Knowledge Management Introduction

Knowledge Management Introduction

Knowledge Management is a conscious strategy of getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time, and helping people share and put knowledge into action for improving the organizational performance. The key concept is ‘organizational performance’ or ‘productivity improvement’. If the usage of computers for productivity improvement can be analyzed, it can be seen that the starting point was basic data processing systems. Data processing systems process transactions and produce reports. It represents the automation of fundamental, routine processing to support operations. For this purpose Electronic Data Processing(EDP) departments were set up in many organizations. The idea of using the information captured in transaction processing system for decision making gave birth to Decision Support Systems(DSS), Management Information Systems(MIS), Enterprise Information Management (EIM) etc, though the contribution from data processing system is minimal . In a similar way is the idea of ‘Knowledge Management’ has evolved from ‘Information Management’ ? There are contradicting views on this. In this paper we consider ‘Knowledge Management’ as different from ‘Information Management’ and the only similarities are both aids in improving organizational productivity and both use ‘Information Technology’ like computers , networks etc. Organizational Memory(OM) can be defined as a set of repositories of data, information and knowledge that the organization has acquired and retains over a period of time. Stein and Zwass (1995) define OM as the means where by knowledge from the past is brought to bear on present activities resulting on higher or lower levels of organizational* Electronics and Instrumentation Group, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research193effectiveness. Walsh and Ungson (1991) define OM as stored information from an organization’s history that can be thought to bear as the present decisions. The main goals of OM are to integrate information and knowledge across organizational boundaries, to assist current activities based on past experiences and to avoid repetition of past mistakes. Basic function of OM are perception , acquisition, abstraction, recording, storage, retrieval, interpretation and transmission of organizational knowledge (Stein and Zwass 1995). Walsh and Ungson (1991) propose that organizational memory consist of five retention facilities:
individuals, culture, transformation, structures and ecology. OM consists of unstructured and structured data, information and knowledge, unstructured concepts information and knowledge that exist in the organization’s culture and in the minds of the employees can be partially elicited and represented in electronic documents, audio, video recordings etc. Structured concepts, data, information and knowledge that resides in various pockets of the organization can be completely captured and represent by electronic documents, databases etc. From the above discussions it is obvious that OM consists of data, information &knowledge and knowledge management is a subset of organizational memory management. In simple terms Knowledge Management refers to Management of ‘Knowledge’ similar to Human Resource Management or Materials Management. When the ‘Knowledge’ refers to ‘Personal Knowledge’ it is “Personal Knowledge Management”; when it refers to the knowledge of an organization it is “Organizational Knowledge Management”; when it refers to the knowledge of a nation, it is “National Knowledge Management” and so on. However in general and in this paper the term “Knowledge Management” refers to “Organizational Knowledge Management”.Knowledge management is a broad subject with many facets. The process and terminology associated with knowledge management appears abstract. Based on the review of the literatures presented by many academics and practitioners, it can be concluded that there is not yet a common consensus on the definition and the concept of knowledge management (Earl, 1999). Defining knowledge management is akin to the old fable of the blind men and the elephant where each
person touches different part of the elephant’s body and arrives at their perception of what the elephant looks like and really is (Bonanno, 2003) .In a broad sense there are two schools of knowledge management; one centered around explicit knowledge and another one centered around people and tacit knowledge. For the first group knowledge management deals with collecting and codifying the knowledge available in different pockets of the organization and making it available to all the relevant employees of the organization. One of the definitions appropriate for this group is “knowledge management is the process of capturing a company’s collective expertise wherever it resides in databases or paper or in peoples heads and distributing it to wherever it can help to produce the biggest pay off” (Hibbard,1997). The researchers and practitioners in this field have their education in information technology and information science. For this group knowledge is a tangible object which can be identified and handled in information systems. For the second group, knowledge management is synonymous with people management, adding a new dimension to traditional human resource management, because they believe that knowledge resides only in the minds of people and what is available explicitly is only information. The researchers in this field have their education in business management, philosophy, psychology, sociology etc. They are primarily involved in assessing and improving human skills and behaviour. For them, knowledge is a process, a complex set of dynamic skills, know how etc., which is constantly changing. Knowledge is the capacity to act and it is synonymous with individual competence (Sveiby, 2001). Based on this, we can define “knowledge management as the one which creates and nurtures the organizational environment where knowledge sharing, creation and growth takes place in the organization as an integral process in every role, on a continuous basis ,thereby improving the dynamic capacity of the employees to act effectively in various situations”. Knowledge management initiatives can be classified in to two main types. This classification is based on the way knowledge is shared. One method is ‘indirect’ by converting the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge and shared. It is by the process of exernalisation , combination and internalization . This method is also called the codification approach where the strategy is people to document and document to people. The other method is ‘direct’ where tacit knowledge is shared among people where the strategy is people to people. This method is also called personalization approach. A holistic approach to knowledge management should address both direct and indirect methods.
Knowledge may be explicitly available in the form of reports of activities, minutes of meetings, memoranda, proceedings of conferences, other documents or databases, audio and video recordings, multimedia presentations or implicitly as the experience, emotions, values, hunches and understanding of the people in the organization. Hence Knowledge can be classified in to ‘tacit’ and ‘explicit’. Tacit knowledge resides in the heads of people and explicit knowledge is available in paper, computer etc. Tacit knowledge is what the knower knows, which is derived from experience and embodies beliefs and values. According to Nonanka “explicit knowledge is the knowledge that is easily expressed, captured stored and reused. In contrast, tacit knowledge is highly personal and resides in the minds of people as the experience, emotions, values, hunches and understanding . It is hard to formalize and therefore difficult to communicate to others” (Nonanka, 1991). For Nonanka tacit and explicit knowledge are not separate but mutually complimentary entities. They interact with each other in the creative activities of human beings. Nonanka calls this as the knowledge conversion process. This conversion process consists of socialization, externalization, combination and internalization. Socialization transfers tacit knowledge between individuals through observation, discussion, demonstration etc. Externalization converts the tacit knowledge in to explicit knowledge in the form of documents , video recordings etc. Combination re-configures explicit knowledge through adding, combining, modifying and categorizing. Combination also includes making available the explicit knowledge to others. Internalization translates explicit knowledge in to tacit knowledge by absorbing the explicit knowledge by individuals. However we use the term ‘explicit knowledge’ where the knowledge is already available explicitly in the form of documents , audio/ video recordings etc in electronic or non electronic form and the term ‘tacit knowledge’ where the knowledge still resides in the minds of people in the form of experience, feelings, opinions, intuition etc. We feel that certain percentage of the tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit by suitable knowledge elicitation methods. In this paper the term ‘knowledge’ is used to refer the combined knowledge available both in explicit and tacit form.

Organizational Knowledge

Organizational Knowledge refers to the combined knowledge of all past and present employees of the organization. In this sense it may not be possible to capture the complete organizational knowledge into accessible repositories , because it involves tacit knowledge and it involves past employees. However we use the term ‘Organizational Knowledge’ to refer to the combined knowledge of all past and present employees of the organization which are captured into accessible repositories.
Knowledge has often been considered as a resource, strategic asset, and most importantly a source of competitive advantage to organizations. Knowledge unlike other organizational resources like ‘men’, ‘money’, ‘machines’ and ‘materials’ is difficult to imitate, and strategically difficult to substitute. For a firm to gain a competitive advantage it requires the capability to transform resources, and knowledge provide that ability. Hence in the absence of organizational knowledge, other resources cannot be utilized effectively. Davenport and Prusak (1998) view knowledge as an evolving combination of experiences, expert insights, values, contextual information etc. that provides a frame work for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. In other words, organizational knowledge facilitates creation of new knowledge. Nonanka (1991) states that knowledge is context specific and is about the “meaning”. This implies that for a knowledge repository to be useful, it must also store the context in which the knowledge was generated. The context specific nature of knowledge implies that ‘Knowledge’ as it is can not be applied universally but new knowledge applicable for the given context need to be generated from the available knowledge.

Organizational Memory

Organizational Memory is the body of data, information and knowledge relevant to an individual organization’s existence. It has two repositories – an organization’s record of activities/products , including its electronic data bases, and individuals’ memories. The composition of OM includes prior data and information, all internally-generated documentation related to the organizational activities such as intellectual property, details of events, products and individuals, relevant published reference material and – importantly – institution-created knowledge. OM can be visualized as the data, information and knowledge captured by an organization in accessible repositories. These repositories consist of documents, audio, video, people, culture and computers. The effective use of captured data, information and knowledge results in ‘learning’ by individuals and organization. The effective use is possible only if it can be accessed when required, necessitating effective retrieval systems. It is generally expected that learning will improve organizational effectiveness. But, it is also possible that organizations can learn incorrect behaviors. In order to avoid such a pitfall, the contents of OM, its usage and the resultant performance need to be continuously monitored. The basic components of Organizational Memory System(OMS) are capturing, storing, searching, retrieving, using and assessing. In other words OM is a subset of OMS. However we use the terms OM and OMS interchangeably.