What’s knowledge management

Knowledge Management usually emphasizes the capture, codification and storage of knowledge. There is much knowledge however that cannot easily be captured and codified, such as that which resides within groups. This less tangible aspect of knowledge management has not been the subject of much exploration.

Communities of Practice are one vehicle by which less structured knowledge is shared between people. As communities of practice are usually physically co-located, research is currently being undertaken in the group as to how such communities might transfer to the virtual environment.

Knowledge Management Systems can provide the means to access information in context; the key to this is the user-interface, which should be natural, intuitive, instinctive, transparent and not be any impediment to the task being performed.

Supporting work in globally distributed groups is an issue currently affecting many organizations and is one that has profound implications for the nature of work. In order to work effectively in an international setting many organizations are turning towards trans-national ‘virtual teams’ to provide an effective and flexible means of bringing skills and expertise to bear on specific problems. Most studies of distributed team working have focused on culturally and linguistically homogeneous groups. However, as ‘virtual teams’ extend across time zones, they will naturally begin to include individuals with different languages and from different cultural backgrounds. As global virtual teams become more common, the need to find ways to better support them becomes even more important.

Hypermedia systems and their user-interfaces are the visible and aural instantiations of information systems. They should provide the means of access to information in a way that offers no impediment to the task being performed. Current commercial systems are designed from a functional point of view ensuring that the interaction is not fluid and the facilities are incompatible with the way in which people work. Knowledge workers need to be able to construct new electronic documents from various sources, annotating them textually, graphically and orally, and be able to share and discuss that information with others who might be at a geographically remote location. Furthermore, it is arguable that users should be guided to information that is hidden from their view.


Resources on knowledge management

This list should help you get started. We’re waiting for review copies of Karl Wiig’s books — perhaps the first to explicitly address knowledge management.This list should help you get started. We’re waiting for review copies of Karl Wiig’s books — perhaps the first to explicitly address knowledge management.And if you pay us enough, we’ll tell you the ones not to read.Books and book-length resourcesThere’s no shortage of recent titles devoted to knowledge management, but few qualify as authoritative, informative, and free from the biases of a particular consulting/management strategy. ◦ Micklethwait, John, and Wooldridge, Arian. The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus. New York, Times Books, 1996.Not about knowledge management, but … It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry hysterically while reading this devastating analysis of management consulting by two editors of The Economist, but it should be required reading for all managers who are thinking of buying consulting services — for knowledge management or any other reason. ◦ Nonaka, I. and H.Takeuchi. The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.Whether you agree with them or not (and even the editors of Knowledge Praxis are not in complete agreement), this is the book everyone is reading and citing. The authors are thorough, and they expend three full, well-researched chapters distinguishing Eastern and Western perceptions of knowledge. Yep, we’re guilty of being Cartesian dualists when it comes to knowledge. We’ll have to live with that shame. But does it really matter? Nonaka and Takeuchi’s insights are useful, but we’re not sure whether Japanese organizational culture can be transplanted here, and they really miss the boat by ignoring the impact of information technology on organizational knowledge resources. Nevertheless, several major corporations and consulting organizations look at this work as their “bible” for knowledge management strategy and implementation. ◦ Hamel, Gary, and Prahalad, C.K. Competing for the Future. Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard Business School Press, 1994.Hamel and Prahalad call for a complete overhaul of the ways in which firms do strategic planning. They focus on the skills, or “core competences,” within an organization rather than its business units or products as the key to success. Hamel and Prahalad, who, by the way, are among the most successful business strategists working today, encourage firms to abandon traditional, short-term, competitive strategies in favor of a focused, disciplined, long-term vision that will create new opportunities and markets. They cite the success of such firms as Motorola, Chrysler, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart, whose product successes exemplify a rethinking of organizational strategy. ◦ Lethbridge, T.C. Practical Techniques for Organizing and Measuring Knowledge. Ph.D. thesis, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 1994. Available at (http:// www.csi.uottawa.ca/~tcl/thesis_html/thesis.html).We can’t solve all the problems of managing knowledge with technology, but Lethbridge demonstrates how you can solve some of the most important ones. Lethbridge’s thesis describes his experiences with the CODE4 system for acquiring and managing knowledge —not, perhaps, the first thing you’ll want to read if you’re new to knowledge management … but a must before you begin choosing or designing technical solutions. If you don’t, you will end up re-inventing much of Lethbridge’s work … or, more likely, inventing something not nearly as good. If it cost $1,000, Practical Techniques for Organizing and Measuring Knowledge would still be a bargain. Fortunately, it’s free, and it is a model of clear writing as well as clear thinking.