What is Knowledge Management?

Andy Cook
January 15, 2022
What is Knowledge Management

“Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.”

Tom Davenport, Noted expert on analytics and business process systems

In every organization, there exists an accumulation of knowledge and experience gained by each of its members. This institutional knowledge can be individual, based on the employee’s skills and expertise, or it can be collective, gained from working as a team or department. 

Unfortunately, such critical knowledge isn’t always maximized by the organization. When this happens, members work in information silos, business processes get hindered, and training and development become more time consuming and less efficient due to the lack of a central knowledge base.

This is where knowledge management comes in.

  • What is Knowledge Management?

What is Knowledge Management?

In the simplest terms, knowledge management (sometimes shortened to “knowledgement”) is the process of gathering and structuring all the disparate knowledge within the organization so that it can be used, shared, and maximized fully.

The aim is to document the knowledge in an organized and catalogued manner to make it easier to access and disseminate throughout the organization. This helps minimize the time and manpower wasted in hunting relevant knowledge, and make business processes faster and more efficient.

Today, the popular definition of knowledge management comes from Gartner:

“Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.”

The 3 Types of Knowledge

There are 3 types of knowledge that knowledge management tries to capture: explicit, tacit, and implicit.

1. Explicit knowledge – This refers to codified information captured in documents, files, books, and hard copies. 

2. Tacit knowledge – Lessons acquired through practice and experience. While intuitive, it is more challenging to capture and store. An example would be soft skills, which is gained through interaction.

3. Implicit or embedded knowledge – This refers to the organization’s processes, routines and culture. It becomes “embedded” in the work environment through long practice and repetition.

The Knowledge Management Process

In order to gather these separate types of knowledge into one repository, there are five processes involved:

Knowledge gathering – Compiling the various pieces of data, such typing, scanning, or optical character recognition.

Storage and organization – The gathered data is catalogued, indexed and stored in a knowledge management system for centralized storage and retrieval.

Distribution – The process by which members are able to access and share the information, either individually or as subgroups.

Application – The retrieved knowledge is used in aid of an organizational task or goal.

Optimization – Over time, the stored knowledge is added to, refined, or replaced after real-world lessons are learned.

What is a Knowledge Management System?

A knowledge management system (KMS) is a platform that contains the organization’s collective knowledge. It is a centralized repository for storing and accessing knowledge relevant to business operations. This is done through a knowledge management tool or software specifically designed for knowledge management. 

Examples of knowledge management systems include:

  • Onboarding and training programs
  • Webinars
  • Case study archives
  • FAQs
  • Content management systems (CMS)
  • Wikis
  • Intranets and private networks

A KMS provides several advantages, including:

  • An organized way for storing and accessing knowledge data
  • Quicker research time and decision-making
  • Faster learning
  • Increased collaboration among members

The Advantages of Using Knowledge Management

There are plenty of reasons to use a KMS, particularly for larger organizations. These include:

Efficiency – Knowledge is faster to retrieve and disseminate, leading to faster processes and execution time.

Standardization – Procedures and routines are preserved and uniformly practiced, making the organization more efficient and effective.

Optimization – The knowledge is reinforced and improved over time with practical lessons.

Better collaboration – The information is easier to disseminate and share among various groups that are working together.

Harmony – Codified practices and convenient learning can improve job satisfaction and reduce fatigue, frustration and learning time.

The Challenges Facing Knowledge Management

Like all business processes, knowledgement comes with its own issues that must be surmounted in order to be effective. Some of these challenges are recurring and must be faced periodically.

Human nature – The biggest hindrance is organizational inertia. People tend to be set in their ways and practices, which can be a roadblock when standardizing processes, or defining how a particular routine or culture should be.

Technology – As tech evolves, there will always be newer and more efficient ways of capturing, storing and distributing the data. Over time, obsolete knowledge management systems will need to be augmented or replaced by newer knowledge management tools and software.

Security – Along with the steady march of technology, security of the KMS will need to be updated periodically in the face of new threats and evolving systems.

Next: 

What is the Knowledge Management Process?

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