Knowledge management Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

Organizations primarily compete on the basis of knowledge and information. Knowledge not only of their own circumstances but also that of the environment, governmental agencies, competition, customers and anything else that might help the business grow.

According to Dr. Tom Froehlich, Professor and Director of Information Architecture and Knowledge Management at Kent State University, “Business owners and managers need to understand the discipline of knowledge management and why it’s important to have employees with this skill set. It is an area of expertise that allows mid-career professionals to contribute to an organization in a lasting way.”

Smart Business talked with Dr. Froehlich for more information on knowledge management and why it’s important.

What is knowledge management?

It represents a range of activities that include the identification, organization, creation, representation, distribution, use and reuse of knowledge in an enterprise so as to increase a business’s efficiency, effectiveness, innovativeness and competitiveness. This knowledge includes explicit information as recorded in electronic or paper form and tacit knowledge, such as the expertise, creativity and the proficiency of the organization’s employees. It aims to identify gaps and needs. These knowledge activities are enacted as an integral part of management, policy and practice at every level of the enterprise.

What this typically means is identifying, organizing and making readily available the intellectual assets of an organization. Best practices are identified and disseminated. Expertise is easily located and shared. New knowledge, particularly for competitive advantage, can be generated. Corporate data is accessible and tacit knowledge, such as a customer’s preferences, can be made explicit and shared.

What are the key identifiable themes included in knowledge management?

The key themes are: capture of employee know-how; innovation incubation; enterprise content management; competitive intelligence; knowledge sharing; organizational expertise management; organizational learning; virtual collaboration; digital asset management; digital rights management; document, records and email management; and communities of practice. A community of practice refers to a group with a common concern for some topic or problem collaborating to create innovations and solutions and to share ideas. Such a group could be internal to a specific company, such as members of the marketing department sharing ideas about product awareness, or across different enterprises, such as car salesmen discussing the best selling techniques.

The focus is on people. Technology can be facilitative, but it is a management of people and their activities that will make the organization efficient and effective.

Why do businesses need knowledge management?

Informal knowledge, such as employees’ know-how, is lost with employee reductions, turnover or retirement. It must be replaced with formal knowledge that allows for easy management of the intellectual assets of an organization. Businesses must increase their rate of innovation and shorten product development cycles because of global competition. There is a need to manage complexity, not only the internal demands of the organization, but in its ability to cope with governmental requirements at all levels and other environmental changes. There is also the need to capitalize on what an organization collectively knows.

How is knowledge management different than the business management taught in graduate schools of business?

It takes a comprehensive approach to the knowledge and information assets of an organization. It includes intellectual capital as part of an organization’s assets and part of its balance sheet. It recognizes that the marketplace has become global, increasing competition and leading to better quality and more efficient means of production.

What are the disciplines involved in effective knowledge management?

Another area where education in knowledge management differs from business school curricula is the disciplines and subjects involved. In addition to such typical business curricula topics as decision support systems or change management, areas of concern for knowledge management include: cognitive science (for how employees acquire and process information); library and information science (knowledge organization, indexing and access); information storage and retrieval systems; technical writing; effective communication and consensus-building among stakeholders; document engineering (creation, access, storage, retrieval, archiving, elimination); enterprise content management; email management; and semantic networks (use of metadata and hierarchies to structure the relationships among ideas and content), to name a few.

What else can be said about knowledge management?

Developments in total quality management, benchmarking, best practices, strategic planning and organizational learning all have some relationship to knowledge management.

Knowledge management includes not only value-added information and information for decision-making, but it also fosters knowledge creation and sharing. For more information, visit http://iakm.kent.edu.

DR. THOMAS J. FROEHLICH is Professor and Director of Information Architecture and Knowledge Management at Kent State University. Reach him at (330) 672-5840 or tfroehli@kent.edu.