In my previous article, I discussed why a knowledge management system (KMS) is different to an information management system, and alluded to providing more details on what a KMS would look like. This article reflects my journal paper on Nuts and Bolts of a Knowledge Management System1. An information management system aims to manage the structural capital of an organisation. In a KMS, the subject being managed is the social and human capital of people associated with the organisation.
I argue that a KMS should be deliberately developed and managed to support and enhance knowledge-intensive processes, tasks or projects. A KMS should include tools, techniques and strategies tailored to specific business requirements. Such systems would include interaction with information, action and events, including interaction with other people. Because there is a conceptual difference between information and knowledge, it can be argued that there should be a difference between knowledge and information system architectures and management strategies. Therefore, a KMS is a socio-technical system that enables organizations to generate increased value from their intellectual capital and not just a software application.
What is a system?
Ropohl2 states that the concept of the ‘socio-technical system’ is to stress the reciprocal interrelationship between humans and machines and to foster the program of shaping both the technical and the social conditions of work in such a way that efficiency and humanity would not contradict each other. This reinforces the need to enable a more holistic approach to designing systems and is reflected in the emergence of ‘Design Thinking’ and Human Centric Design.
Why do we need a KMS?
Kaplan and Norton3 make a broad observation that intangible assets account for more than 75% of the average company’s value. In a study going back to 1999, an Accenture report4 identified that 94% of senior executives polled consider the comprehensive management of intangible assets is important with 50% considering it one of the top three management issues facing their company. Only 5% claim their company has a robust system that measures and tracks intangible assets. If organisations expend considerable resources on systems to manage their tangible assets, it stands to reason that it should also invest in systems to manage their intangible assets, including human and social capital.
From a comparison of other KMS models, I proposed that there are seven fundamental elements that must be in place for a system to be considered a ‘KMS’. The collective of the seven elements is referred to as a Knowledge System Architectural Model (KSAM), and are outlined as follows:
1. Strategy – Any strategy should identify the problem or the opportunity, and set the purpose/objective for the knowledge strategy. It may also link this to policy and governance arrangements and take into consideration the culture(s) of the organisation. In many cases, risk is a driver that should be identified and assessed.
2. Actors – People are central to any KMS and there are different participants with differing backgrounds and experiences. There are a number of roles involved in a KMS to ensure the system is effective. These include owners, sources, targets, enablers, boundary spanners, communities and champions.
3. Manage the Knowledge Source – Some KMSs (but not all) may hold explicit knowledge. Irrespective, there must be a source that the knowledge has come from and that relationship/interface needs to be managed. A system should address the authenticity, reliability, sufficiency and currency of the knowledge. Wherever possible, knowledge should be held by the source external to the system and leveraged when needed rather than maintaining it in the KMS as information.
4. Interface – The user requires some sort of interface with the KMS and this might be a push, pull or interactive mode. The interface may be human, structural or technological for the delivery or facilitation of knowledge or a knowledge management service. The delivery interface should address the mode, facilitation/interface, a certain style, adaptation techniques, provide access control and be accessible to people with physical restrictions or a disability. This aspect is what Nonaka refers to as ‘BA’.
5. Functionality – KM systems are developed to support and enhance knowledge-intensive processes, tasks or projects of creation, construction, identification, capturing, acquisition, selection, valuation, organization, linking, protection, structuring, formalization, visualization, transfer, transformation, distribution, retention, maintenance, refinement, revision, evolution, accessing, retrieval and last but not least, the application of knowledge.
6. Infrastructure – Most KMSs will require some form of infrastructure to enable the system to function. This may include facilities, equipment, repositories, instruments, tools, templates, software, networks and hardware.
7. Continuous improvement – A KMS should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is meeting the objectives identified in the strategy and requirements.
The essential elements of a Knowledge Management System are shown below.
A KMS exists because there are users that require additional knowledge to address the business situations they are exposed to and the challenges they face. Wherever possible, a KMS should be a ‘pull’ or ‘interactive’ system unless there are specific operational reasons for the user to have the knowledge pushed to them prior to dealing with a situation as might happen in medical, emergency, aviation or military situations.
Each of the seven fundamental elements that make up the Knowledge System Architectural Model (KSAM) should be in place for a system to be considered an effective ‘KMS’. The elements contain a series of components that are specific to the KMS.
A knowledge management system differs from an information management system, primarily by the purpose for which the system is designed, implemented and managed. If KM is ‘the management processes through which organizations generate increased value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets’, then a KMS is a socio-technical system that enables and supports the generation of that increased value. Such a system may include an information technology application as a component, but technology by itself does not constitute a KMS.
What the design process for a KMS also requires, is a process to map the knowledge that is required to flow from the source to the target. Nomination of an architectural model also allows organisations to more easily test the veracity of vendor claims in meeting the needs of the users for specific knowledge to address the challenges faced in delivery of services.
- Williams, D. (2015). Nuts and Bolts of a Knowledge Management System. Journal of Information & Knowledge Management, p.1550035. ↩
- Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy Of Socio-Technical Systems, published in Society for Philosophy and Technology, Number 3 of Volume 4, Spring 1999. Accessed online 23 June 2013, http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html ↩
- Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (2004). Strategy maps: Converting intangible assets into tangible outcomes. Harvard Business Press. ↩
- Ballow, J. J., Thomas, R. J., & Roos, G. (2004). Future value: The $7 trillion challenge. Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, 16(1), 71-76. ↩