Magazine article New Zealand Management

Knowledge Management: It's All about People: Competitive Advantage in Today's Market Is More or Less a Dream If It Is Not Closely Tied to Knowledge Management. NZ Management Talks to an Expert in the Field of Knowledge Management, Sally Jansen Van Vuuren, Who Leads the Knowledge Management Practice at Intergen, New Zealand's Top Microsoft Provider

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Knowledge Management: It's All about People: Competitive Advantage in Today's Market Is More or Less a Dream If It Is Not Closely Tied to Knowledge Management. NZ Management Talks to an Expert in the Field of Knowledge Management, Sally Jansen Van Vuuren, Who Leads the Knowledge Management Practice at Intergen, New Zealand's Top Microsoft Provider

Article excerpt

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Today's business world has undergone significant change--the ubiquity of technology has all but eliminated sustainable competitive advantage and has broken down geographic boundaries to create a globally agile workforce.

The resources that have sustained and differentiated businesses for the past 20 years are now readily available to all. The one inimitable asset that can now set organisations apart is knowledge and how they manage it.

And it is people, with their complex mix of skills, experience and natural talent, that are an organisation's most valuable asset, says knowledge management (KM) expert Sally Jansen van Vuuren. But people move on.

"The real value in people is to be gained by diffusing and embedding that knowledge across the organisation, creating businesses that are all but impervious to staff turnover. A savvy business leader focuses on maximising the benefit of their staff's know-how, know-who and know-what," says Jansen van Vuuren who also sits on the management committee of the New Zealand Knowledge Management Network.

So what is knowledge management? Has any term ever meant so many different things to so many different people? The term was coined in 1995 driven by the advent of the knowledge economy and has since become an important success factor for organisations.

"Knowledge management is more than just a simple business tool," says Jansen van Vuuren. "It recognises knowledge as an organisation's most strategic asset and represents a move away from traditional silo-based approaches to working.

"Effective knowledge practitioners need to be very skilled organisational architects, able to connect the individual pieces of the business to help improve effectiveness, build capabilities and flexibility, enhance organisational learning and improve decision making."

However, in practice, knowledge management has traversed a rocky road, she says. Early initiatives focused heavily on technology but did not deliver what had been promised. While technology is the most efficient way of managing information, for example documents, records, emails and so on, leveraging tacit knowledge requires a much stronger focus on the cultural and behavioural aspects of an organisation. "You can't make people share, but you can encourage sharing behaviours by providing the opportunities and conditions for this to occur," explains Jansen van Vuuren.

Traditionally, return on investment has been a problem for knowledge management--how will this impact the bottom line? Jansen van Vuuren says instead of asking this, organisations should be asking how can they justify not implementing knowledge management?

"Poor knowledge practices significantly increase risk by reducing the ability to collaborate, inhibiting organisational learning and innovation and impacting on productivity; all of which have an impact on the bottom line. Can any business afford these costs?"

Overseas knowledge management has been embraced by public and private sector organisations. In New Zealand the picture is slightly different. Although a 2004 survey identified knowledge as a key concern for New Zealand businesses, organisations have been slower to incorporate knowledge practices into their everyday operations. …

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