Knowledge management

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Knowledge management (KM) is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization. [1] It refers to a multidisciplinary approach to achieve organisational objectives by making the best use of knowledge. [2]


An established discipline since 1991, [3] KM includes courses taught in the fields of business administration, information systems, management, library, and information science. [3] [4] Other fields may contribute to KM research, including information and media, computer science, public health and public policy. [5] Several universities offer dedicated master's degrees in knowledge management.

Many large companies, public institutions and non-profit organisations have resources dedicated to internal KM efforts, often as a part of their business strategy, IT, or human resource management departments. [6] Several consulting companies provide advice regarding KM to these organizations. [6]

Knowledge management efforts typically focus on organisational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration and continuous improvement of the organisation. [7] These efforts overlap with organisational learning and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. [2] [8] KM is an enabler of organizational learning. [9] [10]

The most complex scenario for knowledge management may be found in the context of supply chain as it involves multiple companies without an ownership relationship or hierarchy between them, being called by some authors as transorganizational or interorganizational knowledge. That complexity is additionally increased by industry 4.0 (or 4th industrial revolution) and digital transformation, as new challenges emerge from both the volume and speed of information flows and knowledge generation. [11]


Knowledge management efforts have a long history, including on-the-job discussions, formal apprenticeship, discussion forums, corporate libraries, professional training, and mentoring programs. [2] [10] With increased use of computers in the second half of the 20th century, specific adaptations of technologies such as knowledge bases, expert systems, information repositories, group decision support systems, intranets, and computer-supported cooperative work have been introduced to further enhance such efforts. [2]

In 1999, the term personal knowledge management was introduced; it refers to the management of knowledge at the individual level. [12]

In the enterprise, early collections of case studies recognised the importance of knowledge management dimensions of strategy, process and measurement. [13] [14] Key lessons learned include people and the cultural norms which influence their behaviors are the most critical resources for successful knowledge creation, dissemination and application; cognitive, social and organisational learning processes are essential to the success of a knowledge management strategy; and measurement, benchmarking and incentives are essential to accelerate the learning process and to drive cultural change. [14] In short, knowledge management programs can yield impressive benefits to individuals and organisations if they are purposeful, concrete and action-orientated.


KM emerged as a scientific discipline in the early 1990s. [15] It was initially supported by individual practitioners, when Skandia hired Leif Edvinsson of Sweden as the world's first Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). [16] Hubert Saint-Onge (formerly of CIBC, Canada), started investigating KM long before that. [2] The objective of CKOs is to manage and maximise the intangible assets of their organizations. [2] Gradually, CKOs became interested in practical and theoretical aspects of KM, and the new research field was formed. [17] The KM idea has been taken up by academics, such as Ikujiro Nonaka (Hitotsubashi University), Hirotaka Takeuchi (Hitotsubashi University), Thomas H. Davenport (Babson College) and Baruch Lev (New York University). [3] [18]

In 2001, Thomas A. Stewart, former editor at Fortune magazine and subsequently the editor of Harvard Business Review , published a cover story highlighting the importance of intellectual capital in organizations. [19] The KM discipline has been gradually moving towards academic maturity. [2] First, is a trend toward higher cooperation among academics; single-author publications are less common. Second, the role of practitioners has changed. [17] Their contribution to academic research declined from 30% of overall contributions up to 2002, to only 10% by 2009. [20] Third, the number of academic knowledge management journals has been steadily growing, currently reaching 27 outlets. [21]

Multiple KM disciplines exist; approaches vary by author and school. [17] [22] As the discipline matured, academic debates increased regarding theory and practice, including:

Regardless of the school of thought, core components of KM roughly include people/culture, processes/structure and technology. The details depend on the perspective. [27] KM perspectives include:

The practical relevance of academic research in KM has been questioned [34] with action research suggested as having more relevance [35] and the need to translate the findings presented in academic journals to a practice. [13]


Different frameworks for distinguishing between different 'types of' knowledge exist. [10] One proposed framework for categorising the dimensions of knowledge distinguishes tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. [31] Tacit knowledge represents internalised knowledge that an individual may not be consciously aware of, such as to accomplish particular tasks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, explicit knowledge represents knowledge that the individual holds consciously in mental focus, in a form that can easily be communicated to others. [17] [36]

The Knowledge Spiral as described by Nonaka & Takeuchi. Knowledge spiral.svg
The Knowledge Spiral as described by Nonaka & Takeuchi.

Ikujiro Nonaka proposed a model (SECI, for Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination, Internalisation) which considers a spiraling interaction between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. [37] In this model, knowledge follows a cycle in which implicit knowledge is 'extracted' to become explicit knowledge, and explicit knowledge is 're-internalised' into implicit knowledge. [37]

Hayes and Walsham (2003) describe knowledge and knowledge management as two different perspectives. [38] The content perspective suggests that knowledge is easily stored; because it may be codified, while the relational perspective recognises the contextual and relational aspects of knowledge which can make knowledge difficult to share outside the specific context in which it is developed. [38]

Early research suggested that KM needs to convert internalised tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge to share it, and the same effort must permit individuals to internalise and make personally meaningful any codified knowledge retrieved from the KM effort. [6] [39]

Subsequent research suggested that a distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge represented an oversimplification and that the notion of explicit knowledge is self-contradictory. [12] Specifically, for knowledge to be made explicit, it must be translated into information (i.e., symbols outside our heads). [12] [40] More recently, together with Georg von Krogh and Sven Voelpel, Nonaka returned to his earlier work in an attempt to move the debate about knowledge conversion forward. [4] [41]

A second proposed framework for categorising knowledge dimensions distinguishes embedded knowledge of a system outside a human individual (e.g., an information system may have knowledge embedded into its design) from embodied knowledge representing a learned capability of a human body's nervous and endocrine systems. [42]

A third proposed framework distinguishes between the exploratory creation of "new knowledge" (i.e., innovation) vs. the transfer or exploitation of "established knowledge" within a group, organisation, or community. [38] [43] Collaborative environments such as communities of practice or the use of social computing tools can be used for both knowledge creation and transfer. [43]


Knowledge may be accessed at three stages: before, during, or after KM-related activities. [30] Organisations have tried knowledge capture incentives, including making content submission mandatory and incorporating rewards into performance measurement plans. [44] Considerable controversy exists over whether such incentives work and no consensus has emerged. [7]

One strategy to KM involves actively managing knowledge (push strategy). [7] [45] In such an instance, individuals strive to explicitly encode their knowledge into a shared knowledge repository, such as a database, as well as retrieving knowledge they need that other individuals have provided (codification). [45] Another strategy involves individuals making knowledge requests of experts associated with a particular subject on an ad hoc basis (pull strategy). [7] [45] In such an instance, expert individual(s) provide insights to requestor (personalisation). [31] When talking about strategic knowledge management, the form of the knowledge and activities to share it defines the concept between codification and personalization. [46] The form of the knowledge means that it’s either tacit or explicit. Data and information can be considered as explicit and know-how can be considered as tacit. [47]

Hansen et al. defined the two strategies (codification and personalisation). [48] Codification strategy is document-centered strategy, where knowledge is mainly codified as “people-to-document” method. Codification relies on information infrastructure, where explicit knowledge is carefully codified and stored. [49] Codification focuses on collecting and storing codified knowledge in electronic databases to make it accessible. [50] Codification can therefore refer to both tacit and explicit knowledge. [51] In contrast, personalisation encourages individuals to share their knowledge directly. [50] Information technology plays a less important role, as it only facilitates communication and knowledge sharing.

Other knowledge management strategies and instruments for companies include: [7] [25] [31]


Multiple motivations lead organisations to undertake KM. [36] Typical considerations include: [31]

KM technologies

Knowledge management (KM) technology can be categorised:

These categories overlap. Workflow, for example, is a significant aspect of a content or document management systems, most of which have tools for developing enterprise portals. [7] [56]

Proprietary KM technology products such as Lotus Notes defined proprietary formats for email, documents, forms, etc. The Internet drove most vendors to adopt Internet formats. Open-source and freeware tools for the creation of blogs and wikis now enable capabilities that used to require expensive commercial tools. [35] [57]

KM is driving the adoption of tools that enable organisations to work at the semantic level, [58] as part of the Semantic Web. [59] Some commentators have argued that after many years the Semantic Web has failed to see widespread adoption, [60] [61] [62] while other commentators have argued that it has been a success. [63]

Knowledge barriers

Just like knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing, the term "knowledge barriers" is not a uniformly defined term and differs in its meaning depending on the author. [64] Knowledge barriers can be associated with high costs for both companies and individuals. [65] [66] [67]

Knowledge retention

Knowledge retention is part of knowledge management. Knowledge retention is needed when expert knowledge workers leave the organization after a long career. [68] Retaining knowledge prevents losing intellectual capital. [69]

Knowledge retention projects are usually introduced in three stages: decision making, planning and implementation. There are differences among researchers on the terms of the stages. For example, Dalkir talks about knowledge capture, sharing and acquisition and Doan et al. introduces initiation, implementation and evaluation. [70] [71] Furthermore, Levy introduces three steps (scope, transfer, integration) but also recognizes a “zero stage” for initiation of the project. [68]

See also

Related Research Articles

Organizational learning is the process of creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge within an organization. An organization improves over time as it gains experience. From this experience, it is able to create knowledge. This knowledge is broad, covering any topic that could better an organization. Examples may include ways to increase production efficiency or to develop beneficial investor relations. Knowledge is created at four different units: individual, group, organizational, and inter organizational.

Knowledge transfer sharing knowledge for problem solving

Knowledge transfer refers to sharing or disseminating of knowledge and providing inputs to problem solving. In organizational theory, knowledge transfer is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another. Like knowledge management, knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. It is considered to be more than just a communication problem. If it were merely that, then a memorandum, an e-mail or a meeting would accomplish the knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer is more complex because:

Tacit knowledge or implicit knowledge—as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge—is knowledge that is difficult to express or extract, and thus more difficult to transfer to others by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. This can include personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition.

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Examples include programmers, physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, public accountants, lawyers, editors, and academics, whose job is to "think for a living".

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a process of collecting information that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve and share knowledge in their daily activities and the way in which these processes support work activities. It is a response to the idea that knowledge workers need to be responsible for their own growth and learning. It is a bottom-up approach to knowledge management (KM).

Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, stored and accessed. It can be easily transmitted to others. Most forms of explicit knowledge can be stored in certain media. Explicit knowledge is often seen as complementary to tacit knowledge.

Personal knowledge networks have been primarily conceived by researchers with regard to the inter-firm knowledge sources between organisations, where networks are informal and personal. Instead of looking at the organisational context, some researchers investigate the intra-firm aspects at personal level of organisational knowledge networks, where knowledge management (KM) processes start and end. Various technologies and behaviours support personal knowledge networking for example wikis, Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and relationship networks. Researchers propose that kmowledge management can happen with little explicit governance. This trend is called "grass-roots KM" as opposed to traditional, top-down enterprise KM.

Tribal knowledge is jargon terminology used to describe information that is known within a group of people but unknown outside of it. A tribe, in this sense, is a group of people that share such a common knowledge. From a corporate perspective, Tribal Knowledge or know-how is the collective wisdom of the organization. It is the sum of all the knowledge and capabilities of all the people".

Encapsulated knowledge is the value endowing meta-resource originating from thought, reflection, or experience that is embedded in an artefact’s design and functionality.

Organizational memory (OM) is the accumulated body of data, information, and knowledge created in the course of an individual organization's existence. The organizational memory includes the components knowledge acquisition, knowledge processing or maintenance, and knowledge usage in terms of search and retrieval. Falling under the wider disciplinary umbrella of knowledge management, it has two repositories: an organization's archives, including its electronic data bases; and individuals' memories.

A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who "share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly". The concept was first proposed by cognitive anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book Situated Learning. Wenger then significantly expanded on the concept in his 1998 book Communities of Practice.

Knowledge sharing is an activity through which knowledge is exchanged among people, friends, peers, families, communities, or within or between organizations. Knowledge sharing is part of the Knowledge management process.

Ikujiro Nonaka is a Japanese organizational theorist and Professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy of the Hitotsubashi University, best known for his study of knowledge management.

A knowledge organization is a management idea, describing an organization in which people use systems and processes to generate, transform, manage, use, and transfer knowledge-based products and services to achieve organizational goals.

Market intelligence (MI) is the information relevant to a company's market - trends, competitor and customer monitoring, gathered and analysed. It is a subtype of competitive intelligence (CI), is data and information gathered by companies that provides continuous insight into market trends such as competitors and customers values and preferences.

Communities that support innovation have been referred to as communities of innovation (CoI), communities for innovation, innovation communities, open innovation communities, and communities of creation.

The SECI model of knowledge dimensions is a model of knowledge creation that explains how tacit and explicit knowledge are converted into organisational knowledge.

In social sciences research on commercial R&D laboratories, boundary spanning is a term to describe individuals within an innovation system who have, or adopt, the role of linking the organization's internal networks with external sources of information. While the term was coined by Tushman, the concept was being developed by social scientists from the late 1950s onwards. Most of the early work was conducted in large American corporations with well established R&D laboratories. The term has since been used in relation to less well defined innovation networks.

Process capital is the value to an enterprise which is derived from the techniques, procedures, and programs that implement and enhance the delivery of goods and services. Process capital is one of the three components of structural capital, itself a component of intellectual capital. Process capital can be seen as the value of processes to any entity, whether for profit or not-for profit, but is most commonly used in reference to for-profit entities.

Hirotaka Takeuchi Japanese business academic

Hirotaka Takeuchi is a Professor of Management Practice in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. He co-authored The New New Product Development Game which influenced the development of the Scrum framework.


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