ABCs of KMEducating knowledge managers

The role and limitations of information systems in effective KM [EKM series]

Editor’s note: This is a continuing serialisation of edited portions of Andre Saito’s PhD.

In 2001, Grover & Davenport carried out a pragmatic review of KM research and practice1, and concluded that KM efforts to that point mainly focused on developing new IT applications to support the capture, storage, retrieval, and distribution of explicit knowledge.

The most common type of initiative was building repositories of specific types of knowledge for use in particular business functions such as:

  • knowledge of best practices in operations and process management
  • knowledge on products, markets and customers in marketing and sales
  • knowledge of lessons learned in product development or other specific projects
  • competitive intelligence in strategic planning
  • corporate portals providing personalized access to multiple sources and repositories of knowledge
  • directories of experts that facilitate access to knowledgeable people
  • data mining and visualization tools that derive knowledge from data, and
  • knowledge-based systems that streamline decision making and access to specialized knowledge

Besides the implementation of IT applications, specific roles and positions have been created to advance the KM technology agenda in organizations with responsibilities such as:

  • designing knowledge architectures
  • facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • developing and managing knowledge content
  • building and maintaining knowledge applications, and
  • redesigning knowledge work processes and activities

Grover & Davenport propose two frameworks to describe KM and propose research topics based on each of them:

  • Process perspective
     Understanding knowledge processes, the context in which they are inserted, and agents involved as mediated by business strategy, organizational structure, people/culture, and technology
    Main identified knowledge processes: Deliberate or emergent generation, codification, transfer and realization of knowledge
    Emphasis: Knowledge codification
    Suggestions for research:
    – Generation and realization aspects of KM
    – Role of IT in knowledge transfer
    – Impact of aligning strategy, technology and knowledge processes
    – Cultural barriers to knowledge processes
    – Effectiveness of various codification methods
    – Individual motivations for emergent and deliberate processes
  • Transactional perspective
     Knowledge is exchanged in a marketplace with a pricing system facilitating transactions between buyers and sellers
    Main identified knowledge processes: seeking information symmetry (buyers and sellers have access to the same information), seeking product standardization (buyers have a basis to compare offerings), seeking homogeneity of customers (market is not segmented so products are valued evenly), large number of sellers (buyers have choices and sellers cannot monopolize), and seeking common currency (currency of exchange is well understood)
    Emphasis: Seeking knowledge in response to individual or organisational need
    Suggestions for research:
    – Role of IT in reducing information asymmetry on knowledge
    – Factors affecting the currency of knowledge sharing
    – Balance between organizational and individual ownership
    – Relationships between market efficiency and workforce morale
    – Physical and virtual market mechanisms

In a frequently cited review of KM and KM systems research, Alavi and Leidner2 endorse the view that organizational knowledge and KM are complex and multi-faceted phenomena. Thus, they conclude that there can be no single or optimum approach to KM or KM systems development, and that a variety of perspectives is needed to properly address knowledge issues. Nonetheless, the authors still show a strong belief in the importance of IT for managing knowledge and try to advance the role of KM systems, although encouraging IS researchers to be aware of and build upon contributions from other fields.

Their main argument is to expand the scope of KM systems beyond the prevailing storing-codified-knowledge perspective of existing literature. They provide a so-called process view of KM, describing it as a set of four interdependent processes of knowledge creation, knowledge storage and retrieval, knowledge transfer, and knowledge application. For them, existing KM literature has emphasized the second process, storage and retrieval, and they seek to expand IT usage to the other processes. Although their argument is build around each of those four processes individually, they advise that knowledge processes are dynamically and intricately interrelated and must be considered as a whole.

A series of research questions for KM and KM systems were also raised. It is interesting to note that, although some technical issues were discussed, human and organizational ones seemed more relevant.

The authors recall the significance of organizational culture and consider the impact of cultural factors on knowledge sharing behaviors; discuss the importance of shared context for effective knowledge transfer and ask how much context needs to be included in knowledge storage and retrieval; and also examine different types of links between individuals and groups, probing into how weak and strong ties affect the way knowledge is created and transferred. Given these concerns, implementation issues like locating and retrieving knowledge, improving the systems’ quality, and maintaining the quality of knowledge in the system are somewhat downgraded.

Next edition: The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Knowledge Management

  1. Grover, V., Davenport, T. (2001) “General perspectives on knowledge management: fostering a research agenda”, Journal of Management Information Systems, Vol 18, No. 1, pp5-21.
  2.  Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. E. (2001). Review: Knowledge management and knowledge management systems: Conceptual foundations and research issues. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 25 (1), 107-136.
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Andre Saito

Dr Andre Saito is president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Gestão em Conhecimento (Brazilian Society for Knowledge Management) as well as a researcher at the Wenovate Open Innovation Center.

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