To date, organisations face many challenges in their efforts to respond to an increasingly competitive environment. The response to these challenges emanates from the best knowledge assets of the organisation. This chapter presents the value of knowledge management in the organisation’s settings. Knowledge management is an interdisciplinary area of studies and is closely related to information science. It comprises a collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination and utilisation of knowledge in an organisation. The driving force of knowledge management is people, with their tacit and explicit knowledge. Knowledge is a synthetic human activity and is based on information and data. On the contrary, data is the basis for the creation of information, including raw facts and events, numbers and symbols, while information is analysed and organised data.
In her article, Carla O’Dell (2004: 18) estimated that more than 80 per cent of major organisations have explicit
knowledge management initiatives and many global organisations have communities of practice. Today organisations face many challenges in their attempt to respond to the increasing demands of their customers and to the competitive environment. The response to these challenges emanates from the ‘organisation’s best knowledge assets. The capture, transfer and use of internal and external know-how become part of the business strategy. The business strategy of an organisation relies much on its knowledge management system. The best place to house knowledge management is the special library.
Knowledge management has its roots in a variety of disciplines, including information science (Jashapara, 2005: 137). Knowledge management is a fairly new discipline as regards the work of the library. It is a new term while the roots of its meaning are as old as libraries. Nonetheless, knowledge management emerged and was popularised in business during the last decade of the twentieth century because the possession of knowledge enables business to gain competitive advantage. Knowledge management is a vital issue that is extensively recognised at organisational level (Agnihotri & Troutt, 2009: 339). Knowledge management requires a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to management processes. It is the evolution of good management practices (Broadbent, 1998: 35).
There has been much ink poured on the topic of knowledge management, knowledge flow systems, knowledge transfer and knowledge utilisation (Duncan, 1972: 274–5). This chapter is a theoretical approach to knowledge management. It is also a presentation of philosophical viewpoints of knowledge as it is differentiated from information and data. We consider it important to analyse in depth both knowledge and knowledge management because these are the fundamental concepts of our book.
Since its creation, knowledge management has stirred up diverse discussions and feelings. A quote about knowledge management that we like derives from Oxbrow and Abell (2002: 21) in their prophetic article about life after knowledge management. They write that ‘some people love knowledge management, some hate it, some claim that they have always done it, but few people have been able to ignore it’. Knowledge management is not a fad but a reflection of the real world we live in, the enterprise we work at and the people that live on the earth. The centre of knowledge management was and still remains the same: people.
Intentionally, we present here various definitions and aspects of knowledge management because of its significance. The diversity of the perspectives engages in a great proportion of the relevant literature. It is evident that knowledge management is a widely accepted notion that raises much discourse and prevails over the philosophical reasoning and management theories. Put simply, knowledge management is ‘getting the right information to the right people at the right time, so that they can make the right decisions’ (Lamont, 2004: 57).
Knowledge management as a collection of strategies has arisen in response to the needs of organisations, businesses, communities and governments in the knowledge-based society and economy of the twenty-first century (Rowley, 2003: 433). Nowadays, knowledge and its management are vital areas in most organisations. It is well known that the business world was the first domain to recognise the importance of knowledge. Enterprises stimulate the development of knowledge. This happens because the possession of knowledge enables businesses to gain competitive advantage (Lee, 2005: 1). There are various definitions of knowledge management depending on the perspective from which the term is tackled: from an information systems perspective, from a human resources perspective or from a strategic management perspective. In organisational surroundings knowledge management refers to the practices of generating, capturing, collecting, disseminating and reusing know-how internally created. In the end, knowledge management sits alongside business objectives. It is a vehicle to meet business objectives.
From the dialogue in the respective literature the author of this book chooses the following definition of knowledge management from Ashok Jashapara (2005: 140): ‘the effective learning processes associated with exploration, exploitation and sharing of human knowledge (tacit and explicit) that use appropriate technology and cultural environments to enhance an organisation’s intellectual capital and performance’.
The definition incorporates the technological angle (information systems) because a knowledge management project requires the appropriate technological equipment and systems to catalogue, index, abstract and make accessible the knowledge collected in a knowledge management system.
The definition contains the corporate culture that distinguishes one firm from the other. In fact, organisational cultures can affect interpersonal relations. The whole concept of knowledge management is built on the intellectual capital of the corporation’s members.
Larry Prusak, the world expert on knowledge management, underpins that companies have always managed knowledge (OECD, 2003: 13). Knowledge management is an interdisciplinary model that chiefly pertains to enterprises, because it deals with all aspects of knowledge that is scattered within a firm. Knowledge management is distinguished from information management. Information management is defined as ‘the organisational methodology that is concerned with the acquisition, arrangement, storage, retrieval and use of information to produce knowledge’, though knowledge management involves people (St. Clair, 2001: 8). Information management concerns the retrieval of recorded and documented explicit knowledge and information, whereas knowledge management is the process through which organisations generate value from their intellectual capital or knowledge-based assets (Singh, 2007: 172). Knowledge management deals with creating, securing, capturing, coordinating, combining, codifying, sharing, retrieving, re-using and distributing knowledge (Lee, 2005: 2). This description explains the core activities of special librarians. Knowledge management promotes learning and innovative activities within an organisation.
Knowledge management comprises a set of attributes such as accessing, evaluating, managing, organising, filtering and distributing information in a manner useful to end-users. Knowledge management involves blending internal with external information of a company which is transferred to actionable knowledge by using a technology platform (DiMattia and Oder, 1997: 33).
Organisations need to treat knowledge management as an imperative organisational functional domain and to link their knowledge management initiatives with the characteristics of their business environments, such as mission, vision, goals, objectives and strategies of the organisation (Wang and Belardo, 2009: 638). Knowledge management is often viewed as a collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination and utilisation of knowledge in an organisation. It is the systematic management of vital knowledge involving principles of management. It also helps in identifying strengths and weaknesses, problem-solving processes, creating opportunities and strategic learning (Lee et al., 2010: 21). Knowledge management aligns with the organisation’s business strategy and enhances individual and organisational performance. Alignment of organisational resources with the firm’s strategy helps to ensure that the appropriate resources are employed to help the company achieve its goals and objectives (Wang and Belardo, 2009: 654). Knowledge management allows organisations to generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets and makes it feasible to get the right information into the hands of the appropriate people at the time the information is required in order to make the best possible decisions (Parker et al., 2005: 179).
Knowledge management is the process of identifying, organising and utilising the wealth of information and data created in organisations, with the goal to better organise the knowledge for reuse in the organisation (Mount and Massoud, 1999: 22). The aim of knowledge management for companies is to become more competitive through the capacities of their people to be more flexible and innovative (Broadbent, 1998: 26). The firms conceive knowledge management as a way to better use the expertise of the organisation’s members. Knowledge management is about connecting people with people, because people are the motivating power in creating knowledge. It relates to recognising the strength that comes from working in multi-skilled and multi-level teams (Abell and Oxbrow, 1999: 116).
Having knowledge management in mind we look at information management from different perspectives. On the one side, the organisation owns the intellectual capital it uses to create economic value. The intellectual capital consists of the expertise and experience of individuals and of the routines and processes necessary for employees to execute duties in the organisation. On the other side, the intellectual capital consists of human capital and structural capital. The human capital derives from the human mind, and consequently from the skills, competencies and experiences of employees. The structural capital comes from the procedures, routines and relationships the organisation has developed with others (Wei Choo et al., 2006: 493). The development of human capital includes improving information skills and providing information to individuals that helps them find peer employees and share their expertise. The development of structural capital requires the establishment and application of policies and processes that allow a company to be efficient in creating, storing, accessing and using information. As related to the environment where knowledge is created, knowledge is managed in different ways, at different levels and in circumstances that imply different degrees of risk-taking (Davenport, 2002: 81).
Knowledge management is the management of knowledgeable people in an organisation, a process that leads to success. Talking about managing knowledge, we also talk about the relationships that people have with one another (Nordan, 2005: 18). Knowledge management is also about building networks of knowledgeable people. Finally, knowledge management is not a fad – it is still current and its meaning is growing more and more important. Since the last decade of the twentieth century when it emerged, it is gradually gaining wider acceptance in the management and information science debate.
We are quite analytical in this section of the book because we place knowledge in the highest position of mental activities. Knowledge is also the basic ingredient for the creation of a knowledge management project.
Knowledge is not only power but also an asset for a firm. In today’s corporations, there is a shift to collective knowledge-sharing as a competitive advantage for a company in the storm of rapid advances. Thus, in today’s business the old adage ‘knowledge is power’ is becoming ‘sharing knowledge is power’. Knowledge is an organisation’s biggest competitive advantage and gains organisational advantage through its distribution. It is a firm’s key resource and an essential component, an unambiguously human process. Knowledge is captured by collecting information that is absorbed and filtered in the human mind. Thereafter, information is converted to knowledge. Any organisation that pursues its continuous development ought to create information and knowledge, in addition to processing information. By creating new knowledge, an organisation remains in the sphere of innovation that influences the creation of new knowledge following a cyclical manner. Ikujiro Nonaka (2007: 162) places knowledge in its correct position, saying that ‘in an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge’. Knowledge encompasses economic value and it is the competitive advantage of any company.
As Larry Prusak (2010: 11) observes, ‘there is a world of difference between knowledge and information’. Indeed, information and knowledge have significantly discrete meanings. He elegantly describes the example of a person who is going on a trip and looks for information on the sights they plan to visit. The individual prefers to talk to someone who has already visited the place, instead of reading a guidebook about the area in question. The person chooses the first option because the knowledge of the individual who visited the place is valuable. The process is interactive, limitless and involves emotion, trust and passion. Knowledge is what a knower knows, whereas information is codified.
In its Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century, the Special Libraries Association (2003) declares that ‘information, both internally and externally produced, is the lifeblood of the knowledge-based organisation’. The association views information as the essential characteristic of an organisation that is knowledge-oriented and incorporates knowledge in its substance.
The process of knowledge creation flows through a continuum where data transforms into information, information transforms into knowledge and, in the end, knowledge drives decision-making (Lee, 2005: 2). Knowledge is a human, intellectual function that is not produced mechanically in computers, whereas computers are the tools for a knowledgeable person to create more knowledge (Nordan, 2005: 18). Knowledge is the baby of mental operations, the outcome of the thinking procedure of a person based on experience, education, cultural and socioeconomic background, information gathered and elaborated in the brain. Knowledge is information combined with experience, expertise, context, interpretation and reflection. On the contrary, data is a sum of raw, scattered, unrelated, unprocessed issues, facts and events, numbers and symbols, which is without meaning and significance per se. Data, notwithstanding, is the basis for the creation of information, while information is analysed and organised data, a tangible presentation of data that can be exploited and reused to create knowledge. Knowledge, by contrast, is richer, deeper and more valuable than information.
At this point, it is interesting to mention the definition of information by D.A. Asoh et al. (2007, quoted in Wang and Belardo, 2009: 638). They identify information ‘as the organised data and facts that existed outside the minds of individuals’, whereas knowledge is ‘the personal capability and capacity of individuals to perform specific actions’. Information is a physical product, visible, independent from the existing environment, easily transferable and duplicable, but knowledge, as a personal and individual attribute, is a synthetic product of information. Conversely, information is an expression of knowledge that supports knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge is invisible, closely related to action and decision, spiritual product, identified with the existing environment, transferable through learning and not duplicable (Lee, 2005: 2).
In our judgement, knowledge is a more complicated mental activity than information and data. It includes activities based on information. Knowledge is the result of combining the learning behaviour and experience of an individual. The knowledgeable person uses information to create new knowledge. It is simple to admit that knowledge cannot be managed. Indeed, only the knowledge environment as well as information is manageable. Knowledge has a very special characteristic: it grows when it is applied and when it is delivered to others.
Knowledge derives from information as information stems from data, but we obtain knowledge from individuals. Knowledge is information combined with the owner’s ability and experience, which are used to solve a problem, to help decision-making or to create new knowledge (Lee, 2005: 2). Judgement is the principle that makes a distinction between the concepts of knowledge, information and data. Knowledge is based on people’s values and beliefs, which are attributes with a powerful impact on organisational knowledge. In contrast to individual knowledge, organisational knowledge is highly dynamic, because it is accumulated and communicated among many individuals. People’s values and beliefs inevitably influence their thoughts and actions. Knowledge is the idiosyncratic principle that moves organisations forward. Knowledge is an asset for each organisation and it is augmented with use. According to Davenport and Prusak (1998: 17), ideas breed new ideas and shared knowledge stays with the sender, while it enriches the receiver. Only ideas, as knowledge resources, have unlimited potential for growth.
Knowledge is defined by Daniel Bell (1976: 175) as ‘a set of organised statements of facts or ideas, presenting a reasoned judgment or an experimental result, which is transmitted to others through some communication medium in some systematic form’. This definition encompasses ideas, communication channels, judgement and experience as characteristics of knowledge. Information is objective, but knowledge is subjective. Knowledge is an intellectual conception referring to the condition of knowing something, whereas information is the process of accumulating and organising data.
In the World Bank’s publication World Development Report, the topic of the 1998–1999 volume was Knowledge for Development. We cite here the description of knowledge because it is presented as a romantic and poetic metaphor (World Bank, 1998/99: 1): ‘Knowledge is like light. Weightless and intangible, it can easily travel the world, enlightening the lives of people everywhere.’ Indeed, knowledge can be easily spread everywhere and widens the spiritual horizons of human beings. At the organisational level knowledge is recognised as the most important intellectual asset.
In the Republic of Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, knowledge is possessed by the elite people who belong to the upper class of his Ideal Republic. This noble class consists of philosophers. The rest of the citizens of the ideal city are the warriors and the artisans. Quite the contrary happens with the diffusion of knowledge in our society. The advancement of science and wealth, and the progress and economic growth of organisations are based on knowledge creation and sharing of knowledge. The philosophical perception of knowledge was the basic component in Socrates’ speeches, as expressed in Plato’s works. Socrates said that ‘what I know is that I know nothing [ἕv οἶδα οἶτι οδν οἶδα]The more knowledge a person obtains, the more the individual realises that there is an immense volume of issues that the human being is not aware of.
As concerns its function to individuals and groups of people, knowledge can be divided into individual and organisational. Individual knowledge resides in the knowers’ minds, the minds of the people who own knowledge. By contrast, organisational knowledge is formed through interaction between technologies, techniques and people (Rowley, 2003: 434).
Knowledge management is one of the strategic issues of a corporation, because knowledge is one of the most valuable resources that businesses possess. In terms of a firm, knowledge is a major factor for attaining high performance. The Greek word strategy defines the high position and the tasks of the general of the army. Therefore, it explains the processes of leading the army and, generally speaking, of leading a group of people in an organised way. The meaning of the word strategy enlightens how important it is in the organisation’s settings. A strategy is a joint venture of all the objectives, goals, policies and actions of an organisation aiming to being performed. It also affects the corresponding decisions for resource allocation.
As Daniel Bell argued (1976: 487), in the post-industrial society new axial structures and principles have arisen: from a society that is based on the production of goods to the society and economy that are oriented to information and knowledge. Knowledge directs the innovation and the formulation of policies. The significance of knowledge has many economic implications, both for a company and for an economy. According to Harrison (1995: 10), ‘the forms of knowledge are any sorts of mental products that are, or can be, owned as values, assets or resources’.
What Wagner-Doebler (2004: 39) describes with the following words is a commonly accepted aspect in postmodern societies: ‘The societies’ ability to organise information and knowledge in an efficient and effective manner is a crucial competitive factor of economies … economising “human capital” and the knowledge embedded in it is a trend which cannot be overlooked.’ Knowledge is tightly connected with the economy and the society, because knowledge produces profit if it is exploited sufficiently. Nowadays, knowledge economy is in the heart of several countries’ strategic plans. Knowledge is also constrained by culture, style, education and expertise of an organisation, a company or an agent.
The Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (1993) defines knowledge as:
Information is considered as an input to the knowledge- creation process. To that direction, the emergence of the Internet immensely facilitates the spread of information to many people (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 329). Nonaka (1994: 15) defines knowledge as ‘justified true belief’. According to the author, the terms information and knowledge are used interchangeably. He distinguishes between the two terms explaining information as a flow of messages, while knowledge is ‘created and organised by the very flow of information, anchored on the commitment and beliefs of its holder’.
An essential attribute of knowledge is truthfulness, while belief derives from the inner side of a person and encompasses feelings and sentiment. On the contrary, thought is a process of the human mind and refers to more objective practices than that of belief. Hence, the meaning of thought is closer to information. To make the simpler distinction between knowledge and information, we assert that knowledge is know-how (subjective factor), while information is know-what (objective factor). We affirm that knowledge and information have distinctive meanings. Knowledge pertains to the humanitarian approach of individuals, while information pertains to their scientific and materialistic point of view.
Some thinkers regard knowledge, data and information as interchangeable concepts. However, Davenport and Prusak (1998: 1) consider the three notions as not interchangeable. They delineate data as a set of discrete, objective facts about events. Unlike data, information has a meaning and a shape and it is organised for some purpose. They define the term knowledge as ‘a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information’ (1998: 5). Knowledge is distinct from information and data. Jashapara (2005: 138) argues that the terms information and knowledge are often used interchangeably. The reason is that ‘some scholars have misguidedly assumed that knowledge purely refers to explicit knowledge’. The author continues that knowledge ‘can be neatly packaged, classified and transferred across an organisation’.
The distinction between knowledge and data lies in the usage of information. Knowledge is information used and processed by people (Garcia-Murillo and Annabi, 2002: 875). Additionally, knowledge is a personal attribute because people have different interpretations and different ways of reasoning. In fact, knowledge is tied to the knower who is the owner of knowledge. Information can be personal, too. By analysing the same information, people – regarded as knowledge workers – interpret it differently and can turn information into knowledge to generate new knowledge (Razmerita et al., 2009: 1023–4).
The processing of data is understandable and it follows rules of mathematics and logic. Information is also manageable as collections of data and events that are searched, retrieved and drawn together. Conversely, knowledge is dealing with mental structures and activities. Knowledge incorporates many intangibles, such as experience and expertise, intuition, judgement and skills, which have the potential to create value in the business environment. Knowledge is created by the members of an organisation while they perform their jobs. Some of this knowledge is articulated, captured, stored and reused. However, much of the knowledge is tacit and thus difficult to be expressed (Henczel, 2001: 50).
In our view, the distinctions between knowledge, data and information are clear. Information is what we have heard from others, we have learned and we are aware of. We use data to create information. Data derives from research and findings. However, we use the human mind to create new knowledge based on information and data available. It is apparent that knowledge is a synthetic human activity that is obtained and acquired by experience, learning and expertise.
Knowledge is also seen from another viewpoint: the perspective of commons. Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom (Elinor Ostrom was awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences), in their book Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice (2007), point out ‘knowledge as a shared resource, a complex ecosystem that is a commons, a resource shared by a group of people that is subject to social dilemmas’. The resource can be small and used by a small group (e.g. a family refrigerator), can be bigger and used at community level (libraries, sidewalks and playgrounds), or can be even bigger and used at international or global level (the Internet, scientific knowledge and the atmosphere). The commons can be bounded (a community part and a library), transboundary (the Danube River or the Internet) or without any clear boundaries (knowledge or the ozone layer). The more people that share useful knowledge, the greater the common good. According to the authors, knowledge refers to understanding gained through experience or study. Acquiring and discovering knowledge is a social and a personal process. But access to knowledge is made easier by examining the nature of knowledge and identifying the ways in which it is a commons (Hess and Ostrom, 2007: 3–5, 7–8).
Moreover, information is a tangible representation of data within a specific context. Information is effective when it is communicated with the end-user. Many special librarians practise in providing information to end-users, who transform it into knowledge (Abram, 1997: 187–9). Again librarians have the research and technical skills to meet their users’ specific needs at the time they require it. Finally, knowledge is information in the context of an individual’s role and experiences. A success factor is the contiguity between information and the individual’s perspective.
The conclusion derived from the discussion on the notions of knowledge, information and data is that knowledge is the utmost intellectual, spiritual, human and intangible activity that shapes the foundation of philosophical debates. Therefore, its management is an intangible and valuable elaboration with splendid results in the organisations that embrace it.
The basic features of knowledge management are: access, assessment, management, organisation, filtering and diffusion of information. Knowledge management is a dynamic process (Semertzaki, 2000: 4). It incorporates knowledge acquisition, knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination. The perception of knowledge management by Davies and Mabin (2001: 859) is that it ‘relates to the creation of appropriate identity, the development of norms and trust, shared experiences, narratives, codes, etc., within an organisational framework that fosters purposeful interaction and relationships between people’. The basic characteristic is that knowledge management is closely related to people within an organisation. It encourages knowledge exchange and shapes relationships and networks of people. The team shares experiences and communicates in a trustful way. The knowledge is codified as regards the explicit knowledge compared with the tacit knowledge that is hidden and uncodified. In this process knowledge is diffused and disseminated among groups or individuals. In a cyclic mode, knowledge causes evolutionary and continuous changes.
As it is explicitly articulated, knowledge management primarily originates from human minds. A characteristic of knowledge management is building networks comprising human beings. Human networks require internal and external connections in the organisation. Particularly, the library as an information centre makes connections and helps people by exchanging knowledge. Nevertheless, knowledge management is embedded in organisational routines, processes, practices, norms and in internal documents and repositories (Rowley, 2003: 434).
Knowledge systems are repositories of explicit content and encourage collaboration among staff in the organisation. The result is problem-solving and further knowledge expansion. Knowledge management systems are more significant and complicated compared with traditional data and information systems, such as the library management systems, because they are not static. Due to the fact that the predominant content of a knowledge management system is knowledge, it is a dynamic system because it is based on knowledge created by people. Additionally, people are the owners of knowledge and can enter their knowledge in the system to be shared and reused among peers in a constant cycle of knowledge flow.
In 1972 W. Jack Duncan (pp. 276–7) described the knowledge flow system in the management of an organisation as an extremely complex communication network, with the objective to transfer scientific information from one individual to the other. This proposed paradigm is made up of three subsystems and a fourth one as follows:
Research subsystem: the objective is to describe and to explain the organisational phenomena. This group of people consists of researchers who are involved in applied and basic study in research foundations and institutions.
Practice subsystem: the objective of this subsystem is to apply knowledge on specific aspects of the management of organisations towards an end. People in this subsystem usually hold administrative positions in organisations.
We elaborate upon the above extract of Duncan’s article in terms of knowledge management. A knowledge flow system is the knowledge management system we describe in this book. It includes information and resources organised in favour of an organisation:
One component is the research to utilise the knowledge hidden in the minds of the individuals that work in the organisation. They generate more knowledge by doing research that can also be scattered all over the organisation through the knowledge management system.
The theory can be applied to the real management of the organisation during the workflow. The well-defined end for applying the research into practice is to fulfil the organisation’s goals and advance its work.
The consumers of the knowledge management system are the upper and lower management, the management and the workers, potentially all individuals who work in the organisation and have access to the knowledge management system, either as content providers or as content consumers.
The above processes of the knowledge management system are interlinked. There is a network of people that communicate and use research findings and information to develop the system further, as well the company.
The 10 basic principles of knowledge management are described by Thomas H. Davenport (1997: 187–91):
1. Knowledge management is expensive. Although knowledge is an asset for an organisation, the knowledge management activities require a considerable investment of money and labour concerning creation of documents, developing information technology infrastructures and educating employees on the creation, sharing and use of knowledge.
2. Effective management of knowledge requires hybrid solutions of people and technology. A great deal of human labour is devoted to knowledge management because human intervention is required to understand knowledge, to interpret it and to combine it with other types of information. In addition to the human factor, technological and communication systems enable capturing, transformation and distribution of knowledge.
4. Knowledge management requires knowledge managers. A group of people within the firm with clear responsibilities will manage the project. Among their tasks will be to collect and categorise, monitor and use knowledge.
5. Knowledge management benefits more from maps than models, more from markets than from hierarchies. A clear mapping of knowledge is better than a theoretical model. When the knowledge management system is oriented to make knowledge as attractive and accessible as possible for serving the marketplace, it succeeds more than when it is oriented to hierarchical structures.
6. Sharing and using knowledge are often unnatural acts. Very often people feel suspicious to share their knowledge with others. It is a big endeavour to convince people to enter their knowledge into the system and to seek out knowledge from others. Knowledge participants have to be highly motivated through techniques, such as performance evaluation, rewards and compensation.
7. Knowledge management means improving knowledge work processes. Knowledge is generated, used and shared in specific knowledge work processes. Those processes include market research, product design and development, order configuration and pricing.
8. Knowledge access is only the beginning. In addition to access, successful knowledge management requires attention, involvement and engagement with knowledge processes, interactions with others and sharing results.
9. Knowledge management never ends. Knowledge management is a dynamic process. New technologies, management approaches, regulatory issues and customer concerns are always emerging. Therefore, the tasks of the knowledge manager never end but knowledge creates new knowledge in a cyclic pathway.
10. Knowledge management requires a knowledge contract. In most organisations it is not clear if the firm owns or even has usage rights on employee knowledge. Thus, managing knowledge in an organisation leads to a variety of problems and issues, such as intellectual property rights for the owners of knowledge.
The goals of knowledge management are as follows (Jussilainen, 2001: 186–187):
The management of knowledge encompasses codification procedures. It involves techniques for the identification of intangibles in a company’s knowledge base and it is a key factor in promoting innovation in organisations, both in the private sector and, to some extent, in the public sector.
Knowledge can be exchanged in many ways during the daily working life of the organisation’s members. It is feasible via conversation, online networking, telephone calls, best practices and internal documents. This is what Dixon (2001: 33) calls local knowledge. Basic elements of knowledge management in the organisation’s settings are: the acquisition of knowledge, which is concerned with how to collect knowledge from the organisation’s personnel; the organisation of knowledge, which is concerned with structuring, indexing and formatting the acquired knowledge; and knowledge distribution, which refers to how to get the relevant knowledge to the person who needs it when required (Lee et al., 2010: 22). Essential attributes to successful knowledge management are the capture, sharing and preserving of data, information and explicit knowledge (Branin, 2004: 47).
Knowledge management practices within an organisation include the processes of knowledge-sharing, knowledge acquisition and knowledge-coding (Garcia-Murillo and Annabi, 2002: 875). It combines structured data gathered from transactions with customers and with employees in the intra-organisational environment, interactions with customers that bring value to the organisation, and capturing knowledge within an organisation that helps employees create and share their knowledge. Codification is the process of analysing knowledge incorporated in structured data. This process involves technology. Corporations classify their knowledge assets in terms of where the assets are located within the organisation and of what their functions are. But taxonomy of the knowledge assets is required to reflect their roles in different environmental contexts. Taxonomy reflects the dynamic relations between knowledge assets and the changing environmental contexts.
The notions of tacit and explicit knowledge were popularised in 1991 in an article by Ikujiro Nonaka, the well-known master of management (reprinted in Harvard Business Review, 2007). Knowledge can be explicit or tacit. Tacit knowledge is personalised and is shared through person- to-person interaction that takes place in conversations and social networking. Explicit knowledge is stored, explained and disseminated through information technologies and formal procedures (Wei Choo et al., 2006: 493).
Other synonyms of tacit knowledge are: unarticulated, implicit, uncodifiable, procedural, know-how, knowing, non- tradable and difficult to imitate (Jashapara, 2005: 138). Jashapara continues that tacit knowledge has an ambiguous quality and is embedded within the system, processes and context of the organisation. Tacit knowledge is non-verbalised or even non-verbalisable, intuitive and unarticulated (Hedlund, 1994: 75). Tacit knowledge is valuable and highly subjective, personal, unrecorded, incorporating insights and intuitions that are difficult to capture and to share. It is a personal attribute, undocumented, context-sensitive, both experience- and expertise-based and internalised. It is widely stated that tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees and is more difficult to express, capture and communicate. It is the result of gathered experience and of lessons learned while doing a job (Henczel, 2001: 50).
Face-to-face interactions and communications are the optimal ways to externalise tacit knowledge. Both developing concepts that embed tacit knowledge and enabling communication entail the creation of explicit knowledge. Personal interactions and communications encourage people to share their tacit knowledge, which transfers to explicit and is used by the knowledge management system. For the reason that explicit knowledge is closely linked to learning as an expression of sharing knowledge, explicit knowledge becomes part of the individual’s knowledge base and then becomes a knowledge asset for the organisation.
In the past tacit knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next. The engineer who was going to retire transmitted his knowledge to the newly employed engineer in the company. It was a master-student relationship and the processes used were memorisation and transmission. These days, though, the transmission of tacit knowledge is not only accomplished with the memorisation process but also with the codification of knowledge that enables the new person who replaces the retired one to use this written memory as a learning programme (OECD, 2003: 13). Consequently, tacit knowledge becomes explicit with codification. Tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in personal quality and it is hard for it to be formalised, articulated and communicated.
By contrast, explicit knowledge can be documented, communicated, transmitted and codified in formal language (Nonaka, 1994: 16). It includes grammatical statements and mathematical expressions. Explicit or articulated knowledge, though, is specified either verbally or in writing, in computer programs, in patents and in drawings (Hedlund, 1994: 75). Explicit knowledge is recorded in order to be retained for future generations. It is captured in libraries, archives, databases and cultural heritage institutions. Explicit knowledge is the output of tasks and activities of an organisation in the form of reports, records, databases, procedures, etc.
Explicit knowledge is structured, formal, standardised and externalised with fixed content and systemised words. Explicit knowledge is easy to communicate and share, while quantitative analysis can be used to measure the explicit knowledge of an organisation or an individual (Chen and Chen, 2006: 25). Tacit knowledge can be expressed through communication among individuals. Via communication channels and with experience, the hidden tacit knowledge can be revealed and become part of the knowledge-creating process. In that way tacit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge. When companies pursue the creation of new knowledge by consistently exploiting and developing the existing one, they are successful companies. A knowledge- creating company continuously reinforces innovation.
Enterprises possess and use knowledge. They try to leverage the knowledge of their members internally within the organisation, but also externally to their customers and stakeholders. Companies capitalise on their organisational intelligence to maintain competitive advantage (Lee, 2005: 2). Knowledge derives from its employees and is produced intra muros. However, no enterprise can declare that it possesses all the knowledge of its employees. It monitors just a fraction of it. The reason is that tacit knowledge is an esoteric action. It is placed inside the employees’ minds and cannot be totally revealed. There is much knowledge spread inside the company in the form of personal relations, best practices and oral conversations but it is not documented. It is very difficult to document and write down each particular aspect and piece of the workflow, practices and procedures.
The part of knowledge that is spread as word of mouth can be considered as the tacit knowledge that is articulated during the workflow. It happens very frequently that a staff member contacts another organisation member because of their expertise on the specific issue. It is the tacit knowledge and expertise that are closely bound with the owner of the knowledge and make that particular individual valuable to the organisation. For those reasons the author of this book defends that the basic component of knowledge management is people as the main stakeholders, in contrast to information technology management, which is totally based on technology. In knowledge management systems, technology plays only an auxiliary and supportive role but not the prominent one. Knowledge management systems are not information technology systems, although they come to existence with the technology embedded.
Tacit knowledge is intuitive and is difficult to formalise and to communicate to others. ‘We can know more than we can tell’, Michael Polanyi, the philosopher of science, said (Polanyi, 1966 quoted in Nonaka, 2007: 165, and in OECD, 2003: 39). According to Polanyi, the knowledge rests on unproved assumptions and internalised practices that are unformulated, not explicit and often unconscious, but of crucial importance for gaining scientific knowledge (Wagner-Doebler, 2004: 41). Tacit knowledge includes the individual’s personal commitments, beliefs and perspectives. When tacit knowledge is articulated, it becomes explicit knowledge and is shared with others. In Nonaka’s (2007: 164–6) spiral of knowledge, articulation is converting tacit into explicit knowledge and internalisation is using the explicit knowledge to extend the individual’s tacit knowledge base. Nonaka’s spiral model of knowledge innovation is the classical knowledge management theory (Shuhuai et al., 2009: 251). Knowledge in organisations is accumulated by the company and by individuals who are the knowledge owners. The knowledge that resides in the individuals’ minds is the tacit knowledge. It is closely linked to the person who developed it. It is more complex and internalised than the explicit organisation-wide knowledge, which is more structured and expressible. The latter is written in the form of documents, guidelines, policies and internal databases.
New knowledge begins with the person who possesses it. An individual’s personal knowledge is transformed into organisational knowledge. Tacit knowledge becomes explicit when creating a product, technique, theory, idea but the acquired knowledge returns to individuals to create new tacit knowledge as the spiral of knowledge (Nonaka, 2007: 164). When tacit knowledge is externalised in the form of documents it loses its ‘mysterious’ character but it is important to understand that tacit knowledge does not lose the affiliation of the person who owns it. On the contrary, the prestige and reputation of that individual is raised because they become known to their organisation.
The importance of tacit knowledge and its externalisation that makes it explicit becomes apparent in conferences and meetings. The lectures during a formal conference reveal explicit knowledge and explain scientific findings. To a large extent, though, the immense benefit of participating in a conference is the human networking among peers and the informal conversation during breaks, conference dinners and socialising activities. The participants feel more comfortable to externalise their tacit knowledge and expertise on the disciplines related to the topic of the conference in a more relaxed way than in the formal setting of the conference room. The result of the informal conversation and face-to- face contacts is the establishment of human networks, a phrase that is much favored by the author of this book. It is the starting point of the inauguration of human professional relationships that last longer than the formal conferences and make grids of the stakeholders that are valuable for their professional work.
All organisational knowledge must be codified in order to be accessible to those who need it. This can be accomplished with the codification process. Codification is the process of creating structured information and knowledge sources. Codification in organisations converts knowledge into accessible formats that can be easily manipulated by the knowledge users (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 68–71). This function perfectly pertains to the library’s task. From their historical role, librarians organise data, with cataloguing, indexing and creating metadata. Codification represents knowledge in forms that can be shared, stored and manipulated in various ways. During codification, knowledge is stored in databases and in knowledge management systems.
Part of the codification of the knowledge is the creation of metadata. Metadata is the data on data. It is the labels and tags that allow material to be retrieved. Knowledge systems are structured on metadata and taxonomies in order to be accessible and usable. Metadata for tagging and classification are based on standards (Earley, 2006: 31–2). A form of conventional metadata is the library’s online catalogue. In the electronic area, metadata on content are collected by search engines, which are governed by standards, such as the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, the Encoded Archival Description and the Z39.50 protocol for distributing and sharing metadata. These are instruments for resource discovery. However, the users will require contextual metadata of the document at the point of the creation (Ataman, 2009: 218, 220).
Librarians create labels and tags that allow material to be found. Future users are expected to use the same colloquial language of tagging and the same search and retrieval techniques that they use in their everyday life. They will use tagging methods, such as folksonomy, to depict their categorisation of the information they use (Ataman, 2009: 219). Again, categorisation is the expert territory of information professionals. Thus, organised knowledge is easily accessed and used by anyone else beyond the creator of knowledge. The reuse of knowledge saves work, time and money for the company because it prevents reinventing the wheel. It also reduces communication costs because it is easily accessible and can be used for future projects (OECD, 2003: 20). Similarly, knowledge management requires efforts to capture, analyse and categorise knowledge. They are important considerations for the knowledge manager.
Knowledge is channelled through four agents or careers (Hedlund, 1994: 75):
Knowledge is created by an individual. The individual as an employee of an organisation articulates knowledge and shares it with their partners (cf. communities of practice) in a project or a group. The individual interacts with the small group, which works to aspire to contribute to the development of the organisation. Knowledge is spread throughout the organisation in several levels of collaboration. Individuals, groups or even organisations can interact with other organisations for common projects and goals. Consequently, Hedlund is correct in his assumption about the four levels of carriers of knowledge. With the interaction among the four agents of knowledge, learning is taking place as well. The work of knowledge is about the acquisition, creation, packaging, application and reuse of knowledge. Knowledge work is performed by professional and technical workers with a high level of skills and expertise. On the contrary, if the work of an individual is focused on routine tasks, the individual is an administrative worker and not a knowledge worker (Broadbent, 1998: 30–2).
The terms knowledge worker and knowledge work were first introduced by Peter Drucker in the early 1960s (Rikowski, 2000: 158). In his book Post-Capitalist Society, he postulated that the basic economic resource for society is knowledge and not capital, natural resources or labor. Knowledge workers play a vital role in the post-capitalist society. The knowledge workers are the constituents of the knowledge management system. They update and maintain the content of the system in order to remain live and attractive.
The new economy, which is a knowledge-based economy, has three characteristics that require the introduction of explicit knowledge management methods. These characteristics are (OECD, 2003: 14):
The above three characteristics are also the agents of knowledge in the knowledge-based economy. They concisely describe the basic elements for the creation of the knowledge management system. The knowledge workers are the persons who contribute the content to the system. The information technology is the vehicle for the implementation of the knowledge management system. Finally, the intangible assets of an organisation need to be evaluated in order to stay significant for the advancement of the organisation.
An organisation consists of individual members that (should) work as a team. Each individual creates knowledge as a knowledge worker. Due to the fact that the organisation requires knowledge for its advancement, it has to support its creation. Therefore, it ought to encourage and guide individuals who create knowledge. Individual members of an organisation ought to be committed to contribute to the progress of the organisation with their knowledge. Consequently, commitment is one of the most important components to promote the creation of new knowledge inside an organisation (Nonaka, 1994: 17).
The creation process of knowledge and creativity require an open-ended and flexible mind. The life cycle of new knowledge starts with its creation in a friendly and non-hostile environment. Once created, knowledge is an entity that continuously moves, develops and changes while transmitting from one individual to another, because knowledge is not static (Smith and Paquette, 2010: 119).
When an individual or an organisation’s employee is asked to undertake research and present a report, the researcher relies on previous advice and technical material found in books, journal articles, internal reports and databases. Thus, the explicit knowledge is used when transformed to information. Then, the researcher applies their existing tacit knowledge derived from their education, training and experience and combines it with the information found in the above resources. The outcome is to write down (codify) a report or a document to present to the requestor. When the knowledge creator or knowledge worker, namely the staff member, incorporates the report in the knowledge base of the knowledge management system, then the intellectual outcome is stored in the knowledge repository. Afterwards, it can be further accessed by others, who will use it to create new knowledge in a continuous cycle (Jones, 2003: 477).
Source: Jashapara (2005: 142).
The core component and distinguished feature of knowledge management is knowledge-sharing, which is also the chief condition for innovation activities. The success of a knowledge management initiative depends on the willingness of employees to participate in the creation of the common knowledge base. One of the challenges of knowledge management is to ensure that knowledge is shared and not hoarded by individuals. It is an issue of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration (Davenport, 2002: 86). It embodies all the opportunities and challenges of managing intangible assets (Jashapara, 2005: 142). It is the diffusion of the gathered knowledge to all participants of a knowledge management system. Informationsharing is also essential for the organisation that is attempting to understand and manage its intellectual capital (Special Libraries Association, 2003: 2). By sharing knowledge the organisation enhances its performance, while new knowledge is created in a continuous and cumulative process. The means of enhancing performance are tools, processes, systems, structures and cultures that improve the capture, transfer and reuse of knowledge. In order to remain competitive, the company is recommended to develop an information system to assist in sharing facilities that reinforce knowledge-sharing (Li et al., 2010: 43).
As spread over this chapter, knowledge generation requires that the knowledge creator has access to shared knowledge within the organisation. In organisational culture, successful knowledge-sharing is related to behavioural factors with the underpinning of technology. This knowledge is stored in knowledge repositories, which are embedded in the knowledge management system. Knowledge-sharing fosters collaboration and generation of ideas in organisations. It is part of face-to-face interactions. The level of sharing knowledge also relies on the flexibility, convenience and user-friendliness of the interface. If employees feel comfortable and convinced of the usefulness of the new product, they will feel more motivated to use it and contribute to its development (Hall, 2001: 140). Knowledge-sharing and transfer are facilitated by communication, interactivity and reusability. Businesses are well aware of the importance of knowledge-capturing, sharing and using for commercial and competitive advantage.
The sharing of knowledge is a two-way process: between and among people in the organisation surroundings. It is a mutual learning process because the one part takes advantage of the others’ knowledge and learning, resulting in bringing competitive advantage to the firm. The exchange of comments between staff members or between personnel and customers helps both sides to better identify their needs. Knowledge creation is linked to knowledge management and it involves strategic learning. Strategic learning is the procedure of learning behaviours and processes that enable long-run adaptive capability (Thomas et al., 2001: 331).
The environment where the knowledge management system is taking place should be conductive to aggregating desirable behaviour for knowledge-sharing. Encouraging experimentation, promoting communities of practice and making knowledge-sharing a responsibility of the staff are factors to facilitate knowledge-sharing within an organisation. Leading by example, mentoring, training and assisting staff all motivate people to share experiences and expertise. Knowledge management as a new service and initiative encompasses risk-taking. Risk-taking is very important to organisations that expect to create new knowledge. In order to be convinced to share their knowledge, people should feel cooperative but not arrogant or insecure. The project team or project leader or chief knowledge officer could work out rewards for the participants in the knowledge-sharing process and encourage reciprocity. The reward might be an extra bonus as a tangible benefit but also ethical and personal satisfaction, career advancement and enhanced reputation (Hall, 2001: 142–3) depending on the conditions and circumstances of the firm.
Knowledge transfer results in knowledge-sharing. Knowledge transfer is part of the everyday life inside an organisation. When an employee from a department asks a colleague how to do a subtle part of the job, they request knowledge to be shared. When the knowledge owner (the recipient of the question) replies to the requestor, then they share their knowledge by transferring it. In that way the knowledge is further developed, the two parts of the process (knowledge owner and knowledge seeker) are helped because both the requestor performs the job more efficiently and the knowledge owner listens to some part of the process that improves the existing knowledge. Consequently, knowledge becomes a valuable corporate asset when it is widely accessible and its value increases with the level of accessibility (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 18).
In many cases the spontaneous, unstructured knowledge transfer is vital for the advancement of the company. Personal conversation and informal communication such as face-to- face meetings, contacts, conversations at the water coolers, over the telephone and in the lift are soft but important channels for knowledge-sharing. Casual conversations in the cafeteria of the company are very significant in the knowledge transfer process. Thus, personal and tacit knowledge is unconsciously shared and transferred by observation and storytelling. While members of the organisation are chatting about the weather, the politics or personal issues, in the course of conversation they talk about a problem they encounter or about routine jobs of their work. Even a small piece of knowledge expressed during the informal conversation is a valuable contribution to knowledge-sharing (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 88–90). Managers could advocate face-to-face meetings and casual conversation as a means to share knowledge. This flexibility does not mean, though, that managers should encourage employees to become lazy and try to avoid their work with the excuse that they informally talk about business. That behaviour leads to an extreme and unpleasant end and the manager can be blamed for encouraging people to chat instead of work. There is a balance between the two.
Knowledge transfer is facilitated when participants share a common language. A common language is shaped by the similar background and job tasks of the stakeholders. But it also derives from the corporate culture of the organisation. The goal of knowledge transfer is to improve an organisation’s ability to accomplish issues better and increase the value of knowledge.
As asserted before, tacit and explicit knowledge and knowledge-sharing are the main components of knowledge management. Those notions, though, cannot be valid without the channel of dialogue, communication, conversation, debate and discourse among people. Dialogue is a technique of interaction among the constituents of the knowledge management process. The quality and quantity of the dialogue is an important determinant of the effectiveness of knowledge management (Hedlund, 1994: 77–8).
Dialogue is a pedagogical method. The dialogue between the teacher and students fosters the learning process and inspires the articulation of tacit knowledge. Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, wrote his Dialogues, a masterpiece of classical literature. He introduced a new type of philosophical rationale. In his Dialogues, Plato presents Socrates as the master who teaches his students using the so-called ‘Socratic’ method. He pulls the answer to a query out of the holder’s mind with the assumption that the student knows the answer because it is hidden in his head. It is the teacher’s responsibility and talent to disclose the knowledge from the student’s head by asking the right question. The revealed knowledge from a student’s head will be shared with the other students. With this learning method, by extracting the answer, the students become knowledgeable and educated personalities.
The dialogue is a fundamental value of knowledge management. The values underlying dialogue are assimilation and dissemination of knowledge. When knowledge is communicated with others, it is shared and assimilated by others. The knowledge absorbed by individuals creates new knowledge and is disseminated inside and outside the company. Dialogue encourages communication, which is placed in the centre of organisational learning and of knowledge creation.
According to Thomas Davenport (quoted in Smith, 1998: 12), the most important component and core element for the knowledge management project is people. It is emphasised everywhere in this book that knowledge management is not a technology-driven project but it draws on human competency, intuition, ideas and motivation. Knowledge management requires knowledgeable employees and specialised knowledge workers (Parker et al., 2005: 180). Therefore, implementing a knowledge management project in an organisation is not simply installing an information technology tool. It primarily encompasses the involvement of people. It certainly fosters people-to-people communication. The human element is the most important constituent in the success or failure of a knowledge management system. People as users are involved in the knowledge-creation and sharing process. As an umbrella the knowledge management system includes by default people of diverse educational and experiential environments within the organisation. People are placed in the centre of the project. The utmost goal of the knowledge management system is to provide users with a variety of quality services to improve communication, to reuse knowledge and to generate new knowledge. Users’ needs guide the operation of the knowledge management system because knowledge management is a user-centred project.
In her article Rebecca Smith postulates that ‘for KM to work, one needs an evaluation structure and incentives supported by a knowledge culture’ (1998: 12). Interaction among people is the most important socialisation process. It includes informal relationships with people that bring their insights, intuitions and hunches to light that could lead to innovative ideas and the creation of extensive knowledge (Garcia-Murillo and Annabi, 2002: 876). In an environment of confidence and reciprocity people can contribute knowledge to community participants, but linking to prestigious colleagues reduces efforts for knowledge-seeking. In the knowledge management setting, prestige indicates ‘the degree of connections and relationships through which others can gain access to information in a sufficiently timely fashion’. It can present the advantage of knowledge exchange (Lin and Chiou, 2010: 6). People are often engaged in knowledge contributions with the expectation of social rewards. When people as knowledge contributors get recognition among peers, they are motivated for knowledge-sharing.
People are the powerful factor for the success of each organisation, institution and project. Similarly, people are the key agents for the success of the knowledge management project. Indeed, they are at the heart of the project and the owners of knowledge. A knowledge management system captures what they know. Advancement within a firm is not based solely on people’s knowledge but it is influenced by key variables such as intuition, energy and judgement.
The educational background of people is extremely important to differentiate their position within the company. Many employees in an organisation are well educated and have acquired plenty of expertise and knowledge during their course of activities. But education may not be the only advantage for employees. Their knowledge is of little benefit unless it is shared and communicated with others to develop further knowledge. When an employee who holds a doctorate degree does not care about his professional development, the doctorate degree will soon become out- of-date knowledge. In other cases the qualifications of the employee are too academic for the tasks they accomplish at the company. Finally, it is worthless if an educated member of an organisation, who has got high educational degrees and has attained enough knowledge on a specified discipline, is not willing to cooperate and to share with others the information and knowledge that accumulated during the studies but hoards it for their own (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 37). On the contrary, it is better to have a staff member less educated but eager to communicate and share their expertise with others. In that case the employee contributes to the development of the organisation more extensively than the one with a high educational background. Therefore, the credentials of the employee are not enough per se for the prosperity of the company. They must be combined with values, interpersonal skills and the willingness to share knowledge with others.
In companies, teams play an important role in the creation of knowledge. Team members provide a shared context where individuals articulate tacit knowledge and interact with each other through dialogue and discussion. They convert their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge in compliance with the mission and vision of the organisation, following the directions and standards set by the senior management. The organisation benefits because it uses the knowledge of its employees. However, the competitive advantage is a reciprocal process because employees are satisfied by being involved in the company’s development.
Knowledge is about people and cannot be sustained without people. Data is transmitted, information is shared but knowledge is an attribute that pertains only to people, or to communities of people (Cropley, 1998: 29). Although people are the driving forces to move business forward, companies usually give little consideration to individuals and are oriented to the business goals. The members of an organisation are the ones who implement not only computer systems, but also goals and objectives. People are both the owners of knowledge and the creators of the knowledge base of the organisation.
The notion of knowledge-sharing in the organisational environment leads to the creation of communities of practice. Communities of practice are groups of people inside an organisation or in peer organisations that share common professional interests. Communities of practice comprise part of the stakeholders of the knowledge management system. Other stakeholders are users, resource partners, customers, external businesses and industries. The communities of practice create new knowledge while sharing existing knowledge. Consequently, communities of practice are regarded as a characteristic of knowledge management. This term applies extensively in the corporate world and many companies have tried to design communities of practice in order to improve knowledge-sharing within their organisation. They create new knowledge by sharing experiences and existing knowledge. With their daily activities the participants of the communities of practice enhance their learning horizons in an informal way (see also Chapter 3).
A requirement for the success of communities of practice and in general for the success of the organisation is mutual trust and confidence among its individual members, including employees and managers. Mutual trust is a fundamental factor for the creation of new knowledge. Mutual trust is necessary at all levels of the management of the organisation. It is required among all carriers of knowledge: from an individual to a small group, from an organisation to the inter-organisational level.
Trust must be visible and ubiquitous in the organisation. Trustworthiness must start from the executive management. When managers trust their employees in all hierarchical levels, mutual trust will penetrate through the company. In contrast to that, when managers exploit others’ knowledge and present it as their own, they cause dissatisfaction and distrust among employees. Suspicious behaviour on all levels in the organisational hierarchy hinders cooperation and causes mistrust. The employees feel uncomfortable sharing knowledge and information and the climate of teamwork disappears. They keep their knowledge hidden and they hesitate to articulate it. The obvious consequence from hiding knowledge is that the company’s growth is apparently prevented.
In contrast to the mistrustful environment, the acknowledgement of the role of individuals in the creation of new knowledge is an essential action from the part of the management of the organisation. It stimulates an open organisational environment where people feel safe and confident to express their knowledge and share their experiences with others in the organisation. Mutual trust encourages collaboration of organisation members, but also transfer and sharing of knowledge. Openness and trust enable employees to understand what is happening in the company. They feel they are integral parts of the organisation. They sense that they are involved in the decision-making and in the problem-solving process, too. Mutual trust is at the heart of knowledge exchange (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 35, 49).
For knowledge managers it is difficult to create a climate of confidence that leads the knowledge owner to share their knowledge with others. Although difficult, it is absolutely necessary to inspire confidence and trust. Human resources management techniques are to be used. Therefore, cooperation with the human resources management is evidently of great importance.
A challenge that many corporations confront is how to treat their knowledge assets or intellectual capital. Knowledge assets refer to resources inherent in a specific corporation that are indispensable in creating value for the firm. In addition to the knowledge already created, they include knowledge that generates new knowledge. As knowledge assets are held by organisations so knowledge is held by individuals (Li et al., 2010: 37). Knowledge management incorporates the knowledge assets of an organisation, which comprise the intellectual capital of its personnel. Knowledge management is concerned with the exploitation of the knowledge assets of an organisation aiming to fulfil the organisation’s objectives. It includes the structural knowledge (data, methods and regulations) and market knowledge (relations with customers and competitors) (Nordan, 2005: 20).
The categorisation follows the dimensions of durability and profitability of knowledge assets regarding the sustainable competitive advantage of the company. For a firm to manage its knowledge assets, a first step should be to classify its current knowledge assets according to taxonomy, such as stakeholder relationships, human resources, physical infrastructure, culture, practices, routines and intellectual property. Then the organisation can incorporate in its knowledge assets the social capital that is shared within the organisation. And the management of the corporation is recommended to foster social coordination.
Intellectual capital comprises human and structural capital. Human capital is composed of knowledge workers’ thinking, which is not owned by the organisation nor shared unless the owner decides so. Human capital describes the value of the know-how and competencies of the employees. On the other hand, structural capital is made up of tangible variables, such as records, processes, agreements, patents and databases that the organisation owns. Structural capital describes the knowledge that has been captured within the structure, process and culture of an organisation (Hendriks and Wooler, 2006: 15; Montequm et al., 2006: 530).
In the business environment, intellectual capital is the accumulated wisdom and expertise of the members of the firm. It is the primary competitive asset and resource of all organisations. The knowledge assets or intellectual capital of the firm are valuable intangible possessions because they create competitive advantage. It is what the organisation’s people know. Moreover, the whole spectrum of intellectual capital includes intangible assets, such as experiences and expertise of the organisation’s members, their competencies and skills, know-how, technology and customer relationships, thought and intuition. More intangible assets include infrastructure assets, corporate culture and databases of information on markets, technology designs, brands, trademarks, intellectual property rights, but also human-centred assets such as talents, ideas, creativity and problem-solving abilities of individuals (Loughridge, 1999: 248).
Intellectual capital is captured, organised, analysed, interpreted and customised for the maximum return of the organisation through knowledge management (St Clair, 2001: 8). The highly valued intellectual assets are inventoried, archived, indexed, frequently updated and made accessible to the organisation’s stakeholders. As a conclusion, the knowledge that resides in the heads of the organisation’s employees is the indispensable intellectual asset of the company. It is the tacit knowledge and expertise of the people. Knowledge and learning have a close association as factors of knowledge creation while knowledge management aims at facilitating the exploitation of knowledge.
Technology is another component of knowledge management. It plays an important role in the advance of knowledge management and in knowledge-sharing. It is obvious that knowledge management systems heavily rely on technological tools. Infrastructure technologies ranging from the telephone to teleconference facilitate knowledge management because they enable people to express and transfer tacit knowledge. Technological tools capture the knowledge that exists not only in human heads but also in written documents and make it available throughout the organisation. Thus, technology facilitates capturing, storing and distributing structured knowledge for use by people (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 128–9). Most frequently used knowledge technologies deal with text in relatively unstructured forms rather than with numbers and data. They encompass interaction among users. From the users’ point of view, technology assists them to classify ideas, information, documents, e-mails and the like in order to be easily located (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 332).
In addition to systems embedded in knowledge management programmes, technology offers tools such as the Internet, intranet and extranet within the organisation. Knowledge management systems entail information technology systems and, consequently, user training, organisation-wide structures and ongoing support and maintenance. The utilisation of appropriate technology tools is essential for effective knowledge management and personal knowledge management (PKM). In some instances, the wide availability of a variety of technological tools that enable the creation of knowledge and dissemination of information confuses the individual. However, it is inevitable to live in parallel with technologies. People and technology are the main actors of the knowledge management scene to set up a hybrid knowledge management system.
Among the various technological equipment available, the technology used for a knowledge management system includes meta-search tools (for finding explicit knowledge on the web and on local hard disks), capture tools (digitising information for future preservation and access), communication and collaboration tools (for sharing knowledge) (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 335). The goal is that the appropriate tools and techniques are selected to facilitate the process of managing organisational knowledge. Technological tools that encourage data and information to flow more quickly to knowledge creation are metadata tools, search engines, filtering tools, communication tools and, not surprisingly, the library’s online catalogue.
We will never forget, though, that technology is just a tool, an enabler to the creation of knowledge. The driving forces of any change are people who adopt the underlying technologies and use them for knowledge creation.
Technological tools enable humans to easily interact (Abram, 1997: 191). If knowledge management systems are exclusively technology-oriented and neglect the human factor, they show the way to failure. Technology is an important, but auxiliary and supportive component of knowledge management. The salient factor is people with the contribution of their knowledge in the system.
Knowledge management takes in the notion of innovation. Knowledge management as a concept is rather new but it has its origins in the past. Hence, the introduction of a knowledge management system in an organisation is a revolutionary process and an innovative project. It contains new ideas packed with old ideas and presented in a modern and efficient way to be advantageous to the organisation. The innovation process requires the cooperation of several individuals in an organisation (Duncan, 1972: 275). Similarly, knowledge management as an innovative project is materialised with the engagement of many persons as stakeholders.
PKM represents a sub-domain of knowledge management with the emphasis given on the individual in every knowledge process. As a complementary term to knowledge management, personal knowledge management focuses on helping individuals to be more effective in personal, organisational and social environments (Pauleen, 2009: 221; Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 331). On the one hand, knowledge management refers to handling and exploitation of organisational knowledge. The emphasis is how to pull the knowledge out of the heads of employees, make it explicit and enter it into a knowledge management or an information system. On the other hand, PKM refers to the perspective of the individual and their personal knowledge. It is the responsibility of the individual to deal with their personal development and renewal of knowledge. This is accomplished with the progress or acquiring skills and attitudes that direct to effective communication, collaboration, creativity, lifelong learning and social networking (Pauleen, 2009: 221–3).
In PKM the focus shifts from the management of knowledge at organisational level to the management of an individual’s knowledge. In parallel with the multidisciplinary knowledge management, PKM is interdisciplinary, too. It is defined as bringing together content, methods and research strategies of various fields of study (Jones, 2009: 226). In PKM the individual interacts with the information environment, whereas the organisation is encouraged to facilitate its employees to take responsibilities, manage information and increase their productivity through personal development. With PKM the individual uses various skills to deal with the abundance of information and to continually learn from this procedure (Jones, 2009: 228). As a complementary characteristic of knowledge management, PKM integrates the skills and abilities of the individual who serves the organisation. In organisational knowledge management the emphasis relies on the creation of an environment that fosters the generation, sharing and use of knowledge. On the other hand, PKM focuses on the activities of an individual that contribute to their performance (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 332). To that extent, PKM is significant because it functions as an incentive for an individual to share personal knowledge in the knowledge management system of the organisation.
Certain skills are necessary for proficient PKM. Agnihotri and Troutt (2009: 333–4) postulate that there is a set of seven PKM skills for knowledge workers, as follows:
To my surprise, these are the basic skills of information professionals who are conceived as knowledge workers. As the authors assert, knowledge workers ‘need to exercise information literacy skills that focus on critical thinking, problem solving, creativeness, decision making and secured sharing’ (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 332). The above seven skills and the quotation shape part of librarians’ daily activities in handling, organising, processing and making information available for use. The authors of that article bring the author of this book a great advantage in the arguments that librarians and, in our case, special librarians are the most appropriate individuals within an organisation to administer a knowledge management centre.
A knowledge management initiative enhances the performance of the organisation and furthermore the performance of its personnel (O’Dell, 2004: 18). Knowledge management delivers competitive advantage to organisations in the private sector and improved service quality in the public sector (Jashapara, 2005: 139). Knowledge is the most valuable resource of a firm. The outputs of knowledge management practices are conceptualised as the intellectual capital of the organisation. When the business value of knowledge is established within a company, it results in higher-level research and it strengthens decision-making and accelerated innovation, which are the natural building blocks for the effectiveness and performance of an organisation (St Clair and Stanley, 2008: 36).
The knowledge management project ameliorates the functions of the organisation. It is a two-way transaction, a mutual process where both sides gain ground. The executives and the top management capitalise on the project because they exploit the knowledge derived from the minds of the organisation’s employees. At the same time, the employees profit by raising the quality in their professional life. They obtain self-confidence because they feel they are an integral ring of the organisational chain. Listening to and communicating with each other fosters the relationships among staff and between personnel and higher officials within the corporation. It builds partnerships and assists in the improvement and development of the organisation.
Companies engaged in knowledge management systems and processes perceive how they can improve use of lessons learned, they capture more tacit knowledge from employees and retain the institutionalised knowledge embedded in the personnel’s brains. Despite these processes being timeand labour-consuming, they are worthwhile exercises. The company achieves a better understanding of where the intellectual capital is and how it can be better distributed and diffused in the firm. The corporate culture is also strengthened through better mentoring relationship (Rivinus, 2010: 33). Finally, the advantages from using social networking tools for a knowledge management system at individual level entails that people not only socialise and extend personal networks but also collaborate in organising and creating new knowledge.
When the special library gets endorsement from the senior executives to deploy a knowledge management project, its implementation requires consecutive steps to be followed. In this chapter we present a brief overview of the steps that are included in the process. More detailed information is available in Chapter 4, which is specifically devoted to the implementation process of a knowledge management system at the library.
In an article on executives’ involvement in a knowledge management project, Clara O’Dell (2004: 19) presents some tips for successful knowledge management:
Sustain the improvements and plan to scale up. There is a process of building a knowledge-sharing plan, which includes the following steps (Trudell, 2006: 28):
It is necessary to identify, analyse and measure business needs. The requirement is to understand the work of different departments and the way the work affects the welfare and smooth running of the organisation. The library as the information centre of the organisation responds to several internal enquires that help it highlight the business needs. Thus it becomes the contact centre that bridges different departments and becomes aware of the business needs.
The next stage is to identify knowledge-sharing activities that have an impact on business needs. One of those activities is the creation of communities of practice consisting of people that take advantage from each other’s expertise and encourage interaction among individuals. The transferring of knowledge means that people move knowledge that others have gained but it also means the dissemination of learning and expertise to reuse knowledge.
After recognising different knowledge-sharing activities, there is a need to select tools to support the knowledge management project. To name some: intranets, document management systems, taxonomies and internal blogs, but also web conferencing, e-rooms, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools. The implementing tools follow the declaration of the business needs.
Knowledge differs from information and data. It encompasses the human factor, the people who are the creators of knowledge. Managing knowledge in an organisation presupposes that a plan is in action. It requires analysing the current situation regarding knowledge, identifying needs and gaps in the diffusion of knowledge, determining processes, procedures and techniques, starting with pilot projects, involving many stakeholders, implementing and evaluating the project. Some of the basic components of knowledge management include the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge, the codification, and sharing of knowledge, the people involved, the managing of knowledge assets of the organisation, the communities of practice and the technology embedded.
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