Knowledge Management (KM) is commonly defined as the process for enabling individuals within an organization to effectively share information and knowledge to save time and make better decisions. KM has become a strategic initiative in
Many organizations, yet during difficult economic times, special libraries, information centers, or KM are often targeted as cost savings opportunities.
Knowledge Management has many definitions, but KM primarily deals with organizing and maintaining information and knowledge within an organization. Information professionals are best suited for these roles, and have been performing these tasks for decades. Some organizations have made this connection and rather than exploring what it might take to build up a knowledge management program, simply add managing organizational knowledge to the information professional’s existing responsibilities. While KM is an excellent opportunity to elevate the library’s position in the company and promote the staff’s skills, it is often a daunting task.
Unfortunately, eliminating this function within organizations more often than not has a negative effect. When organizations lose people, they lose a considerable amount of institutional Knowledge. Capturing this information becomes even more important during economic downturns; however, it also becomes more difficult. Just as the library may be affected by downsizing, the knowledge workers of organizations are also Potential victims. As a result, individuals are not as willing to share what they know. They feel if their insight is shared, their personal value is decreased. These attitudes can further cripple an already fragile organization. Despite these challenges, there are methods for keeping KM a viable function within an Organization, including ways to encourage knowledge sharing when individuals may not be as willing.
The Role of Knowledge Management:
Knowledge Management (KM) has been around long enough for it to achieve the latest business fad status. TQM and BPR and many other business acronyms were once popular trends, but have since been replaced by new management styles.
KM is still on the rise and appears to be a sustainable trend. A recent study by Gartner Group estimates that more than half of the Fortune 1000 companies will implement a KM system by 2003. IDC adds that the KM marketplace will exceed $12 billion by 2003.
Many companies have been affected by the recession, which has resulted in costcutting measures. While KM revolves around people, unfortunately people are often let go when the economy weakens. Often these measures are shortsighted and can cost the organization more money in the long-term. Each employee that leaves through layoffs or attrition takes their institutional knowledge with them.2 Gartner estimates that worker productivity can increase by as much as 30% when companies invest in KM systems. Other benefits include increased market shares, learning from previous mistakes, and having the accumulated knowledge of the enterprise at hand.3 Companies have touted that their true value is their human capital. However, when layoffs occur, employees begin to distrust their employers and protect their intellectual assets.
People whose primary job is to do something with knowledge: to create it, distribute it, apply it. They use their knowledge and know-how to “gather, analyse, add value and communicate information to empower decision making” "They are the key source of growth in most organizations. New products and services, new approaches to marketing, new business models—all these come from knowledge workers. So if you want your economy to grow, your knowledge workers had better be doing a good job.
The definition of knowledge worker has proved elusive since coined by Peter Drucker half a century ago. Drucker intended the term to describe a successor class to factory workers, but today we can define knowledge workers as participants in the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy suggests an economic environment where information and its manipulation are the commodity and the activity (in contrast to the industrial economy where workers produced a tangible object with raw production materials and physical goods).
Today, knowledge workers comprise a plurality of the work force. While at the beginning of the 20th century, unskilled labor accounted for about 90% of the work force, today that figure is closer to 20%. As a result, the knowledge work force has become the linchpin to an organization's success, as the world morphs into a knowledge economy. The change represents a significant challenge to managers who are accustomed to managing workers in more traditional roles. The minimum cost of tools and technologies that supports these workers, estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per employee per year, is growing steadily, yet most companies have failed to recognize the changes they need to make in how they conduct business.
Knowledge workers are sometimes referred to as information workers, and sometimes people argue that information workers perform more menial tasks than knowledge workers. But Drucker cited a wide spectrum of knowledge workers, ranging from the file clerk to the X-ray technologist and junior accountant, to the surgeon and engineer. Because a quick glance in the dictionary reveals that "knowledge" is defined as "specific information ... " and "information" defined as "knowledge," it is better to say that there is no distinction between knowledge workers and information workers and move on.
It may be more appropriate to first define and understand what "knowledge-work" is all about in order to understand those who do it, and the implications for managing them. There are three key features, which differentiate knowledge-work from other forms of conventional work.
Firstly, while all jobs entail a mix of physical, social and mental work, the basic task in knowledge-work is thinking - it is mental work, which adds value to work. Unlike the salesman who interacts, negotiates and persuades to achieve his targets, or the shopfloor operator who performs physical operations (does things), the knowledge worker adds value to work through mental activities. Knowledge-work involves activities such as analyzing and solving problems, deriving conclusions, and applying these conclusions to other situations. Naturally, the effectiveness of the knowledge worker would depend on the mental skills and mastery of certain intellectual discipline and expertise (e.g., knowledge of theoretical frameworks, model-building, problem-solving techniques, etc.). This is a key factor, which distinguishes a punch-key operator sitting in front of a PC terminal from a software programmer.
Secondly, the kind of thinking involved in knowledge-work is not a step-by-step linear mental work. For instance, the accountant who calculates the payroll knows the exact mental steps to follow to achieve the desired results. Payroll calculation involves thinking, but only to the extent of processing information; it is not knowledge-work. But this may not be true of the work of a consultant, who has to be creative and non-linear in his thinking (i.e., work out how to think) to develop solutions for the client.
The third distinctive feature of knowledge-work is that it uses knowledge to produce more knowledge. When the software professional uses his knowledge of writing codes to increase the efficiency of the programmed, or when the investment analyst uses his knowledge of markets to develop an investment strategy, they are creating new ways of applying knowledge. Thus, knowledge-work is more than mere application of known knowledge; the outcome of knowledge-work is creation of new knowledge.
21st November 2009 From India, Vapi