Today’s businesses are faced by stiff competition which forces them to use any means at their disposal to be ahead of their competitors. Creating organizational uniqueness as a competitive edge in the modern business landscape is no longer an option but a question of survival in the market. Gupta & McDaniel (2002) observe that “companies are constantly, striving to come up with mechanisms to differentiate themselves from other competitors in the markets” (p. 34).
Different organizations have tried to create their competing edge around different areas of the business, thereby making the areas of differentiation as many as the businesses themselves. Bogner, Thomas & McGee (1999) observe that “the markets have become saturated with innovative and more customized products to differentiate themselves from their competitors” (p. 276).
Recent studies have shown that knowledge management can create a competitive advantage that is sustainable for businesses especially due to the tacit nature of organization’s knowledge. This means that if differentiation is based on knowledge it is likely to be sustainable since unlike in the case of machineries and other infrastructures, knowledge is difficult to duplicate. Personal knowledge in the individual’s head is very difficult to articulate, codify and communicate. It is also equally difficult to imitate. An increasing number of organizations therefore prefer to sustain their competitiveness on knowledge. Information management is a key to getting and retaining competitive edge and has lately evolved into highly strategically aimed management of knowledge (Gupta & McDaniel 2002, p. 36).
Overview of Knowledge Management
Knowledge management, though a very popular concept in the business world across the globe, lacks a unique standardized definition. Perhaps this is because what constitutes knowledge is not agreed upon. However, knowledge can be said to be contained in databases, knowledge bases, filing cabinets and in peoples’ heads distributed all across the enterprise. The approach that has been given to knowledge management shows no clear definition or shows no definition that is universally accepted as true and comprehensive. Nevertheless, various authors have defined it differently:
Nonaka (1991), defines knowledge management as a combination of processes that control and manage the creation, codification, dissemination and leveraging of knowledge in organizations. According to Raisinghani (2000), the concept of knowledge management is concerned with the coming up with structures which combine the best and advanced elements of technology and also the very crucial aspect of human response and decision-making. Spender (1997) argues that the idea of knowledge management has originated from past research on organizational learning. It is actually the next step of an evolutionary process of the organization. Strategic frameworks are meant to explain how the organization may get high performance as compared to its competitors in the market.
Knowledge management is the set of business processes that have been developed in the firm to create, store, transfer and also apply knowledge. It raises the ability of that firm to learn from its environment and to infuse that knowledge into all its business activities. Malhotra (2003), argues that Knowledge management, which we shall abbreviate as KM will be best understood from the perspective of a discipline as opposed to a ‘silver bullet’ or a solution based on technology.
Knowledge management gained popularity since ‘programmed’ and ‘automatic’ business models that are built upon computational logic that is based on past memory are no longer adequate. More problematic is even their overemphasis on inputs as opposed to processes and results. As ICT becomes appreciated all the more world, processes and human resource form a more crucial part of the knowledge management factor in the business performance. This has become more important since business processes and even humans have become less and less held within geographic boundaries or those of the organization.
Accordingly, time has come that enterprises have realized that knowledge management caters for the very crucial issues of organizational adaptation alongside competence and survival amid increasingly radical change of discontinuous nature. To survive in this environment, firms need to rely and not only on the capacity to process data with IT but also on the creativity and innovation of the human resource – both within and without the organization. The secret is to now and then assess and also to reassess all routines that are part of business processes to surface and correct all the assumptions that may hinder continuous learning and innovation.
Knowledge management is a continuum of value added to the previous management approaches such as information management and human resources management (Kirk 1999). Jones (1995) defines knowledge management as providing knowledge environments necessary for the creation of a learning organization.
With respect to formation and also development of communities of practice, it has been defined as a variety of information technologies known as knowledge management systems and is integral to the politics and culture of organizations and their environments. Bogner, Thomas & and McGee (1999) describe knowledge management as a human resource issue and in particular relating to the development of organizational core competencies. In terms of measuring and valuing intellectual assets, Repo (1989) views it a fashion based phenomenon based on terminological inflation and re-badging.
Knowledge Management and Information Management
Knowledge management is different from information management in that it refers to a persistent and intentional bid to extract from available data and information, what is crucial for business to achieve success, while on the other hand information management is concerned with availing crucial information in a very timely and consistent fashion to the end users or consumer of the information within the organisational chart.
Knowledge management can thus be said to be, “the creative mining of specific information from the available information with the purpose of business in mind” (Gupta & McDaniel 2002, p. 38). Information management on the other hand, is the one that avails the “ore” of information for extraction. Knowledge management can also be seen as an orderly framework with purposeful activities that are designed to result into sound management decisions and the organisational activities that come with it to produce net profits and a bigger share of the market.
To have access to information is not the important thing; it is to be able to dwell on the information patterns that is pertinent. Above all, its application is all, irrespective of the extent of access to the information of the highest standard.
Knowledge is thus the ability to act on the basis of data, insights, information, experience and also the intuition. It is that very crucial link that is the connection between the entire human, technology and also all organizational resources that are available for the use of the firm, and is a reflection of its thriving, performance and retention of a competitive advantage. This constant emphasis on the intangible assets and knowledge base limits precise measurement, since it will only be viewed in action and in performance (Malhotra 2003).
Knowledge management process
In order to understand knowledge management deeper, it is important to look at the core activities that take place in the process. In this case, we look at the harvesting, filtering, configuration, dissemination and application processes.
This is the harnessing of information from within the organization or/and acquiring the information from outside the organization. This is the actual gathering of information from within and outside the firm. It is at this point that the boundaries between knowledge and information blur considerably (Bogner, Thomas & McGee 1999). At this point, the organization collects both knowledge and information to provide meaningful inputs to that organization. It is however thought that, even within this context, knowledge still continues to be of greater use than information, since the knowledge means the acquisition both the information and also the benefits it brings to related strategic initiatives of that organization, just as shown by the perceptual lens in which it is identified (Gupta & McDaniel 2002).
During harvesting, the organization should go ahead in a purposeful way with the hope of gaining knowledge that can be used. The knowledge that should be captured should be relevant with the current and future needs of the organization. Knowledge can be found existing within the organization, which occurs as tacit knowledge in the minds of its human resource or that is stored in firm’s databases as coded information (Nonaka 1991).
Gold et al (2001) adds that the transformational process of informal knowledge to explicit knowledge starts with the collaboration of employees. Collaboration allows individual differences within the backgrounds, experience, methods of carrying out things and cognitive manner that has the ability to generate new strategic mechanisms for achieving company ends.. Learning will have been produced if the socialization of knowledge is achieved but laden with the ability of being activated to achieve a competitive edge.
Knowledge can also be harvested outside the organization as new knowledge. This is usually done through identification of the best practices being used by well positioned competitors, and then assesses the state of a specific process currently to be able to identify gaps or problems within design. When the variances are pointed out, the firm can now capture that and use it internally. According to Gold et al (2001), the process is called benchmarking. An organization can harvest external knowledge through inter-organizational collaboration whereby an organization and its partners in business network produce knowledge via those kinds of mechanisms as technology sharing, personnel movement in the scope of promotions and transfers and linkages occurring between alliance partners or joint ventures (Gupta & McDaniel 2002).
This is the stage where the organization filters the information or knowledge collected and only allows what is relevant to the organization. An organization should only categorize and catalog knowledge which is important to the organization and not everything simply because it has been captured. In filtering the organization puts logical mechanisms In filtering the organization puts logical mechanisms to delve through unimportant or even the distracting knowledge so that what remains is only what useful and applicable (Schoemaker 1992, p. 25).
The activities involved in filtering the knowledge harvested are the ones that help in creating a competitive advantage. “In the broadest sense, the entire process of filtering should be within the realm of the firm’s vision, mission and goals, so as to provide a very efficient focal framework which that management team can effectively use to evaluate knowledge with success” (p. 28).
This means therefore that knowledge should be screened and evaluated thoroughly to determine its value to the organization. In screening and evaluating knowledge from outside the organization, the knowledge managers should have full awareness of the broad strategic objectives and also the knowledge of internal processes and sharing of work within the organization for the purpose of discernment in assessing new knowledge inputs (Mullin 1996). They also recommend that both human and technological resources work together to determine what knowledge to manage and how to go about its management.
After captured knowledge has been evaluated to determine its usefulness to the organization, it needs to be organized and stored in such a way that it is available to the end users in the organization in making key decisions. Configuration therefore, involves organization and storage of the accumulated knowledge in the organization. To be able to manage the knowledge, compatible systems must be put in place. Repo (1989) suggests that successful knowledge management is reliant on good document management because a significant portion of the information gained and shared occurs as text. He further identifies many software applications that have been created to be compatible with windows operating system.
The chief objective in organizing and storing captured knowledge/information in such compatible software applications is to interactively help the organizations employees to capture the stored knowledge any time they need it and also help in the decision making (Gold et al. 2001, p. 8). The achievement of this objective is what gives the organization a cutting edge in the market. This is because all the end users are able to make first time superior decisions at the right time.
Dissemination of knowledge involves sharing out the information within the firm. The information is passed on to the end users. The two main factors which need to be considered are communication facilitation and firm culture development. One major purpose of knowledge management and knowledge sharing is to enable communication across the entire organization’s boundaries, in a manner that the whole company works harmoniously to address all the firms’ challenges and take available opportunities (Repo 1989). Relevant knowledge should be disseminated to relevant divisions and individual workers to facilitate ease of decision making process. The knowledge managers should only disseminate value adding knowledge and one that helps in achieving the firm’s ends. The means of communicating the knowledge to the workers should also be considered.
Again, the managers should ensure appropriate mechanisms which encourage collaborative and productive exchange of knowledge between employees. The organization should therefore encourage knowledge sharing through rewarding creation and dissemination of knowledge and discouraging knowledge hoarding. With the right communication and a supportive organizational culture, a firm is able to use the accumulated knowledge to create a competitive advantage in the market. The two factors ensure that knowledge is extensively shared and understood because it rewards to share the knowledge. That way, the organization as a whole is able to achieve its intended objectives.
Gupta & McDaniel (2002) assert that with efficient dissemination of knowledge, the company’s capability of making impacting decisions rises rapidly since the individuals all through the organization have access to strategic ideas instead of just retaining the knowledge in the ranks of top management. Repo (1989), add that by giving employees access to one another instead of going through vertical channels of top management, the ones with the most current knowledge should share it with those who stand good chances of benefiting from it.
Competitive advantage is not for the firms that possess the greatest knowledge but to all who use knowledge best (Pfeffer & Sutton 2000). They argue that unless this last step that involves application of the knowledge is achieved, all other phases that came before it is in vain.
Application process is the actual utilization of the accumulated knowledge within the organization in making informed decisions that ensure achievement of the organizational goals and objectives.
Gupta & McDaniel (2002) definition of knowledge management as “the creative mining of specific information from the available information with the purpose of business in mind” though too general, is comprehensive in capturing what knowledge management is. When looked at in more specific terms, the wider perspective of knowledge management will entail the process of use of that knowledge, its creation, sharing and transfer alongside its renewal. What is important, however, is to understand how all the resources and also all the processes are angling towards performance. It is not about the decisions or even information alone but also actions that are required for good performance.
Considering the trend of using past patterns for future decisions, it becomes crucial to be in a position to generate diverse interpretations of information and put into consideration the various courses of actions that can be taken in future. The collaboration therefore and also the sharing of knowledge whether it is formal or informal are both important since they will assist in quick discovery of different alternatives of approaches, information and decisions that are related to the approaches and in the end, in the execution through working in parallel on different things that are crucial in to the execution of those decisions after an agreement. It means thus, that collaboration and sharing of knowledge are of critical importance.
A reflective essay on learning outcomes
When I first critically thought of learning, I knew just as scholars would say that learning is beyond classroom delivery and taking of material. Finding out more about learning, I found that there are several aspects of a human that are either acquired or modified in the process of learning. These are knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, preferences and others. Somewhere in the midst of these, I placed knowledge. My thoughts of knowledge management were therefore an unclear process that would end up in effectively managing people with diverse skills, knowledge and values. It therefore occurred to me that knowledge management is a job of top managers and human resource managers had to do with line managers and lower cadre workers.
As always, the introduction of a module as captivating as it can be can also be deceiving. Expectations are high on what shall be imparted on you and how other people imparting knowledge on you will transform you into seeing things in a whole new perspective, how you will start solving complex problems with ease and even how your words will sound different. Oftentimes, there are guiding questions that are presented that ought to consistently guide the thought of the learner.
I find these are of great importance when trying to find out what knowledge is expected of me at the end of the module. More importantly I think of the thinking skills (intellectual) and the key transferable skills. The presentation of the expected outcomes at the end of the module however, in one way or the other comes true. In the process, you realize that the story does not flow like a tell tale story nor is it episodic. It involves lots of research and personal interest to find out things you are interested in knowing.
In the case of knowledge management, I was particularly interested in among others to know: A deeper understanding of what knowledge management constitutes, develop an appreciation of what the key value propositions are to organizations, managers and teams and also develop a deeper understanding of different knowledge management models.
The study of knowledge management has brought a whole new perspective of this study area. It has made it clear that knowledge is perhaps the biggest resource that an organization needs to effectively manage. It was also important to know that some of my earlier perceptions of what constitutes knowledge management were incorporated in most scholars’ arguments. One of these perceptions was the place of culture and values in knowledge management.
Some other perceptions were proved wrong. For instance it was important to learn that knowledge management is not a preserve of top management. In fact, a surprising thing to learn is that someone is responsible for knowledge management. This is the chief knowledge officer (CKO). I also found out that after acquiring the right infrastructure (both hard and soft elements), then the CKO should move swiftly in acquiring and utilizing knowledge that the competitors have not acquired. That way, knowledge management can sustain the competitive advantage of the organization.
Knowledge management does not operate alone; it needs to be integrated with all other elements of the organization including the social, cultural and behavioral elements. The hard elements of the organization including the machines, computers and networks should also be integrated in KM. It is therefore the responsibility of the chief knowledge officer in the organization to ensure that there is the right infrastructure for knowledge management. The CKO should also ensure that the organization culture highly supports adoption and application of knowledge management.
After finding out that the process of implementation of knowledge management has its own barriers, I felt committed to be part of the solution in this. Some of the challenges I found were organizational politics that bring internal politics, lack of communication and information, rigidity and single sightedness where the best practice is seen as an answer to everything even where it is not warranted. These are other areas I would research on and link them to effective knowledge management.
Going through knowledge management also raised one key question in my mind: is knowledge the ultimate thing that a modern firm requires to achieve a competitive advantage? In my continued search I found the following argument: According to Malhotra (2003), knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage of any firm only if seen from an action-oriented dimension.
The IT and data cannot be entirely be counted on as competitive advantage in the long-run. Not even the decisions that are made based upon insights hidden in database archives. Only the usage of that information and decisions into usable value propositions can be counted on as competitive advantage. In this perspective therefore, knowledge will be found in action; effective utilization of data and also of information for the purpose of sound decisions and most importantly in its execution.
It is important that business managers define and continuously keep updating and refining their value propositions for them to ensure they remain on the competitive edge as opposed to being marginalized by discontinuous change that is radical. In the long run, this knowledge management strategy and its implementation with the help of information, communication and assisting technologies will give a greater chance of being ‘great’ than is ordinarily possible. It thus formed the perception in my mind that in the very important field of strategic management, knowledge management should be the most critical owing to its application in all the profit centers and core activities of any organization.
It felt good to be interacting with one of the hot topics of management today. I discovered that even if the field is not entirely new, it is currently receiving lots of attention from management. I discovered that the area has a whole lot of content that is enlightening to read.
When the knowledge management process was presented in an illustration model, it became so clear and easy to assimilate. It was possible to see from this model how efficiently knowledge management can sustain the competitive advantage of business. Knowledge about the changing needs of the customers, new opportunities in the market, new government legislations and other relevant environment intelligence should be acquired, filtered, configured, disseminated and applied by the organization to sustain its leading position in the market. The knowledge should assist the business in production of superior differentiated products at the lowest cost possible.
It is possible now to see knowledge management translating into a motivated human resource, highly productive departments and a highly profitable organization. Within this study, it was possible to see other aspects of the organization that have in the past studies been emphasized. Of importance was communication without which any of the management processes would fail. The intricacy with which several aspects of management are intertwined is laid bare in such a study.
It was great to have a clear understanding of the differences between data, information and knowledge. The search showed the internet as a major source of information on this area. This being a current issue it is discussed massively both formally in journals and informally in blogs. It means that knowledge management as a study area has the potential of being subjected to changes in scope and direction. It is an area that though recent in the level of attention it is receiving, it has potential of bringing a new dawn to an organization that strategically utilizes it.
There are questions that linger:
- Do other managers other than the chief knowledge officer have a role to play in knowledge management?
- How can knowledge management be improved now seeing that it is a key performance determinant?
- What can organizations do to protect the knowledge sources and reserves that they have?
- How can firms ensure that they not only have but also utilize the knowledge they have maximally?
These questions necessitate further research to have them solved. It will require keenness and an open mind to explore the topics raised in these questions. Given that I possess the openness of mind and a passion for understanding KM, I will embark on this area and develop a working model that incorporates the answers to these questions in it. It has been confirmed that the utilization of the knowledge is very important for the firm to have a competitive advantage.
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