What Is Knowledge Management?

What Is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management (KM) is a set of strategies used by companies to create, capture and transfer knowledge between their employees. These strategies can include a vast array of strategies, processes and technologies. These strategies can be grouped into two sides of KM. This includes the process side and the technology side. The processes side includes all employee focused strategies, for example: 1) Changing company knowledge sharing culture 2) Using knowledge cafes 3) The support of management 4) Incentives to share knowledge etc. This is should work in tandem with the technology side to work to the same goals. These include technologies such as: 1) Wikis 2) Corporate blogs 3) Document managers 4) Yellow pages to find in house experts 5) Lesson learned databases etc.

Where to begin?

KM starts where the knowledge is… the people! Every good KM initiative starts with the people of the company and then moves onto the more complex strategies and technologies later.


Everyone has something to contribute. Employees know more than they can write down on their resumes and they should not be taken for granted. This means that KM should have the ability to allow every employee to contribute knowledge.

Everyone is an expert at something. This is also referred to as being an expert in context. This means that lower levels employees will have a better understanding of common processes than senior employees. KM should have the ability to take knowledge evenly from employees at all levels and not just those with the most experience.

Which technologies to use. Once a company has created effective KM processes they can then begin to look into technologies that will complements their processes. This will differ from each company and depend on their strategies. Technologies should only be chosen if they directly benefit a core processes. For further information on how to implement a KM strategy, see (Link soon).

After implementing basic processes and technologies you have created a knowledge network!

Challenges to KM

Sounded easy right? Well there are a lot of challenges that come with KM that need to be addressed before you can start seeing the real benefits. Below is a small list of the most common challenges that effect every KM initiative. It is a good start if you can answer all of these questions BEFORE you start KM!

How do people join the network?

  • Can a new employee join the network easily?
  • Do you accept new knowledge and ideas?
  • How easy is it to learn the new processes?

 

What happens when people leave the network?

  • But what about if someone leaves the company?
  • What happens to their knowledge?
  • Have you successfully captured their knowledge?
  • Do they still have access to you KM network?

 

What happens if some people aren't sharing?

  • What if an employee doesn’t want to share their knowledge?
  • What if an employee doesn’t see the value of KM?
  • How can you motivate your employees?
  • Do your employees feel that if they share, will they lose their advantages?

 

Summary

At its core, Knowledge Management (KM) is a strategy to help transfer knowledge between employees to create value for a company. This strategy is built from a range of processes and technologies that contribute to one broad vision of KM. If the challenges of KM can be mitigated, a company can see real value for the benefit of the employees and the company as a whole. This is just the tip of the ice beg that is KM, explore the rest of this blog to find out more and to get the most out of your new KM strategy.


What is a Knowledge Management System (KMS)?

What is a Knowledge Management System (KMS)?

A traditional Knowledge Management System (KMS) is a technology that helps the creation, capture and transfer of knowledge. This can exist in many forms and will differ heavily between each company. Due to the variety of KMSs, the definition is often used very loosely.

The use of a KMS is tied to the current Knowledge management (KM) strategies used by the company. This will define the KMS type and how it is used. For example, if a company invests in social and person-to-person KM strategies, then any KMS will function in a support capacity (e.g. video chatting). Technology examples:

  • Corporate blogs
  • Company wiki
  • Video chat
  • Collaborative technologies
  • Lesson learned databases
  • Document management systems
  • Expert information systems
  • Some forms of corporate social media

Benefits of a KMS:

The benefits of a KMS are almost as numerous and varied as the benefits of a KM strategy. A better way to think about it is how does this KMS benefit my KM strategy. You can see the benefits of a KMS by examining its target goals.

Knowledge Creation

This is where the knowledge is created on the system and is not captured from a certain individual. Think online chat rooms. These systems basically provide new avenues for knowledge creation. This is done by providing uncommon resources, access to new individuals or collaborative processes. Knowledge creation is always a bonus for the company, with the exception of time wasting activities.

Knowledge Capture

This is the capture of knowledge for the use of team members and new hires. This is often seen as the primary goal of KM. In the KMS context this would be data captured from employees for future use. KMSs are normally judged on the ability capture new knowledge.

Knowledge Transfer

This is the use of knowledge for team members and new hires. By retaining knowledge in a technical system, it puts less pressure on existing employees to mentor each new arrival. While the system could never replace an employee, it does provide a valuable starting point or reference structure to bridge knowledge levels. These benefits are the easiest to quantify: employee performance, training time, problem solution times, etc.

It is important to note that a KMS by itself is not a KM strategy!

What success looks like:

A successful KMS will operate in the background of employee focused processes and will support the KM strategies being used. For example, take a project team that uses a corporate (team level) blog with a document management system. The knowledge management (KM) strategies used are weekly knowledge cafes, outsider inputs, role reversals and promoting a sharing culture.

(See the strategies of KM section for more details)

As the team progresses through the project and completes the above KM activities, they can update and create new entries for the blog, while adding new documentation and master templates for future use.

While these team processes help create, capture and transfer knowledge, the KMS provides central documentation for team members and outside entities. This simple KMS will know allow the sharing of knowledge through quantified information and resources. The advantages of this example will be seen in knowledge retention rates, the training of new employees, management oversight and the sharing of knowledge among other project teams.

Potential failures:

When a KMS fails, it rarely has anything to do with its technical operation. This means that the technology itself functionally operates but fails to satisfy its purpose to help the capture, transfer and creation of knowledge. A KMS will be at risk of failure from a range of reasons, lets explore this by using the example of a lessons learned database. These failure points include:

  • Low user involvement

Even the best KMS system will be considered a failure if no one uses it! This will be tied to a lack of employee incentives, poor user experiences or a perceived lack of value in its use.

  • Ineffective knowledge capture processes

This may occur when employees are required to write down lessons learned at the end of a project. This may sound useful but in long-term projects, team members may have either forgotten the details of key lessons or lack the incentives to write meaningful explanations to the context of this lesson.

  • Incorrect usage of the KMS

This is often the problem when the designers or project champions of a KMS fail to adequately explain the purpose of a KMS and is the used in alternate ways. For a simple example, project members may only update the database with soft skills learnt when management wanted new technical lessons learnt.

Summary

A KMS can exist in multiple forms but is generally referred to as the technical system that supports KM strategies. Due to the vagueness and poorly understood definitions of KM, managers can see the benefits of KM but don’t know how to achieve them. This normally presents itself when a manager invests in a KMS but does not know how to deploy it properly. Without employee focused strategies, the KMS will be under used and will likely fail.

As you can see from above, a KMS can fail for a large number of reasons before you even get to the technical side. The KMS is not the primary actor in Knowledge Management (KM), it supports the key strategies and if done right, it can benefit the company immensely.