Knowledge Management (KM) is the group of methods and techniques that aim to create, collect, organize, share and analyze the common knowledge of a specific group or individual in order to make the existing activities and performance more effective.
To understand the KM better, it is better to analyze what the term “knowledge” actually means. Actually, knowledge stands on the next evolutionary phase of the information. With the help of the human experience, skills and a specific usage, the information becomes knowledge for both people and technology. This knowledge contains all the components of the information and the key factors of success during/after the usage of that information.
To understand it deeply, it is also better to look at the history of Knowledge Management. Since human race started to share the necessary information, experience and skills with the younger generation in order to survive in the nature, the management of knowledge became dependently important.
Knowledge Management started to evolve in ancient times. In 3500 BC, people started to record their real life experiences with the necessary information and the skills in order to allow the younger generations and other people to learn and understand it. Even though it was not that effective for the share and the management of knowledge, it allowed people to create a common written language, syntax and concept that can allow every individual to write and share their knowledge with others. Just after the stone writing age, the papyrus (2800 BC) is developed and offered a brilliant solution to transfer the knowledge easily.
From the time stones are used to share the knowledge to today’s world, the management of knowledge became a very important and critical factor both for individuals and organizations. After the computer and the networking technologies started to be part of the life, the role of KM is started to be more critical. Especially, ARPANET (1970’s) and World Wide Web (1989) framework were the critical steps of the sharing of knowledge, not just between private components of groups also between the regular and individual people from all around the world.
Of course, as the technological developments are started to be integrated to each other, databases become the ground factor of storing the data that constructs the structure of knowledge and the management of those databases are very important in order to secure and increase the level of performance of the data that needs to be transferred for a specific purpose.
As the companies started to use the technology in order to increase the business process level with the help of some standards of infrastructure and applications, the Knowledge Managements became even complicated and surprisingly abstract.
Even though there is not any universal definition for Knowledge Management that is being used in huge organizations, it can be analyzed and identified by two perspectives; Management of People and Management of Information.
Management of Information is the technological side of the KM. According to the Management of People, it is a newer perspective because of the date of the usage of complex technologies. The aim of this management field is to provide the methods and techniques appropriate MIS, AI and reengineering in order to manage the knowledge. Because it is the technical side of the KM, the knowledge is not mostly related with the process itself; it is about the objects that are already achieved or will be achieved in the future.
Management of People is actually about organizing the requirements and needs of the company with meeting them right employee at the right time, in order to get the optimum level of effectiveness from the process. The perspective is the people side of the KM. As the processes of the business requirements grow, with the used information, employee skills and experience the level of knowledge also increases. According to the Management of People perspective, process is equal to knowledge.
Even though these two perspectives mainly allow understanding the characteristics of KM, it does not give a complete definition. In order to analyze the KM better, the KM should be interpreted within the organization level and individual level.
In today’s organizations, KM has two important features to improve the value of assets of the company. Those assets can be categorized as knowledge-based assets and intellectual assets. Within the usage of Knowledge Management, the company can have some of those advantages;
• Innovation with the help of flow of ideas: The knowledge management programs can allow employees and departments to see the overall status of the company about a specific development field. With the help of this ability, new ideas and innovative techniques can be emerged with respect to the existing knowledge.
• Improving the customer satisfaction by reducing the response time: With the help of the Knowledge Management usage, the employees of the company will be able to find the opportunity of appropriate solutions to customers with an acceptable response time because KM will allow them to find the necessary information about the demand of the customer more relatively and rapidly.
• Increasing the revenues: With the help of the KM, the necessary product and service that the company provides will be located in the market, with the help of the rapid inter-departmental communication to use the right information at the right time.
• Keeping employee dynamic: The employees are important to be kept “alive” during critical transactions. With the help of Knowledge Management, the information system that contains the functions of KM can record the value of every employee and allows managers to reward them if they have critical additions to the business process transactions of the company.
• Process reduction: With the help of KM, the costs and amount operations can be reduced by eliminating the redundancy of process phases and unnecessary ones.
• Sustained competitive advantage: KM can allow companies to increase the importance of intellectual properties and knowledge-based assets that can be costly to imitate n the market that the company locates in. This can help the company to have a competitive advantage in a long-term period.
Knowledge management can improve the total efficiency, productivity and revenues in any business transaction if it can be used well.
Even though there may be some fundamental benefits of KM usage in organizations, there are also some challenges that can force managers of the company to identify those as serious problems.
• Employee diversification: Especially in large and international companies, there are so many employees from all over the world with different cultural backgrounds. In this situation, every employee has her/his own way of thinking, producing and sharing the required knowledge. The managers of the company should be careful about adopting the KM applications; they should inform and train their employees about the pre-defined common inputs so that all the employees can add value to a specific business process with a common language or method.
• Maintenance: Managing knowledge does not have specific duration periods. As the company stays active in the industry, the creation, organization and distribution of knowledge will always be a serious challenge for the employees. Because knowledge is an easy asset to be stolen, the Knowledge Management application that’s being used should always be maintained and kept up-to-date in order to protect the values of the company.
• Trash data: Even though the collection of data is important for the management of knowledge, not all the data is necessary or useful for the company. To eliminate the required and critical data, the KM application and the usage of it should be well defined and structured in order to organize the incoming data from external environment.
• Data interpretation: The transfer of data from one point to another (i.e. inter-departmental or inter-organizational transfer) should be well defined in order to keep the value of transferred data meaningful. One group of data may not be important as it is for another specific group. For example, the necessary data for the Sales department may not be important for the Production department. The organization of those transfer paths and methods can be a huge problem for companies that have complex organizational structure.
As the Knowledge Management become more and more important for organizations, the professions about KM fields became also important. Even though it may not seem a critical job for Small and Medium Enterprise’s(SME), it has an efficient role for larger enterprises as the information and the knowledge becomes more complex and hard to manage, in order to provide appropriate information and guide for a specific activity.
There is even a non-profit organization that is created for only Knowledge Management related professional employees, called Knowledge Management Professional Society (KMPro). The society accepts professionals from all around the world and has some specific benefits for those people who are willing to improve themselves in order to gain professional knowledge from others. For instance, the members of KMPro can find educational and training opportunities, participate into related discussions with the help of discussion forums, Instant Messaging environments, blogs and get instant information and recommendations from Knowledge Management databases. In addition to those features, members can find the related job postings to improve their careers in this area. They have also have an examination program that allows members to become a Certified Knowledge Manager (CKM) with completing related workshops.
In order to understand how Knowledge Management used in organizations, we can also analyze specific professions that are related to the sub-topics of Knowledge Management. As a major and one of the most prestigious professions, Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO) can be a good example. In today’s enterprises, those people are highly needed in order to avoid some critical problems that have the negative potential to influence the total performance of that organization, especially if that organization locates in highly competitive environment.
Chief Knowledge Officers can help organizations to solve:
• Inability to Learn
• Failure of using the hidden knowledge
• Lack of money making with the help of KM
In general, CKO’s have inter-disciplinary academic and professional background and that allows them to understand the flow of knowledge between different and un-related departments of a specific organization.
Another interesting profession is Knowledge Brokering. Generally, Knowledge Brokers have important role about matching the appropriate knowledge to the right employee in the organization so that the performance can be increased optimally. Especially, their communication with researchers who work academic institutes and research-based organizations has the highest role because they are able to provide the dynamic knowledge within the specific field. They can also support the development of organizational skills of employees with the help of seminars and specific trainings.