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The Comprehensive Guide to Knowledge Management

Knowledge about your customers and how to solve their problems has always fueled competitive advantage. Let’s face it: Those that harness knowledge to deliver optimized digital experiences to customers have the upper hand.

For decades, sales and customer service teams have engaged with customers, working with internal databases and one another to deliver superior experiences. Salespeople reference personal spreadsheets, private folders of product information, disparate spec sheets. Customer service reps rely on siloed information scattered across multiple, fragmented systems. When a specific need arises, there isn't one common source for teams to reference.

Customers expect much more today. It is now necessary for businesses to curate and implement a sound knowledge management program to deliver the right information to the customer through personalized digital interactions and empower internal employees. So, why hasn’t everyone prioritized knowledge management?

The challenge is assembling knowledge and making it easily accessible to both your internal teams and your customers. Luckily, while it was once difficult to show sufficient ROI on traditional knowledge management projects, organizing and leveraging your information is now seen as critical to organizational success. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start your own knowledge management journey.

Keep reading this comprehensive guide to learn more about:

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge management is all about getting the right information to the right person at the right time. An effective knowledge management program involves developing a sound information access strategy, structuring that data into an organized information architecture, and then sharing this knowledge to both your internal teams and external customers.

As a discipline, knowledge management encompasses three forms of knowledge creation: explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge, and implicit knowledge.  

Explicit knowledge, also referred to as formal knowledge or codified knowledge, is the most basic form of knowledge. It can be easily accessed, understood, and shared because it is written down. Once data is processed, categorized, structured, and explained, the result is explicit knowledge. White papers, research reports and data spreadsheets are all examples of explicit knowledge. 

In contrast, tacit knowledge is much more difficult to explain or write down in a tangible form. It is the knowledge that humans acquire from personal experiences. An example of tacit knowledge could be your ability to recognize body language in prospects close to making a purchase. In general, tacit knowledge isn’t easy to articulate, but there are still strategies for incorporating it into your knowledge management platform.

Implicit knowledge is the knowledge that emerges by taking explicit knowledge and applying it to a specific situation. Skills that can be transferred from one job to another, like communicating with customers or writing effective product descriptions, are considered implicit knowledge.  

All organizations will have their own blend of explicit, tacit, and implicit knowledge. The purpose of knowledge management is to recognize these facets of knowledge, organize them, and then make sense of the resulting internal knowledge base to better equip your teams and serve your customers. 

Better knowledge management will also help your organization achieve the following goals:

  • Achieve process innovation. Optimize your information to discover new efficiencies and develop a unique competitive advantage.
  • Gain an unparalleled competitive advantage. Surpass competing organizations through increased visibility to processes that hinder and help business productivity.
  • Differentiate your organization in the marketplace. Create a unique customer experience through easily accessible information and efficient processes.
  • Streamline internal and external processes. Simplify your business processes while both reducing risk and achieving overall organization objectives.  

While knowledge management tools might be a new component of your organization’s digital transformation, it’s not an entirely new concept. 

Where Did Knowledge Management Come From? 

The concept of knowledge management originated from management consulting firms like Arthur D. Little, McKinsey and Company, and Ernst and Young (EY). With the rise of the Internet came vast amounts of information dispersed across different platforms and entire organizations. In response, firms quickly began developing dashboards and databases to handle and utilize this information—a technique later coined as knowledge management and marketed to other large organizations.

While the core definition and components of knowledge management have stayed relatively constant since the 1980s, the actual knowledge management process is frequently changing. 

What is the Knowledge Management Process? 

In the past, the knowledge management process was all about organizing information and leveraging search engines to help customers find information quickly and easily. Now, it’s about anticipating what customers need and getting that information to them in an automated way.

While each modern-day knowledge management process is unique to each organization, there are several key stages that remain the same across all organizational knowledge strategies. 

What is the Knowledge Management Process? 

1. Develop a Knowledge Management Strategy 

The first step of a successful knowledge management process is developing a digital information access strategy. Essentially, you need a plan to make it easier for people to get answers to their questions and collaborate with colleagues.

This strategy involves determining which knowledge management technology makes the most sense for your organization, while also identifying organizational knowledge silos of information that currently exist. 

Creating a detailed plan to eliminate these silos will allow for a free flow of information for both your internal teams and your customers.  See a knowledge management strategy in action here

2. Construct an Information Architecture 

Many organizations want to jump right into AI-powered technology to enhance their fragmented knowledge management program. However, artificial intelligence applications run on organized knowledge and data. Thus, building an information architecture for your organization is a crucial next step in the knowledge management process. 

Every digital interaction throughout your operation is dependent upon the information framework you have built to support it. Enterprises—especially complex ones—need a common language for knowledge and data. Without it, processes, people, and systems cannot talk to one another. 

Keep your lines of communication open with a robust information architecture strategy. This step of the knowledge management process is essential to ensuring information is accessible, easily understood and explained, and known throughout the company. Read how an information architecture strategy helped The Jackson Laboratory.  

3. Innovate with Automation 

Once an appropriate information architecture strategy is put in place, your organization can begin to implement technology to automate your knowledge lifecycle processes. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there either already is, or will be, artificial intelligence in your customer’s buying journey. And these virtual assistants, chat bots, and robotic process automation systems all demand curated, well structured content and information architecture. Evaluate and capitalize on the technology available to your organization today to significantly improve your knowledge management program. 

The final stage of the knowledge management process? Leverage the benefits of your newly curated knowledge management program. 

The Benefits of Knowledge Management Programs

To recap, a knowledge management program is a compilation of your team’s explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge and implicit knowledge, along with the technology and software used to house this information in a complex, yet organized knowledge base. 

An effectively implemented knowledge sharing program will allow you to realize the benefits of knowledge management: 

  • Information that is easier to access and understand. Implementing a knowledge management program means eliminating existing information silos, resulting in a knowledge base that’s easy to navigate and utilize, no matter your role within the company.  
  • Transparent communication. Your teams will be able to easily communicate information to one another and, in turn, clearly communicate to customers.
  • Increased collaboration. With better communication comes more opportunities to collaborate on both sales and marketing initiatives.
  • Customers are connected with the right information. Your knowledge base software serves as a critical tool in delivering the right information to the right customer at the right time. And automated tools, like chatbots, can improve the customer experience even further.

Ultimately, a well-organized knowledge management program will lead to an unparalleled, sustainable competitive advantage for your organization. 

Does your company suffer from information silos or an improperly functioning knowledge management program? Continue reading for a few strategies to improve your existing knowledge management process. 

Strategies to Improve Knowledge Management

An effective knowledge management strategy means developing a robust information architecture, archiving your information appropriately, implementing the right tools, and employees drawing collaboratively from a common knowledge base.

So, why do many organizations find themselves with the right tools, technologies, and applications, but still can’t find what they’re looking for?

The answer: They’re not using their knowledge assets in the right way.

Here are a few strategies to improve your company’s knowledge sharing process: 

  • Rather than seeing your knowledge management strategy as a project with a beginning and an end, companies should see it as a program that requires continuous maintenance and investment to stay relevant.  
  • Imbed a knowledge transfer training program into your overall knowledge management strategy. Equipping your teams with the skills they need to take advantage of your knowledge management program will result in upskilled and motivated employees.  
  • Test your knowledge sharing process with a variety of team members. Encouraging interaction from varied teams within your organization will ensure that your knowledge management program is complete and functioning properly.
  • Allocate sufficient funds to the ongoing maintenance of your knowledge management strategy. Oftentimes, organizations pay for initial knowledge sharing strategies without considering the need for future investment.
  • Emphasize the value of sound knowledge sharing to your leadership team. Most C suites understand the impact of a knowledge management program on their company’s competitive advantage, but often don’t realize the internal strain poor knowledge sharing imparts on employees. Gain leadership buy-in to improve your overall knowledge management program. 

For more strategies to improve knowledge management, view our webcast, Back to Basics: Getting to the Next Level in Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management and Earley Information Science

At Earley Information Science, our team of information architecture and data governance experts help customers eliminate information silos, establish a solid knowledge management program, and ultimately accelerate success. 

For over 25 years, we have worked with customers across a variety of industries to strategically develop and implement information systems. See examples of how knowledge management and EIS have converged to streamline and improve company operations in these case studies: 


Need help with your own knowledge management program? Lay the foundation for your organization’s knowledge management success with our Digital Transformation Roadmap. With this whitepaper, assess and identify the gaps within your company, then define the actions and resources you need to fill those gaps.

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Earley Information Science Team
Earley Information Science Team
We're passionate about enterprise data and love discussing industry knowledge, best practices, and insights. We look forward to hearing from you! Comment below to join the conversation.

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