KM Forum Archives -- The Early Days

What is Knowledge Management

In this portion of the Knowledge Management Forum we have provided a summaries of various descriptions of knowledge management. Authors were encouraged to include links to more complete remarks or to referenced works. The contents of this page were last updated March 31, 1996

From the introduction to; "An Open Discussion of Knowledge Management", Brian (Bo)Newman, 1991.

Knowledge Management is the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge. In one form or another, knowledge management has been around for a very long time. Practitioners have included philosophers, priests, teachers, politicians, scribes, Liberians, etc.

So if Knowledge Management is such an ageless and broad topic what role does it serve in today's Information Age? These processes exist whether we acknowledge them or not and they have a profound effect on the decisions we make and the actions we take, both of which are enabled by knowledge of some type. If this is the case, and we agree that many of our decisions and actions have profound and long lasting effects, it makes sense to recognize and understand the processes that effect or actions and decision and, where possible, take steps to improve the quality these processes and in turn improve the quality of those actions and decisions for which we are responsible?

Knowledge management is not a, "a technology thing" or a, "computer thing" If we accept the premise that knowledge management is concerned with the entire process of discovery and creation of knowledge, dissemination of knowledge , and the utilization of knowledge then we are strongly driven to accept that knowledge management is much more than a "technology thing" and that elements of it exist in each of our jobs.

Dr. Arthur J. Murray provides the following Knowledge Management Argot

Thomas Bertels provides the following definition of Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is the management of the organization towards the continuous renewal of the organizational knowledge base - this means e.g. creation of supportive organizational structures, facilitation of organizational members, putting IT-instruments with emphasis on teamwork and diffusion of knowledge (as e.g. groupware) into place.

As I am a very practical person I am focussed rather more on the practical aspects, how we can improve the reality.

Maarten Sierhuis provides the following definition of Knowledge Management and supporting concepts.

Knowledge Management (KM): This is, as the word implies, the ability to manage "knowledge". We are all familiar with the term Information Management. This term came about when people realized that information is a resource that can and needs to be managed to be useful in an organization. From this, the ideas of Information Analysis and Information Planning came about. Organizations are now starting to look at "knowledge" as a resource as well. This means that we need ways for managing the knowledge in an organization. We can use techniques and methods that were developed as part of Knowledge Technology to analyze the knowledge sources in an organization. Using these techniques we can perform Knowledge Analysis and Knowledge Planning.

Knowledge Analysis (KA): In Knowledge Analysis we model a knowledge source in such a way that we can analyze its usefulness, its weaknesses and its appropriateness within the organization. Knowledge Analysis is a necessary step for the ability to manage knowledge. Within Knowledge Analysis we can use knowledge modeling and knowledge acquisition techniques.

Knowledge Planning (KP): When an organization has a grip on its knowledge (i.e. has performed Knowledge Analysis), it will be able to plan for the future. An organization will now be able to develop a multi-year knowledge plan that defines how the organization will develop its knowledge resources, either by training its human agents, or by developing knowledge-based systems to support the human agents, or by other means that allow the organization to stay competitive.

Knowledge Technology (KT): This is, as the word already implies, the (application of) techniques and methods from the field of AI, or to be more specific, the field of knowledge-based systems. KT has been around for quite some time, and most people know about the application of KT in the form of expert systems, and decision support systems. Techniques and methods to design these kind of systems are well known; The best known methodology for building knowledge-based systems is CommonKADS (formerly known as KADS).

Computer Supported Work Systems (CSWS): This is a formal and informal (human) activity system, within an organization where the (human) agents are supported by computer systems. The application of Knowledge Technology is very helpful in such work systems, although definitely *not* the only important factor in the analysis and design, nor in the effectiveness of the activity system.

Denham Grey offers the following views on knowledge and knowledge management:

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is the full utilization of information and data, coupled with the potential of people's skills, competencies, ideas, intuitions, commitments and motivations.

In today's economy, knowledge is people, money, leverage, learning, flexibility, power, and competitive advantage. Knowledge is more relevant to sustained business than capital, labor or land. Nevertheless, it remains the most neglected asset. It is more than justified true belief and is essential for action, performance and adaption. Knowledge provides the ability to respond to novel situations.

A holistic view considers knowledge to be present in ideas, judgments, talents, root causes, relationships, perspectives and concepts. Knowledge is stored in the individual brain or encoded in organizational processes, documents, products, services, facilities and systems.

Knowledge is the basis for, and the driver of, our post-industrial economy. Knowledge is the result of learning which provides the only sustainable competitive advantage. Knowledge is the next paradigm shift in computing following data processing 1945-1965 and information management 1966-1995. Knowledge is action, focused innovation, pooled expertise, special relationships and alliances. Knowledge is value-added behavior and activities. For knowledge to be of value it must be focused, current, tested and shared.

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge management is an audit of "intellectual assets" that highlights unique sources, critical functions and potential bottlenecks which hinder knowledge flows to the point of use. It protects intellectual assets from decay, seeks opportunities to enhance decisions, services and products through adding intelligence, increasing value and providing flexibility.

Knowledge management complements and enhances other organizational initiatives such as total quality management (TQM), business process re-engineering (BPR) and organizational learning, providing a new and urgent focus to sustain competitive position.

Why should you apply Knowledge Management?

To serve customers well and remain in business companies must: reduce their cycle times, operate with minimum fixed assets and overhead (people, inventory and facilities), shorten product development time, improve customer service, empower employees, innovate and deliver high quality products, enhance flexibility and adaption, capture information, create knowledge, share and learn.

None of this is possible without a continual focus on the creation, updating, availability, quality and use of knowledge by all employees and teams, at work and in the marketplace.

Robert Taylor summerized his views on Knowledge Management by saying:

The vital importance of knowledge in business has always been recognised but, up until now, organisations haven't felt able to manage it because they understood neither the problems and the opportunities nor the strategies and solutions. This picture is gradually changing as models, methods, tools and techniques for effective knowledge management are becoming available and as organisations realise the importance of knowledge and thinking to their capacity to adapt to the changing world.

For more on Robert Taylor's views on Knowledge Managment, please Click Here.

Karl M. Wiig provides us with the following:

On the Management of Knowledge - Position Statement by Karl M. Wiig, February 6, 1996
Knowledge -- the insights, understandings, and practical know-how that we all possess -- is the fundamental resource that allows us to function intelligently. Over time, considerable knowledge is also transformed to other manifestations -- such as books, technology, practices, and traditions -- within organizations of all kinds and in society in general. These transformations result in cumulated expertise and, when used appropriately, increased effectiveness. Knowledge is one, if not THE, principal factor that makes personal, organizational, and societal intelligent behavior possible.

Given the importance of knowledge in virtually all areas of daily and commercial life, two knowledge-related aspects are vital for viability and success at any level:

1. Knowledge assets -- to be applied or exploited -- must be nurtured, preserved, and used to the largest extent possible by both individuals and organizations.

2. Knowledge-related processes -- to create, build, compile, organize, transform, transfer, pool, apply, and safeguard knowledge -- must be carefully and explicitly managed in all affected areas.

Knowledge must be managed effectively to ensure that the basic objectives for existence are attained to the greatest extent possible. Knowledge management in organizations must be considered from three perspectives with different horizons and purposes:

1. Business Perspective -- focusing on why, where, and to what extent the organization must invest in or exploit knowledge. Strategies, products and services, alliances, acquisitions, or divestments should be considered from knowledge-related points of view.

2. Management Perspective -- focusing on determining, organizing, directing, facilitating, and monitoring knowledge-related practices and activities required to achieve the desired business strategies and objectives.

3. Hands-On Operational Perspective -- focusing on applying the expertise to conduct explicit knowledge-related work and tasks.

Historically, knowledge has always been managed, at least implicitly. However, effective and active knowledge management requires new perspectives and techniques and touches on almost all facets of an organization. We need to develop a new discipline and prepare a cadre of knowledge professionals with a blend of expertise that we have not previously seen. This is our challenge!"

Donna Bible provides us with the following view:

I think that a lot of businesses are overwhelmed by the information explosion in the last several years. Information specialists should seize this time to assist their company's in managing this information overload. The problem is made even more complex by the rapid transition in company personnel which has recently affected lot of organizations. At CTC we are contracted to do many projects, and remembering who has done what is not always possible. The learning process that people undergo once they enter this company all too often leaves with them. Oftentimes a person leaves and takes an entire storehouse of knowledge about their job with them. If a company could somehow capture a part of that person's experience, then the reciprocal relationship between employee and employer would truly be effected once that person left or was placed on another project. Knowledge management is the attempt to secure the experience as well as the work product the individuals who comprise a corporation.

Bob Hallsworth provides us with these views.

I believe:

R. Gregory Wenig provides the following views on knowledge and knowledge management:

Knowledge Management (for the organization): -- consists of activities focused on the organization gaining knowledge from its own experience and from the experience of others, and on the judicious application of that knowledge to fulfill the mission of the organization. These activities are executed by marrying technology, organizational structures, and cognitive based strategies to raise the yield of existing knowledge and produce new knowledge. Criticial in this endeavor is the enhancement of the cognitive system (organization, human, computer, or joint human-computer system) in acquiring, storing and utilizing knowledge for learning, problem solving, and decision making.

Knowledge: -- Currently, there is no consensus on what knowledge is. Over the millennia, the dominant philosophies of each age have added their own definition of knowledge to the list. The definition that I have found most useful when building systems is as follows: knowledge is understandings the cognitive system possesses. It is a construct that is not directly observable. It is specific to and not residing outside the cognitive system that created it. Information, NOT knowledge, is communicated among cognitive systems. A cognitive system can be a human, a group, an organization, a computer, or some combination.

Karl E. Sveiby, in the section of this web page, "What is Knowledge Managment", contrasts two tracks of thought on the subject and two different levels (summerized here):

Knowledge Management is not easy to define. Let me try to do it from a metalevel according to what people in this field are doing. There seem to be two tracks of activities - and two levels.

Track KM = Management of Information. Researchers and practitiioners in this field have their education in computer and/or information science. They are involved in construction of informatiom management systems, AI, reengineering, group ware etc. To them knowledge = Objects that can be identified and handled in information systems.

Track KM = Management of People. Researchers and practitiioners in this field have their education in philosophy, psychology, sociology or business/management. They are primarily involved in assessing, changing and improving human individual skills and/or behaviour. To them knowledge = Processes, a complex set of dynamic skills, knowhow etc, that is constantly changing. Level: Individual Perspective. The focus in research and practise is on the individual.

Level: Individual Perspective. The focus in research and practise is on the individual.

Level: Organisational Perspective.The focus in research and practise is on the organisation.

Material in this section is under copyright by the author unless otherwise noted. As a collective work, (c)1996, 2002 The Knowledge Management Forum and Brian D. Newman. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Unauthorized copying strictly prohibited. Please address comments about this page to Last updated -- 8/3/2002