This essay shall assess knowledge management (KM) in relation to the formation and development of ‘communities of practice’. In this context, KM strives to include any deliberate and systematic process or practice of gaining, capturing, sharing and using valuable knowledge to improve learning and output in organisations.
KM aims at developing capabilities in an organisation through the use of varied tools and ways. These methods include identification, recording, memorization and sharing the knowledge resources, learning capacities and competencies people develop, and applying them in their professional work environment.
KM practices entail formal mentoring, monetary and non monetary rewards, rewards for sharing knowledge, resources allocation in order to detect and capture external knowledge for company’s long term benefits (Brelade and Harman 5).
Knowledge management involves using category of practices which are difficult to observe and operate, and occasionally unknown even to those who have them. This is a crucial challenge for organisations willing to manage their knowledge resources.
Studies show that organisations are frequently using these practices, and their effects on innovation and other aspects of the firm performances are noticeable. KM adoption is driving firms to crucial stage that the industry analysts refer to as the knowledge-based economy.
This is necessary because firms are in need of comprehending and measuring the activity of KM so that organisation and its systems can perform what they do better, and other stakeholders can develop policies to support these benefits of KM. Knowledge-related investments for an organisation may include training, education, research and development (R&D), software development and acquiring.
Since KM is an emerging field, there are less data and information available about it. Its value in terms of costs and returns is not clear.
This necessitates the need for further research. Knowledge management enables the creation, communication and use of knowledge in order to achieve business goals. KM addresses business issues particular to any business organisation (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 59).
Value statements of KM
Changes in the economy have pushed organisations to rely on their KM systems. Today, achievements of firms depend squarely on their knowledge competences to create new knowledge, share and turn it into making of new products and services. This is because there is a move caused by the spread of technology.
This has created uncertainty, competitions, obsolete products and diminishes of some firms. KM now becomes the strategy for long-term competitive advantage among organisations. Organisations are becoming knowledge intensive displacing other factors of production. This is because knowledge is the only inputs that will help companies cope with the changes in the competitive market environment.
KM enables firms to reshape their products and services, and drop product lines that can drag their business down. This is common in a high-technology environment and financial markets. KM enables organisations to identify potential changes and adjust their operations.
In this regard, companies can only exploit universally available knowledge of the emerging trend affecting social, economic, and political environment. KM enables some companies to incorporate complex changes to their advantages, which form the hallmark of today’s productions and business systems.
KM drives a decision-making process in an organisation. It does this through a review of past projects, failures, successes, initiatives, and efforts. Decision-making process focuses on the foundations, competence, productivity and resources allocated to knowledge management.
KM practices enable companies to focus on supports, collaboration and knowledge sharing in making better decisions and act on them fast in creating more economic value for the company. KM requires a strong culture of sharing that IT systems cannot support to some extent. This is because sharing of knowledge is between people and not IT systems.
Tacit knowledge becomes mobile when a worker leaves an organisation. Skills, knowledge, competencies, insight and understanding the worker has acquired will go drive a competitions business. KM can save an organisation from losing critical practices when this occurs.
Organisations are increasingly becoming global. Knowledge management with the support of IT systems can give organisation relevant and timely knowledge regarding global trends and competitions. Companies shift from product-oriented to knowledge-oriented is becoming critical for companies that do not operate in cost-driven markets anymore (Tiwana 12).
Organisations realised that workers have un-codified knowledge, which initiated formal knowledge capturing processes among the workers. Some types of knowledge can be captured and stored for later use. However, some are difficult to capture.
Organisations have abundant experience-based knowledge, which workers implicitly learn and internalise. Most of experienced-based knowledge is tacit knowledge. Scholars have realised the availability in experiential knowledge and the potential value in capturing it, and making it available in the organisation.
Capturing knowledge entails identification of exemplary expertise available to individuals and attempting to codify it so as to make it transferable and replicable.
The fundamental issue to consider in knowledge capturing is that not all knowledge held by a worker is codifiable (we know more than we can tell). Therefore, knowledge is neither wholly open to capture nor to transfer to others via language. Individuals can only gain this form of knowledge by experience. In addition to this, knowledge is context-specific.
People create knowledge in relation to distinct time, social, technical, market and location context. Use of codified knowledge requires people to interpret the meaning in a different context from that in which it originated.
A vital lesson in capturing knowledge in a vacuum without knowing anything about the context of use or the potential user is problematic. A general sequential model of capturing, deploying and using knowledge has disadvantages that the knowledge sources and potential users would reduce (Jennex 26).
Knowledge is among the few resources that have returns to scale i.e. the more people share it, the more it grows. We must look at knowledge capturing in its broad sense, which essentially involves the process of sharing.
The practice concerns transferring, learning and sharing best practices between projects. Companies should put much emphasis on knowledge sharing without emphasis to the barriers and problems organisations experience in their attempt to share knowledge.
Knowledge sharing entails learning because learning is a part of acquiring knowledge. However, companies’ KM initiatives have been rotating around the sources of knowledge, capture and codification with attempts to join these with the potential beneficiaries.
Companies assume that learning process is not problematic. They use sources such as knowledge directories and intranets to enable people search for information, then look for other experts in that field. Organisations have recognised that effective knowledge sharing lies with the natural, human processes and preferences for communication.
This is because knowledge sharing is about people and not technology. The first thing people normally do when looking for information is to ask a workmate. Therefore, KM initiatives should embrace natural, human processes in sharing knowledge.
Companies are introducing incentives for knowledge sharing. For instance, Lotus Development gives 25 per cent of its overall performance evaluation point among its customer service team for knowledge sharing. Some organisations such as the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) use financial incentives as bonuses and rewards to persuade staffs who do not post information on the knowledge sharing system.
In this context, companies must work hard to improve a culture of support, fairness, trust and reciprocity required so as to embrace knowledge sharing. Most organisations seek to identify and embed best practices in knowledge sharing.
KM and IT systems
There were evidences that most management teams rarely used the computer-based information to make crucial decisions. This was because IT systems were not capturing information they needed.
Managers preferred face-to-face or telephone talks and got other parts of information from outside documents. Most companies have been using IT systems to share knowledge. However, most forms of human knowledge cannot be coded. This information remains inaccessible to IT systems (Tidd 153).
The fact that knowledge is available does not mean people are sharing it. IT systems have enormous potential to support communication and exchange of information, and there is vast information available on the internet.
However, organisations, which have adopted the use of IT to drive their KM initiatives, must align it with their strategies and other factors. KM initiatives require the enthusiastic co-operation and input of all staff within a culture of support. Culture of secrecy, internal competition and lack of trust must change so as to drive KM initiatives.
Significant lessons for any organisation adopting KM initiatives using technology are the supportive role of IT in driving KM practices. IT systems can only deal with knowledge only if it can be coded and represented in the systems (Davenport and Prusack 20).
However, tacit, experiential knowledge is not part of codified knowledge. Occasionally, social, cultural, structural barriers and process issues hinder the developments and contributions of IT to any KM initiative.
Effective use of IT systems to better manage knowledge in an organisation should focus on connectivity i.e. providing communications channels that connect human together instead of capturing and representing human knowledge. In addition, organisations must also create an environment where co-workers feel free to share ideas, opinions and knowledge.
Lessons/action points for growth in KM
There has been tremendous growth of knowledge-driven economy perpetuated by information and communication technology. The focus now shifts to how companies can leverage maximum value from their existing and expand their knowledge base.
This is propelling active KM techniques through management of people, information, and technology. Exclusion of any of these requirements might deliver wrong results. The approach should be multi-discipline which should be organisation wide, as well.
Successful KM does not only lie with the IT department, but the entire organisation. There should be a planned approach to implementation of KM so as to avoid the temptation of trying to identify and codify all knowledge within an organisation.
KM starting point recognises where companies can derive immediate value. This serves to win the core business cases of the firm. KM in a knowledge economy stresses the point to embrace new ways of working enhanced by the internet.
KM creates an enabling environment whereby organisations have realised improved service delivery, reduced time of generating new products and improved productivity of the use of a large number of collaborative work force. Collaboration in a knowledge economy is cutting across the organisation’s boundaries in including the partners, suppliers, and even consumers.
A knowledge-driven economy values the recruitment and retention of the knowledge workers. Talent search is now beyond salary packages. It has shifted to alignment of the individual’s values, abilities, interests to produce meaningful work and accommodate the lifestyle choice of the individual knowledge worker.
It is necessary to note that the role and position of knowledge worker is becoming crucial and even challenging the role of managers. The role of management is changing to supporting and facilitating the works of staff rather than regulating their conducts (Storey 56).
KM cannot possibly happen in an environment which lacks a supportive and flexible organisational structure. Creativity, innovation and application of knowledge cannot thrive in highly regulated environment. This is because these ingredients to KM require trust and collaboration. Organisations which lack of trust, recognition, and collaboration drag down the steps to KM initiatives.
It is vital to note that KM is not a linear subject. Knowledge itself is difficult to define. Therefore, effective KM should be flexible enough to accommodate all forms of knowledge a knowledge worker possesses. The question of information sharing and breaking down the barriers created by organisational politics is also a vital lesson for companies planning to embrace KM in its operations.
KM across boundaries
The concepts of offshoring and outsourcing have brought dependence on external sources of knowledge among organisations. Change is unpredictable in a knowledge-based economy, which makes it difficult for an organisation to cater for most its knowledge needs. As markets and organisations become international, knowledge is increasingly becoming accessible across national and cultural boundaries.
KM goes beyond an organisation boundary. People generate a lot of knowledge outside their work environment. Therefore, organisations must learn to tap outside knowledge by accessing and assimilating new knowledge from other external sources.
Knowledge interdependence now results into new management challenges emanating from risks and difficulties of knowledge exchange across boundaries. Organisations are increasingly depending on integration of knowledge from different sources in developing new products and services.
In as much as knowledge can be shared across national and culture boundaries, new challenges are also arising. This is because some communities share or have little in common regarding certain knowledge base (Roger 12).
The first stage in a cross-border knowledge exchange lies with customers and suppliers for many organisations. Therefore, understanding the customer has become a critical part of knowledge acquisition. Companies have developed the survey methods in order to get feedback from their customers.
These results form part of the KM organisations used later to improve products and services quality. Knowledge exchange is mainly evident in the joint R&D processes or in development of new products. This is because such ventures require some degree of penetrating the organisation knowledge base and process.
Organisations mainly use R&D to track external developments. R&D forms a crucial and long-term part of KM initiatives in an organisation. R&D opens knowledge boundaries for joint R&D projects. This is a challenge as organisations seek to protect their valued knowledge from competitions.
They must open up for new knowledge acquisition and exchange at the same time. Formula one car is a perfect example of how R&D and knowledge sharing works. There is always continuous technological innovation for racing cars, which involves sharing of knowledge from different firms.
National barriers are dwindling creating ways for a global village. KM is becoming the crucial tool in getting timely and accurate information about competitions, regional growth trends, economic and cultural affairs. These pieces of information are vital for creating firm global business knowledge.
The global trend and knowledge exchange get boosters from the penetration of telecommunication and internet services. Knowledge exchange has transformed India, Malaysia and other countries which have tremendously benefitted in terms of the business process offshoring.
The ever increasing partnerships and collaborations among firms, and remote association among high performing teams and teams require explicit and tacit knowledge sharing and acquisition.
Businesses are changing their skills and realigning themselves to the global, market, products, processes and trends. Software and IT companies such as Lotus, Microsoft and VeriFone have taken advantages of the KM and a knowledge exchange across the borders to exploit the cheap labour in countries like India and Russia where they get quality products at lower costs.
Organisations now need to harness the power of IT development and spread of knowledge to save costs and get quality products. However, the main concern is whether it is ethically correct to pay less for a quality product across national boundaries.
The future of knowledge-based economy
The Knowledge economy is unlikely to change the way organisations work in the near future. However, we can recognise the gains such as the reduced costs for new entries into marketplaces, the ability of small organisations to have the same Web availability as other multinationals, a collaborative work across nations and international borders and the increased speed of business transactions.
KM is empowering the public with the information and decision-making processes they need. We can recognise empowering of masses in areas of complaining handling, particular through the ease of sending e-mails, which has drastically increased the volume of mails processed. The information the public offers become a vital source of knowledge, which becomes part of the KM strategy applied in achieving improvements in service delivery.
The changing trends in customers’ feedback are examples of the effects of technology in the communication infrastructure. The process is now faster and directs to the intended recipients. This means process of information filtering has changed drastically.
Organisations should prepare for a more active dialogue and pressure with citizens, consumers, employees and other stakeholders. In readiness for the future, organisations will have to understand their current position and why they are there.
This implies that an organisation must assess the current culture, and how supportive it is for KM, and how ready it is for change. At the same time, organisations must reassess their positions to workers’ management, and how it is likely to be in recruiting, retaining and motivating a knowledge worker (Drucker 59).
Embracing the future is not just for the sake of change. In order to avoid the initiative induced chaos, change should be carefully thought out and based on consultative processes. This is a requirement for effective KM. This implies that the organisation should take into account the relative strengths and weaknesses it has in reaction to a knowledge-driven economy and embracing strategic planning process.
Critical reflection on learning outcomes
According to objectives of this course, understanding KM is the leading expectation among students. Learners should take into account that KM has various definitions, depending on an individual’s point of view. KM has become a driving force in today’s organisations, more so in IT firms where knowledge management and transaction have become the vital part of company’s operations.
For instance, firms like Microsoft and Lotus export some of their companies’ need to other countries. In this regard, the expectations lie alongside the needs KM is addressing such gaining, sharing and application of knowledge in the organisation.
The course equips learners with the main issues organisations will face when they adopt the KM practices. The culture of an organisation has a profound influence over these issues. Culture here refers to ways of doing things.
Organisations, which rely much on their IT department to implement KM, might not succeed while those who do not encourage the culture of knowledge sharing among workers will find everything collapsing, since no one is ready to share. At the same time, competitions within the firm might render KM initiatives impossible. This was the case of the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).
Learners’ expectations also include the need to understand elements of KM such as the organisational culture, technology systems, people management, and knowledge process capabilities.
The roles and functions of KM in an organisation become evident in handling knowledge workers, creation of new products and services, R&D, and cross boundaries relations with other partner firms. Tapping of tacit knowledge and guarding it against competitions also forms role and functions of KM in an organisation.
Students expect to learn about the value and roles of KM in today’s dynamic business environment fuelled by advancement in technology. Today, few organisations are independent. The concept of offshoring and outsourcing is driving the firms of today.
Knowledge sharing and availability of knowledge workers in low wage countries such as India, Malaysia, and China is driving the KM initiatives. Organisations, which fail to adopt KM initiatives, will find it difficult operating in a competitive global environment of business.
Finally, there are essential elements of consideration when developing KM projects from an IT perspective. We understand the value of IT to an organisation and growth of knowledge. However, IT alone cannot drive organisations KM projects.
Factors such as the willingness of workers to share their wealth of knowledge with the firm’s IT platforms influence the success of KM projects. Occasionally, the information may be available for workers, but they are not ready to use. The idea is to use IT systems as a vital supporting element of KM initiatives rather than leaving the entire process under IT department.
Experience to the module
We all possess some form of knowledge. Students have experience in various fields, which involves the use of knowledge. The wealth of knowledge we have in terms of customer experience knowledge is vital for this module. It is from customers’ feedback that organisations gather knowledge on their products and services.
Customer knowledge also furnishes organisations with knowledge of competitions. Most companies conduct surveys on their products, services and customers experiences. Students have valuable knowledge about companies’ products and services.
Students’ knowledge about companies’ staffs, products, and processes forms a crucial part of contribution to this module. Companies like Microsoft have platforms where they ask customers to participate in products developments and improvements. They use this knowledge to improve on their future products.
At the same time, the knowledge gained about studying trends about companies, processes, relationships and intellectual capital form the basis of students’ contribution to this module. However, this knowledge might not have the insight scholars present in the academic texts in relation to KM studies.
Experience and achievement of learning experience
Students’ experiences alongside course objectives have contributed significantly to the learning outcomes of the KM course. We realise that we already possess the knowledge in its raw form in relation to KM. The course serves as an insight to the technical aspects of the KM communities of practices.
For instances, the customer knowledge already exist with us. However, its application in the KM systems, in an organisation set up becomes a learning experiences and an achievement to the students.
The experience further serves as sources of practical examples between the students and the KM learning outcomes. Applications of outsourcing and offshoring serve as examples to students in knowledge sharing. They are aware of the practice of offshoring to other low wage countries. This is a part of knowledge sharing across boundaries which introduces the concept of globalisation: a key driving force in KM initiatives.
Views on the learning process
KM learning process presents knowledge which we already have. However, the course presents the learning process in an organisational environment where applications make it relevant and practical. The explicit definitions of the knowledge management serve as a starting point in understanding what KM means to different people and its applications in an organisation.
Learning this course brings about the realisation of the KM value propositions to the organisations. Students realise that there is a paradigm shift from a product-based economy to a knowledge-driven economy where knowledge worker becomes a part of valuable company’s resources.
The course also makes us realise that KM is challenging the role of management when it comes to managing workers. Knowledge worker has working environment, which is flexible to fit his personal life. The role of the manager aims at supporting and propelling the output of a knowledge worker rather than check on the worker’s behaviour.
The manner in which this course presents learning objectives assumes that students have no prior knowledge and experience. This is because the course begins with a detailed definition of the basic elements such as knowledge, various definitions of knowledge management, and complete graphical illustrations of knowledge management coverage.
At the same time, complete KM spectrum helps students develop critical perspectives on management issues and processes of KM initiatives. However, some elements assume that students have prior experience with knowledge management where they contribute to the course learning experience.
This is mainly in the area of levers of knowledge where individuals’ experiences with the various organisations, products, and services are essential for course contributions.
Learning experience and change
Every learning process must create permanent change in behaviour of individuals. Therefore, undergoing this learning process will impact the learner’s knowledge on KM. The insight learners gain in terms of knowledge acquiring, sharing and application is vital for any student going to join knowledge-driven economy.
This module changes the learners’ perception about the relationship between IT and workers. We realise that IT only serves a supporting role in KM initiatives, and IT department alone cannot drive knowledge management processes.
We realise that KM relies on several factors in an organisation. For instance, IT, culture and structure, people management and information management must work together for any initiative of KM to succeed. This process changes students’ perception about all the elements of an organisation in relations to KM.
We realise that company’s past knowledge should be tapped, and stored to be used in the future. Tacit knowledge becomes indispensable part of KM. Knowledge is available, but we cannot use it or find it when we require it.
At the same time, we recognise the fact that we cannot codify the entire organisation’s wealth of knowledge. The course introduces us to new forms of organisation in a global economy where knowledge is replacing capital as a form of company’s resource.
Learning process and feelings
Individual’s feelings have profound impact on the learning process and outcome. This module presents fascinating learning experience among students. This is because the field of knowledge is a concern to everyone. Therefore, KM becomes part of us. Likewise, the manner of course presentation is linear making it readily understood.
Questions and actions
These questions relate to basic elements of KM. The fundamental question concerns varied definitions of KM. This is because different people experience KM in different environment and organisations. Therefore, any definition with scholarly content qualifies as a valid definition of KM.
Secondly, the issue of fundamental steps when planning KM project lies with the organisations. Organisations must address the issue of collaboration among various departments which is crucial for the success of KM initiatives. The culture of the organisation should promote supportive and collaborative environment in pooling knowledge and information within an organisation.
Thirdly, the issue of technology in KM initiatives is vital. People must understand that key drivers for investment in technology is to enable them to access information they need, when they need it, use that information and share it. Technology will support the innovative and creative capacity of individuals.
Finally, people management must take into account that recruitment, retention and succession plans are part of KM management perspectives. The approach must address the issue of filling the knowledge gap and not filling the vacancies.
Brelade, Sue and Chris Harman. A Practical Guide to Knowledge Management. London: Thorogood, 2003. Print.
Davenport, Thomas and Lawrence Prusack. Working Knowledge – How organisations manage what they know. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School, 1997. Print.
Drucker, Peter. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. London: Butterworth Heinemann, 1994. Print.
Jennex, Murray. Knowledge Management, Organizational Memory, and Transfer Behavior: Global Approaches and Advancements. London: Information Science Reference, 2009. Print.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Measuring Knowledge Management in the Business Sector: First Steps. Paris: OECD Publications Service, 2003.Print.
Roger, Harrison. Organisational Culture and Quality of Service. London: AMED Publishing, 1987. Print.
Storey, John. New perspectives on Human Resource Management. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Tidd, Joe. From Knowledge Management to Strategic Competence: Measuring Technological, Market and Organisational Innovation. London: Imperial College Press, 2006. Print.
Tiwana, Amrit. The Knowledge Management Toolkit. New York: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.