KM in small & medium enterprises (SMEs)Systems & complexity

Adoption of knowledge management systems by small and medium enterprises (SMEs)

This article is part of a series looking at knowledge management (KM) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The adoption of knowledge management systems (KMSs) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is a neglected topic in comparison to KMSs in large firms. While the literature identifies specific practices to support KM in SMEs, it doesn’t describe a comprehensive framework of the KMSs used by SMEs. This knowledge gap is made worse by a lack of empirical papers on the subject.

A recent paper1 has sought to address this knowledge gap through the conduct of semi-structured interviews with a sample of 35 SMEs operating in high-tech industries, with the aim of answering two research questions (RQs):

RQ1 What is the degree of adoption of KMSs by SMEs?

RQ2 What is the relationship between KM-Practices and KM-Tools used by SMEs?

This new study parallels previous research2 by two of the same authors that identified a taxonomy of the KM-Practices and KM-Tools used by SMEs.


KM-Tools and KM-Practices adopted by SMEs

Identification of the KM-Tools and KM-Practices adopted by the surveyed SMEs involved three steps:

  1. Desk analysis of the literature to develop an initial list.
  2. Feedback on the list from an expert focus group.
  3. Field analysis to exclude from the list the KM-practices and KM-Tools not used by the surveyed SMEs.

The identified KM-Tools were:

  • Audio conference/video conference
  • Cloud computing
  • Collaborative filtering
  • Configuration management systems
  • Content management systems
  • Conversational technologies
  • Crowdsourcing systems
  • Data mining
  • Data warehouse
  • Databases
  • Document management systems
  • E-mail
  • ERP systems
  • Expert systems
  • Learning management systems
  • Mash-up
  • Peer-to-peer resource sharing
  • Podcasting/videocasting
  • Social media
  • Syndication systems

The identified KM-Practices were:

  • After action review
  • Benchmarking
  • Best practice
  • Brainstorming
  • Coaching/mentoring
  • Communities of practice
  • Job rotation
  • Knowledge filtering
  • Knowledge mapping
  • Learning by doing
  • Meeting/task force
  • Problem solving
  • Process mapping
  • Social network analysis
  • Storytelling
  • Work groups

Degree of adoption

Indexes of adoption were developed, leading to the following insights:

  • KM-Tools: Across the surveyed SMEs, there was wide variation in the degree of adoption of the KM-Tools, with some SMEs using many and others using only a few, and with a full spectrum in between.
  • KM-Practices: In contrast to the KM-Tools, adoption of the KM-Practices was quite homogeneous across the surveyed SMEs, with 30 of the 35 SMEs using more than 10 of the 16 KM-Practices, and the remaining five SMEs using 4-8 KM-Practices.

There was a significant and positive correlation between the adoption of the KM-Tools and the adoption of the KM-Practices, where the higher the number of KM-Practices that was adopted, the higher the number of KM-Tools that was used.

Process of adoption of KMSs

Three groups of SMEs emerged from the indices. In the first group are SMEs that have a low index of adoption of both KM-Practices and KM-Tools. In the second group are SMEs that have a high index of adoption of KM-Practices but a lower index of adoption of KM-Tools. In the third group are SMEs that have a high index of adoption of both KM-Practices and KM-Tools.

The researchers advise that these results appear to delineate three stages of the process of adoption of KMSs, as shown in Figure 1:

In the first stage (Introduction), SMEs deal with the process of knowledge management exploiting practices and tools that are already known and use generalist KM-Practices and traditional KM-Tools. They do not make a new investment but exploit the flexibility of the technological and organisational solutions already used.

In the second stage (Growth), SMEs adopt new specialist practices for knowledge management but continue to use traditional tools. In this stage, SMEs acquire new organisational and managerial competence in the field of knowledge management. However, it creates a gap between KM-Practices and KM-Tools, since SMEs use new practices but old tools.

In the third stage (Maturity), SMEs invest in new technology. They adopt innovative KM-Tools to support the variety of KM-Practices used. In this stage, SMEs acquire new technological competence in the field of knowledge management. In this way, it reduces the gap between practices and tools.

Process of adoption of KMSs by SMEs
Figure1. Process of adoption of KMSs by SMEs (source: Knowledge management systems: the hallmark of SMEs).


  1. Centobelli, P., Cerchione, R., & Esposito, E. (2017). Knowledge management systems: the hallmark of SMEs. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 1-11.
  2. Cerchione, R., & Esposito, E. (2017). Using knowledge management systems: A taxonomy of SME strategies. International Journal of Information Management, 37(1), 1551-1562.
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and project management professional. He is a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. His expertise and experience includes knowledge management (KM), environmental management, project management, stakeholder engagement, teaching and training, communications, research, and writing and editing. With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee an award-winning $77.4 million western Sydney river recovery program, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support the sustainable management of landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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