Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Knowledge Management

My New Years' resolution is to blog on a regular basis. I am going to start this adventure by blogging on the three specialties of my revived consulting business: Knowledge Management, Collaboration, and Social Media.
This will be a very general overview of Knowledge Management (KM). There is a multitude of sources on the topic, but I will use Harnessing Knowledge Dynamics: Principled Organizational Knowing and Learning (2005) by Mark Nissen as the basis for this posting. This is a cross-post from my blog on the military Social Media tool milBook.

There are many definitions of KM, and I studied several and derived my own:
Knowledge Management is the art of creating, identifying, gathering, organizing, sharing, applying, and exploiting an organization's intellectual assets (knowledge in the form of insights and experiences) in order to enhance operational effectiveness, decision quality, and innovation across the enterprise. This knowledge can be either explicit (recorded) or tacit (personal know-how) and can be embodied in individuals or embedded in organizational processes or practice.

The key parts of this definition deal with the ideas that KM is an art that can enhance organizational effectiveness, and that the two types of knowledge (explicit and tacit) can reside in individuals, organizations, or practice (processes). Notice that this definition does not mention technology at all. While many Knowledge Management initiatives seem to focus on the enabling technology, the truth is that it takes a back seat to other parts of KM, namely People, Process, and Organization (Culture).
This diagram shows the four components of Knowledge Management as outlined by Nissen:

It also shows how balance and integration are an important part of the entire system.
Here is more on the components of Knowledge Management:
- People are the most important piece in the system. They create, share, apply, and exploit knowledge, and also can make or break any KM implementation. This is a critical focus for any KM practitioner.
- Process is also very important. This allows KM to become ingrained in business practices, and this allows for more consistent practice of KM so that the benefits are realized and the costs are reduced.
- Organization (Culture) provides a context for the practice of knowledge management to take place. The concept of a knowledge-based organization depends on nurturing a culture of collaboration so that the people and process can come together to realize the benefits of KM.
- Technology is the underlying platform that supports the other components of the system. While a lot of the energy seems to be tied up in the selection and employment of the IT KM solution, it cannot be stressed enough that technology is just an enabler, not the center of the KM implementation.
Above all, the benefits of Knowledge Management shown above must be identified, understood, and measured in order to justify the resources that are expended on the various components of the system. Operational effectiveness can be defined in many different ways in various contexts, but generally involves either getting more accomplished or reducing the effort and/or cost of ongoing operations. KM generally improves decision quality as improved information flow and knowledge dissemination enhances and compresses the decision cycle. Innovation is increased by KM in that the availability of existing knowledge allows for easier re-combining and creation of ideas that enable the innovation process.
This is meant to be only a brief overview of Knowledge Management, and does not reflect official Army doctrine or policy on the subject. I welcome your comments and questions.

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