The modern global economy is a knowledge economy — the future of a business depends on its capacity to support learning and collaboration. Proper maintenance of organizational knowledge, retention of practices and support of knowledge sharing are the key tasks of knowledge management (KM) programs.
How can your organization implement an effective knowledge management system? This article explores the biggest KM challenges that modern businesses are facing, reviews the basic types of knowledge management solutions and technologies designed to deal with those challenges, and outlines their benefits.
Knowledge management challenges
Developing, implementing and assessing a knowledge management program involves a number of management challenges:
- Identifying and structuring corporate knowledge. This challenge arises in part from the diversity of sources and tools organizations use to manage, find, process and share different types of knowledge. In addition, corporate knowledge includes not just explicit knowledge that can be aggregated and organized using techniques like automated data discovery and classification, data mining, and statistics, but also tacit knowledge, such as the skills and experience of individuals, which is much harder to capture.
- Measuring maturity. Organizations need to regularly evaluate the maturity level of their KM processes and technologies. People must answer questions about a variety of topics, such as organizational knowledge flows, mechanisms for sharing knowledge, the strengths and limitations of the software and hardware being used, desired enhancements, and user expectations.
- Developing a KM framework. To develop an effective KM strategy and framework, an organization must weigh multiple factors and find the right balance between establishing new policies and preserving existing processes that work well.
- Facilitating knowledge exchange. To enable sharing of enterprise knowledge, like best practices for developers, between team members, a company needs to look for IT solutions that serve the needs of employees, by making tasks easier and saving them time.
Measuring knowledge contributions. Finally, it’s important to find way to ensure the KM program works by assessing how well it helps you achieve the goals that were set, such as improving customer support or decision support, or helping employees access corporate knowledge.
How can organizations address these challenges? To answer this question, we need to explore what a knowledge management system (KMS) is.
What is a knowledge management system?
A knowledge management system is an information system designed to facilitate the sharing and integration of knowledge. Knowledge management systems include IT tools for data capture, information management and storage, and knowledge retrieval and sharing.
Advantages of knowledge management systems
Knowledge management systems are the key to enhancing KM processes and deriving competitive advantages. They can help you:
- Enhance social networking and sharing of best practices.
- Avoid repeating previous failures by providing access to lessons learned
- Support team productivity, drive innovation and provide decision support
- Support growth of employees’ skills and expertise
- Improve internal business processes, reduce costs and save resources
- Streamline management of access controls and ensure the security of sensitive information
- Improve the customer experience, for example, by helping customers get relevant information using self-service product help centers rather than submitting support tickets
Types of knowledge management systems
What should you take into consideration when looking for an effective knowledge management solution? Let’s compare different knowledge management systems designed to to capture both explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge existing in an organization. Here is one way to classify different types of KM systems:
- Knowledge bases — These knowledge sources are designed for storing structured, semi-structured and unstructured content, enable easy retrieval, and facilitate document management and backup.
- Data warehousing and business intelligence solutions — These tools include online analytical programming (OLAP) and data mining products. They focus on ensuring the quality of information and improving decision-making by transforming large amounts of data into summaries and exposing knowledge patterns.
- Groupware — These communication and collaboration tools store conversations for later use and include networking functionality to establish channels for knowledge transfer, find experts and involve partners.
- Simulation systems — These tools are used to evaluate potential outcomes using knowledge management models and previous experience.
Knowledge management is a broad challenge that cannot be addressed by investing in a single solution or platform. Although many KM solutions are marketed as being endlessly flexible and scalable, they fail to live up to their promises.
In addition to choosing the right technologies, organizations must also focus on cultural changes, to ensure that new processes are implemented and that they serve the organization’s knowledge creation and acquisition needs.