ABCs of KMPersonality types and acceptance of technical knowledge management systems (TKMS)

Research in KM, KM in business strategy, evolution & role of IT in KM [Personality & TKMS series]

This is part 4 of a series of articles featuring edited portions of Dr. Maureen Sullivan’s PhD dissertation.

Research in knowledge management

The study of knowledge has been around for centuries. In fact, the study of knowledge dates back to the ancient philosophers. However, in the 1950s, the scientific study of knowledge was generated by the great progress in the cognitive sciences. Davenport and Grover1 asserted, “to the cognitivist, knowledge was explicit, capable of being coded and stored, and easy to transfer. Significant research in artificial intelligence stems from this vantage point, with many of the resulting systems being currently used in business”.

Nonaka and Takeuchi2 presented a more contemporary but complementary view that placed importance on the tacit and personal nature of knowledge as an important source of innovation. This view resulted in the development of a conversion process, ignored by cognitivists, which lead to explicit knowledge or, eventually, a new product or service. This conversion process involves more social activities than knowledge technologies. Despite the research strides in the social and psychological sciences pertaining to knowledge use and transfer, business emphasis on the topic has been more recent.

Knowledge management in business strategy

Managing organizational knowledge has increasingly become the focus in business and economic theory, and has the potential to affect an entire organization‘s business, especially its processes and information systems. In fact, Nonaka and Takeuchi declared that the main strategic concern for many organizations is KM and it has become the latest strategy in increasing organizational competitiveness3. Therefore, organizations must integrate knowledge areas of processes, strategy, technology, and structure to successfully implement KM in an organization. Firms and organizations that fail to understand the importance of KM as a strategy, may not survive4.

KM involves acquiring knowledge from internal and external organizational sources and utilizing that KM to assist with accomplishing their organizational missions. Specifically, KM is a set of organizational measures designed to meet specific organizational tasks5. Drew6 performed various case studies in KM and found that some companies implement KM by combining KM with their organizational objectives and forming tasks to successfully implement KM. Another researcher, Michael H. Zack, discovered that based on its strategic mission, a company will adopt different administrative procedures to help implement KM into a company7. Although Zack‘s and Drew‘s findings point toward using KM as a tool for company strategic operations, scholars have not distinctly classified KM as a business strategy and linked KM to literature focused on corporate strategies.

Strategy and knowledge are dynamic in organizations and may involve the organization‘s current or future strategy plan8. How knowledge is effectively created and managed, can create a strategic and competitive advantage for an organization. On the whole, “an organization managing knowledge well has the potential to create significant value, but only if it is linked to its overall strategy and strategic decisions” 9.

Evolution and role of information technology in knowledge management

In the 1990s, technologies that supported KM projects were distinct and only performed one function of a KM initiative. Therefore, users would have to log into many systems to accomplish various work tasks. Essentially, there was little to no integration between the systems.

Technologies in support of KM initiatives began to evolve in the early 2000s to have the abilities to exchange information and be less platform-dependent. This was a direct result of advancement in open standards for technology. Consequently, these technologies represent various components and can be easily incorporated into other enterprise applications10. Additionally, vendors of commercial KM technologies are now bundling these technologies with other technology solutions that allow users to work and collaborate on a variety of business functions in one KM system. These changes were created from vendor consolidation in the market and the understanding that critical success factors in KM initiatives rely on the integration of knowledge processes11.

Many recent KM projects have been successful in leveraging the benefits from their knowledge management systems (KMSs). However, a fair amount of KM projects have failed. Moreover, Tsui12 asserts that many past KM projects were driven by technologies such as “e-collaboration tools, content management systems, search engines, and retrieval and classification tools”. These failures show that to have a successful KM project implementation, organizations must integrate the use of technology, people, process, and content. These failures also show successful KM project implementations are not solely driven by technology. Tsui pointed out that:

Technology, however, can act as a catalyst (i.e., an accelerator) for the introduction and initial buy-in of a KM program, but in order to be successful, this accelerated adoption has to be aligned with a defined KM strategy and supported by a change program.

KM technologies in the future will continue to improve on aligning with organizational project management tools to support organization business process management initiatives. To support personal knowledge capture and sharing, organizations will have to coordinate the various organizational resources, like social networks and personal applications13. Moreover, to support interorganizational collaborations and the need for rapid application tool development, Tsui predicted that KM technologies would become more of an on-demand technology.

Next edition: Technical knowledge management systems.

References:

  1. Davenport, T., & Grover, V. (2001). General perspectives on knowledge management: Fostering a research agenda. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(1), 5-21.
  2. Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating company – how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Bell, D. K., & Jackson, L. A. (2001). Knowledge management: Understanding theory and developing strategy. Competitiveness Review, 11(1), 1-11.
  4. Frappaolo, C., & Koulopoulos, T. (2000). In J. Cortada, J. A. Woods (Eds.), Why do a knowledge audit? (The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001). Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  5. Jafari, M., Akhavan, P., & Nouraniour, E. (2009). Developing an architecture model for enterprise knowledge: An empirical study based on the Zachman framework in Iran. Management Decision, 47(5), 730-759.
  6. Drew, S. (1999, March 19). Building knowledge management into strategy: Making sense of a new perspective. Long Range Planning, 32(1), 130-136. doi:10.1016/S0024-6301(98)00142-3
  7. Malhotra, Y. (1998). Knowledge management for the new world of business. Journal of Quality & Participation Special Issue on Learning, 21(4), 58-60.
  8. Jafari, M., Akhavan, P., & Nouraniour, E. (2009). Developing an architecture model for enterprise knowledge: An empirical study based on the Zachman framework in Iran. Management Decision, 47(5), 730-759.
  9. Jafari, M., Akhavan, P., & Nouraniour, E. (2009). Developing an architecture model for enterprise knowledge: An empirical study based on the Zachman framework in Iran. Management Decision, 47(5), 730-759.
  10. Tsui, E. (2005). The role of IT in KM: Where are we now and where are we heading? Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(1), 3-6. doi:10.1108/13673270510584198
  11. Eppler, M. J., Siefried, P. M., & Ropnack, A. (1999). Improving knowledge-intensive processes through enterprise knowledge medium. Proceedings of the 1999 ACM Special Interest Group Computer Personnel Research Conference 1999, 222-230.
  12. Tsui, E. (2005). The role of IT in KM: Where are we now and where are we heading? Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(1), 3-6. doi:10.1108/13673270510584198
  13. Tsui, E. (2005). The role of IT in KM: Where are we now and where are we heading? Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(1), 3-6. doi:10.1108/13673270510584198

Maureen Sullivan

Dr. Maureen Sullivan is an information technology official in the US federal government workspace. She also teaches technology courses at a Maryland community college. Dr. Sullivan is continuing her research in technical knowledge management systems.

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