Knowledge management is key

Friday, 4 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Pradeepa Kekulawala

The concept and the practice of knowledge management (KM) has been in existence and spoken of in the western world during the past two decades. There are designated “knowledge managers” In more recent times in Sri Lanka too knowledge management has been regarded as an important component of business management as a business driver.

Progressive local companies and MNCs – very few in number – have formal knowledge management systems (KMS) and in professional and academic learning knowledge management has become a key subject in recent times. Furthermore there exists a plethora of research and literature on the subject written by a host of practitioners and academics.

However, due to the novelty of the subject and the lack of professionals who are hands on with the technical and soft skill aspects of KM, Sri Lankan businesses across and business leaders in a macro sense are not fully familiar with KM, its rationale, implications and above all the benefits.

At the outset it has to be understood that organisations run and exist on knowledge! Although we do not seem to realise and appreciate this reality, running a business organisation is simply making the best use of the knowledge available and necessary to turn products and services into cash, profits and growth.

Consider all vitals – human resource, product and market, the competition, technology, management, financial and operational – without knowledge of these business organisations would simply not exist. This in fact is the basis of the evolution of “knowledge worker” and “learning organisation” concepts. Therefore it can’t be disputed that knowledge is the key.

Here it must be explained that that there are essentially too knowledge bases in organisations. Explicit – as the term suggests – knowledge is the body knowledge which is formally stored in organisations – whether it be in computers or hard copy files in cabinets – which are easily accessible records of all events, transactions, projects, plans and initiatives etc. past and present. This knowledge component is comparatively easily gathered, stored and accessed.

Tacit – the implicit or untouchable – knowledge is that which is carried in people’s heads! The education, the intelligence and wisdom, the work experience and exposure – all that influences a person’s output in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, approach to work and problem solving plus most importantly the “sixth sense” or intuition (a vital attribute) is tacit knowledge and is extremely difficult to capture, store and retain.

Whilst the explicit knowledge can be stored and kept for posterity or future use tacit knowledge enters and exits an organisation with people’s entry and exit from organisations. Unless captured and retained or in other words the knowledge is managed!

What is Knowledge Management?

KM is the process of creating, acquiring, distributing, sharing, utilising and preserving of both explicit and tacit knowledge in organisations to meet organisational goals and objectives. In other words making optimum use of the knowledge that exist and available to organisations through formal and elaborate means.

The above process is highly defined and uses principles of information management systems using information technology. KMS or knowledge portals in organisations use varied IT platforms. There are “off the shelf” KM software as well as “home grown” systems by organisations. Elaborate methods are used to tap into the “TACIT” knowledge in organisations which are not always voluntarily given or can be extracted in the ideal manner and context one would prefer.

So from “intranet” based chat rooms and bill boards to discussion fora, “how I’d do it” problem solving knowledge posts and “pick a brain” interview sessions there are many techniques used to draw out knowledge and wisdom in people.

Thereafter software based knowledge cataloguing and storing in electronic “knowledge repositories” are done and systemised for selective and easy access by the organisational users when necessary for planning, knowledge upgrading, strategising and decision making. The system is administered ideally by a knowledge manager.

I attempted to uncover the extent to which KM is practiced in leading organisations in Sri Lanka as part of a post graduate research exercise. A number of leading organisations were interviewed and studied to determine whether there is a direct positive relationship in the success of high performing businesses in Sri Lanka to the extent they adopt identified and accepted knowledge management practices.

My findings unearthed that amongst a majority (over 65%) of the companies I studied     knowledge management exists. However, very few companies had generic and specific KM systems or had not invested adequately in optimising the knowledge existent. However, due to the “knowledge asset” mindset prevalent amongst the senior management a “knowledge culture” was evidenced in these organisations.  I came to the conclusion empirically that in these companies the extent of KM practice positively relate to organisational performance through a research framework which I developed and by establishing that in these companies

1.Knowledge is a key component in corporate strategic planning

2.They compare or bench mark strategic knowledge with that of the competition

3.There exists a knowledge strategy to initiate value creation

4.They boast of a dedicated KM group who are entrusted with the KRA of value creation (not in all companies)

5.They identify sources of expertise internal and external to the organisation (incl. customers) – they are “exploited” or made use of

6.Employees are valued for what they know (considered knowledge assets)

7.They always look for opportunities to experiment and learn about customers, products & services, internal operations (a learning culture/organisation)

8.Knowledge sharing is encouraged and rewarded

9.Formal organisational procedures exist for transferring/sharing best practices

10.Dedicated “KM tools/software” are in use (not in all)

It is also pertinent to mention that the author had the good fortune of giving leadership and driving the successful implementation of one of the very first in house KMSs in a local organisation.

Knowledge is power they say. In that light it is evident that knowledge best used or optimised would bring in absolute “power” over the competition. In Sri Lanka we have a long way to go in this direction.

At present mostly it is the HR department in the above referred organisations who drive KM; and in some cases research and planning department. Very few “knowledge managers” exist. But we are definitely turned to the right direction. I predict that “Chief Knowledge Officer” would be a highly sort after position in organisation in this country in the very near future.

(The writer is an HRD professional and an executive committee member of the Association of HR Professionals. He is a Director of The Talent Gallery and AOTS – corporate trainers/change agents.)