Magazine article Industrial Management

Knowledge Management: A New Commission for Industrial Engineers

Magazine article Industrial Management

Knowledge Management: A New Commission for Industrial Engineers

Article excerpt


Knowledge management allows an organization to make the most of the intellectual capital that resides in it. Industrial engineers are trained in optimization, transportation, maintenance, and human factors, making them a natural choice to systematize a corporate knowledge management program.

What does knowledge management have to do with industrial management? At first glance, many people would dismiss an association and claim the ideas are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Industrial management is a well-defined science to a great degree, while knowledge management is still an undefined art and an emerging science. I assert, however, that industrial engineers are the optimal group to enable syslematization of knowledge management efforts in organizations. The know-how and experiences of industrial engineers can be brought to bear on solving the difficult problem of managing knowledge in organizations.

Knowledge management can be defined as the sum total of all activities that enable the creation, storage, distribution, and application of knowledge in organizations. Unless an organization is able to tap into the knowledge in its midst, it will not be able to compete successfully in the marketplace. Similar to the problems faced by industrial engineers, the knowledge management problem in organizations is one of managing a complex system.

Industrial engineers are involved with the design, construction, installation, and advancement of complex systems. The central tenet is to design operational and reliable complex systems while being efficient through minimization of resource consumption. Complex systems can be broadly defined as entities in which two or more components interact in nonlinear and highly dynamic ways.

The knowledge IEs possess is varied, ranging from the highly quantitative (such as mathematics and physics) to the qualitative (such as the social sciences and management). The focus areas in which an IE needs to possess skills are manufacturing or material engineering, production engineering, system engineering, and safety engineering. Each of these areas has bearings on how knowledge management problems can be addressed.

Knowledge - as a product - can be thought of as any piece of insight, know-how, idea, or invention an organization needs to use to attain an objective. Knowledge is either tacit (which resides in the minds of personnel) or explicit (which can be captured in some physical and communicable form).

Knowledge management - as a process - is a series of steps that includes the creation, acquisition, storage, transfer, distribution, and application of knowledge. The application of knowledge will call for new knowledge to be generated, which is then channeled back into the cycle.

Certain knowledge management issues trouble virtually all managers to some degree:

* How to organize a knowledge repository (a layout problem)

* The best mechanism for knowledge transfer from employee to employee and from system to employee (a transportation problem)

* Maintaining a knowledge management system (a maintenance problem)

* Making a knowledge management system user-friendly (a human factors problem)

The key to having a robust knowledge management system is to tackle all of these issues systematically. Industrial engineers are well positioned to do just that.

Knowledge layout

Before we can manage, we must organize. It is difficult but not impossible to manage things that are in a constant state of unpredictable flux. Take a macroscopic view of an organization and you will find that some sectors generate a lot of knowledge, others consume and apply such knowledge, and still others take in knowledge without generating appropriate actions. It is rare to find an organization that thoroughly and systematically lays out knowledge; however, some have come very close.

Think about a factory floor, where raw materials evolve into finished goods. …

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