit Knowledge Systems
The Future of Knowledge Management