Knowledge management is the identification, organization, storage, distribution, and effective use of knowledge.
Knowledge management is both a discipline and a process. The discipline deals with implementing knowledge management systems and knowledge management strategies in organizations. The process is the way in which a business manages knowledge. The exact knowledge management process may vary from one organization to another.
What are the Types of Knowledge?
The definition of knowledge management includes three types of knowledge — tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge, and explicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is knowledge acquired through experience, whether it is personal or professional experience. A person may not be consciously aware of it but can use it intuitively when he/she needs to. Example: knowing how to deal with a certain type of personality, because of your personal or professional experiences with that type of personality.
Implicit knowledge is the embedded knowledge that one is aware of, but which is not yet documented. Example: an insight gained after working on a project for a few months.
Explicit knowledge is the knowledge that one is aware of and which is documented. Example: lessons learned during a project that are documented by the project manager.
What is the Knowledge Management Process?
The typical knowledge management process is comprised of the following steps:
Knowledge management begins with discovery, which is the extraction of information from data that can benefit your organization.
Knowledge capture relates to the knowledge that your organization already possesses. This knowledge may be held by individual employees, teams, documents, or processes. Knowledge capture documents this knowledge so that it can be shared and communicated across the business.
Knowledge organization refers to the classification, categorization, and indexing of information. Knowledge organization enables easy retrieval, navigation, use and sharing of information among employees and teams.
Knowledge assessment verifies and validates information to ensure that it is accurate, consistent, and up to date. Knowledge assessment requires reviews by internal experts. Integrated validation features within knowledge management systems also perform the assessment.
Knowledge management does not provide any benefit without knowledge sharing. An organization's culture plays a key role in information sharing. Effective knowledge management systems also enable knowledge sharing with employees and users that need it for benefiting the organization.
Knowledge is used when an individual or team takes knowledge and applies it to communicate more effectively with colleagues or customers, enhance efficiency, improve business operations, or complete a strategic task.
Implementation of effective knowledge management processes drives knowledge creation. Individuals and teams build on knowledge shared by others within the organization, and in the process create knowledge. This is an example of a self-reinforcing feedback loop: higher levels of knowledge-sharing leading to higher levels of knowledge creation.
Why is Knowledge Management Important?
Consider the following example: a company employee spends many months working on a project. During the course of the project, the employee develops an insight into a particular issue. This insight is based on experience and is not immediately obvious to other employees. This insight enables the employee to make vastly better decisions.
If the employee were to keep the insight to himself, other employees could not benefit from it. This is especially true if the employee were to leave the organization soon after. If this were to happen, then valuable organizational knowledge would be lost.
A better way is to make sure that the insight is recorded and shared with other employees in the organization. This is where knowledge management helps organizations capture, distribute and use organizational knowledge.
Knowledge management protects your business and creates opportunities for enhancing the capabilities of the workforce. Making key information widely available helps employees improve performance and make better decisions. This ultimately leads to an improved bottom line for the business.
What are the Benefits of Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management offers multiple benefits for organizations.
Creation of a Collaborative Knowledge Sharing Culture
Easy-to-use and effective knowledge management systems foster a culture of knowledge transfer and sharing, which leads not only to knowledge retention but also to knowledge creation.
Preservation of Organizational Knowledge
With successful knowledge management, organizational knowledge is maintained and secured. Without knowledge management, organizational knowledge is lost if it is not captured and documented, or if employees move to other organizations or retire.
Better and Faster Decision Making
As the saying goes, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Once an organization and its employees learn the best way to make decisions in a particular scenario, then capturing that knowledge and sharing it throughout the organization increases the probability that future decisions in similar situations will be taken faster and will also lead to the desired outcomes.
By reducing the amount of time spent on searching for relevant information, knowledge management empowers employees and helps businesses operate more efficiently.
Innovation doesn't only come from building on existing ideas or products. It also comes from new ways of thinking and new approaches to problem-solving. For example, a new approach used by a team, if shared across the organization, can lead to innovative solutions for problems being worked on by other teams.
Enhanced Customer Service
With fast access to relevant information, customer support staff can serve customers better and faster. This leads to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What are the Challenges of Knowledge Management?
Challenges related to knowledge management include:
Employees are often set in their own ways. Therefore team leads and managers need to motivate employees to share their knowledge with others. Organizational culture has a big impact on whether knowledge management is successful or not.
Technology and tools used for knowledge management are constantly changing. Keeping up with the changes is a challenge that requires constant learning and re-skilling.
Knowledge sharing offers numerous benefits for organizations. However, access to sensitive information needs to be controlled through the implementation of processes and procedures.
Accuracy and Relevance
Information changes at a rapid pace: what was relevant yesterday might not be relevant today. It is, therefore, necessary to implement checks for ensuring the accuracy and relevance of information and knowledge.
Knowledge Management Best Practices
Implementing knowledge management best practices can put organizations on the road to success.
Assess Organizational Culture
To understand what type of knowledge management system best suits your organization, you should first assess your organizational culture and the needs and capabilities of the employees who will be using it.
Employees usually resist changes to the existing company culture. Your rollout strategy should take into account the expected implementation obstacles and plans for dealing with them. Employees should be provided with adequate training so that they are comfortable with the new system and use it.
People usually resist change. Therefore managers should motivate employees and create a culture where knowledge sharing is encouraged.
Implement Knowledge Ownership
Attaching employee credit to knowledge documents motivates employees and provides a trail for other users in case they need clarification or additional information.
Create Knowledge Exchange Policies
Knowledge exchange policies and procedures help employees access required knowledge if they are leaving the company, joining the company or working on projects.
Knowledge Management Tools
Knowledge management tools are systems designed to help with the sharing of information within an organization, both internally and externally. They are facilitators that ensure information flows are captured and managed to maximize value and application in your business. Organizations use various tools for knowledge management.
Document Management Systems
A document management system is comprised of processes and procedures that define each step that a document has to go through during its lifecycle, and processes for storage, access and distribution. Most modern document management is performed by Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) that offer numerous benefits including workflow automation, controlled access, advanced search and fast document retrieval.
Content Management Systems
Content management systems (CMS) are software applications that help users create, manage, and modify content on a website without the need for specialized technical knowledge.
In contrast to the Internet which is a collection of multiple networks, a corporate intranet is a network that is accessible only to employees of an organization. Intranets facilitate information sharing and collaboration.
What is a Knowledge Management System?
A knowledge management system is a set of procedures, processes and tools used to implement knowledge management in an organization. Modern knowledge management is implemented through dedicated software systems that are optimized for the capture, organization, storage and sharing of knowledge.
Knowledge Management System Examples
Lessons Learned Database
A lessons learned database contains information from lessons learned during past projects and from business practices. The database includes information gathered from people who have tackled problems in the past. It includes defined problems or situations, actions taken, outcomes, and results. Lessons learned help to
- Prevent people from repeating mistakes that were made by people in similar situations in the past.
- Optimize decision-making when current scenarios mirror scenarios faced by others in the past.
- View current problems "with a new set of eyes".
Communities of Practice
Communities of practice are groups of individuals who discuss problems, opportunities, lessons learned and other information gained from users. A good knowledge management system provides these groups with a way to share information.
A knowledge base is a library of information about products and services. It typically includes answers to frequently asked questions, how-to guides, and troubleshooting instructions. Its purpose is to make it easy for people - within and from outside the organization - to find solutions to their problems without having to ask for help. Knowledge bases use a combination of text, image and video-based content.
Internal Knowledge Base
An internal knowledge base is typically utilized as a way to allow employees to collaborate and share all company knowledge and information internally. When creating an internal knowledge base, you can include anything that is meant for internal use. It is internal because it is intended to be used only by the employees of an organization.
This type of system is usually accessible via an organization's intranet or an employee-only website that requires a secure login. Some companies use a curated, searchable collection of company policies and procedures stored in a content management system (CMS) that employees can access at any time.
External Knowledge Base
An external knowledge base - also known as a customer-facing knowledge base - is where customers can go to learn anything they’d ever need to know about a company’s products and services. It is usually public to everyone and can be easily found online. If you browse through the Help and Documentation section of any software, that’s their external knowledge base.
Feedback from actual users provides valuable insight that can help you improve your products and services. You can have a database that collects feedback from customers and employees. The gathered feedback gathered is accessible to the design department and other interested departments.
You can use a research database to
- Track the results of customer data collected via quantitative and/or qualitative research
- Track data about products and services offered by competitors.
This database can help your design and marketing teams develop products that provide a great customer experience and beat competitors in terms of price, features and benefits.
How to Build an Effective Knowledge Management System
The following are steps that you can take to build an effective knowledge management system.
Establish Goals and Objectives
The most important part of any initiative is to first clearly list down the short-term and long-term goals. Without clarity, it becomes hard to distinguish between what's important and what can be ignored. Some examples of your goals could be improving the customer experience, taking advantage of AI and improving the rate of innovation.
Select Information that the Knowledge Management System Will Capture
Based on your goals, you can select the types of information that your knowledge management system will capture. This will help you choose the sources of information and data. To help you decide what about to include in the system, you can
- Discuss with your teams about issues that come up frequently.
- Analyze the types of problems frequently reported by customers.
- Use analytics to find what customers search for on your site.
- Search for and analyze what customers say about you on social media.
Organize the Knowledge Management System
The next step is to organize the knowledge management system so that is easy for users to find the information they are searching for. An information architect can help you design a system that will help you achieve your goals.
Continuously Update the Knowledge Management System
Analytics and feedback from users can help you pinpoint what is working and what is not. You can then make improvements to the system. This is an ongoing process that will continue for as long as you maintain the knowledge management system.
What is the difference between document management and knowledge management?
Document management refers to the use of a system for the management of organizational documents. Each document goes through a lifecycle from creation, review, approval, distribution, update and removal. The documents also have to be stored, accessed and shared. A system for document management is comprised of processes and procedures that define each step that a document has to go through during its lifecycle, and processes for storage, access and distribution.
Knowledge management has a more holistic purpose that goes beyond document management. Its goal is the retention and sharing of various types of organizational knowledge. Unless you have tools and processes in place to capture it, knowledge is lost every time an employee leaves your company. Knowledge management helps you to retain knowledge so that you’re able to use it, and grow and build upon it.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He had his first job in technical writing for a video editing software company in 2014. Since then, he has written several books on software documentation, personal branding, and computer hacking. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.