Knowledge Management: To Be or Not to Be?

By Duffy, Jan | Information Management, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Knowledge Management: To Be or Not to Be?


Duffy, Jan, Information Management


Do your colleagues cringe when you mention knowledge management? Is there interest but lack of clarity in understanding what knowledge management (KM) is all about? Is the term "knowledge management" too fuzzy and esoteric to be taken seriously? Are you struggling to provide a concrete explanation of why knowledge management will play a vital role in your future and your organization?

Much debate about managing knowledge has taken place over the past several years and I am delighted to be part of the ongoing discussion. I look forward to providing food for thought in The Information Management Journal. It is my hope that with each issue, the fuzziness surrounding knowledge management will diminish and a clear picture of its role in organizational success will begin to emerge. I also hope to contribute to the clarity and definition needed to understand the role each of us will play in that success.

Because we all come to this topic from different places, we bring a variety of lenses through which we view the business world. Consequently, I expect that some of the opinions expressed will be controversial, but so be it. Innovation and change are dependent on debate and discussion, and some healthy contention is a good thing.

The first column lays the groundwork, establishing some principles around the notion of knowledge management. The first order of business is a definition that works; then we'll discuss the KM value proposition and potential KM barriers.

Defining Knowledge Management

As executive interest in knowledge management increases, confusion concerning what it is also increases. Technology vendors have contributed to the confusion (and the hype) that surrounds knowledge management. It seems that every technology that ever had anything to do with digitized information is now a knowledge management product or, in extreme cases of exaggeration, a complete knowledge management solution. Knowledge management is not a technology; however, technology is fundamental to the knowledge management process.

In Harvesting Experience: Reaping the Benefits of Knowledge, knowledge management is defined as "a process that drives innovation by capitalizing on organizational intellect and experience" (Duffy 1999). Gartner Group supports the idea of knowledge management as a process, defining it as "... a discipline that promotes an integrated and collaborative approach to the process of information asset creation, capture, organization, access and use" (Bair 1999). William Saffady suggests "Knowledge management is concerned with the systematic, effective management and utilization of an organization's knowledge resources" (Saffady 1998).

Records and information management has traditionally done an extremely good job of categorizing information artifacts into specific categories based on context at the time of the artifact's creation. Knowledge management, to be effective, recognizes that an artifact's greatest information value develops as a result of its relationship with other artifacts, and the application of the combined result in a different context. Understanding and applying this concept of multidimensional categorization is at the heart of the knowledge management process.

Knowledge management is not limited to tracking existing knowledge (used here as defined by Webster's Dictionary: the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association). It is intended to promote and support the creation of new knowledge, thus contributing to innovation, an essential ingredient in business success. Knowledge management also:

* capitalizes on both explicit and tacit knowledge

* supports business objectives and revenue generation

* stresses human interaction as the focal point

* capitalizes on lessons learned

In addition to adhering to these principles, it is important to emphasize the relationship between sources of information and knowledge, and to ensure that participants in the knowledge management process (knowledge managers, consumers and contributors) are able to move fluidly across these relationships. …

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