The Comprehensive Guide to Developing a Knowledge Management Strategy

Learn how to develop a comprehensive knowledge management strategy that supports current needs and prepares your organization for an AI-powered future. Discover the benefits of knowledge management programs and the importance of a strong information architecture. Improve efficiencies and deliver a superior customer experience through effective knowledge management.

Knowledge Management (KM) has recently gained significant attention due to the increasing demand for training data for artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Some organizations have established separate groups to support innovation in cognitive computing, as cognitive computing heavily relies on well-structured knowledge. However, this approach can lead to a fragmentation of knowledge.

Instead, organizations should focus on developing a comprehensive knowledge management program.

A comprehensive knowledge program achieves the following objectives:

  • Incorporates proven strategies for effectively capturing explicit knowledge.
  • Promotes collaboration and learning across different groups within the organization.
  • Establishes a culture that values knowledge creation, acquisition, access, transfer, and retention across all departments.
  • Addresses a wide range of use cases and scenarios to meet the diverse needs of the organization.

Organizations need a KM strategy that supports their current needs and sets them up for a future of AI-powered knowledge systems.

Knowledge Management Supports Customer Experience

The customer journey is a comprehensive exploration of knowledge. Customers require a clear understanding of offerings, products, services, and solutions. They rely on information to make informed choices, successfully install or use the product, and receive ongoing support and service.

The people who create the customer experience need access to a knowledge management system containing the knowledge resources specific to their day-to-day tasks. Thus, knowledge is a strategic asset critical to winning and keeping customers and supporting employees. 

The Quest for Knowledge in a Call Center

Think about a call center, for example. Call representatives need to be able to answer customer questions quickly and without searching through endless screens and knowledge systems. Frequently, support centers rely on tribal knowledge or implicit knowledge. Many times, the most valuable knowledge is not in a knowledge management tool or knowledge management system but in people’s heads. Increasingly, support organizations are trying to shift calls to self-service – through websites, apps, digital assistants, and chatbots. But that doesn't work without a consistent knowledge strategy,

Developing a cost-effective, consistent, holistic KM strategy can improve efficiencies today and prepare the organization for an AI-powered future in which the organization’s knowledge is available in context to support both internal and external processes.

Meeting Consumer Expectations

Customers expect much more today than they did just a few years ago. They expect businesses to deliver the right information at the right time through personalized digital interactions in the channel of their choice. 

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, and disparate spec sheets. Customer service reps have relied on siloed information scattered across multiple, fragmented systems. In many companies, employees don't have a shared, comprehensive source of information.

How can those circumstances accommodate evolving expectations? The short answer: They can't. A KM strategy addresses these needs in a methodical, consistent way.

So why hasn't everyone prioritized knowledge management? Because it's not easy. 

Assembling knowledge and making it accessible to both your internal teams and your customers is challenging. Luckily, while it was once difficult to show ROI on traditional knowledge management projects sufficient to justify investment, organizing and leveraging 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 more than technology. While knowledge management software is a necessary element of managing knowledge, the ability to get the right information to the right person at the right time depends on information architecture, the right supporting processes, and a culture of innovation that is characteristic of a learning organization. An effective knowledge management program involves applying best practices around developing a sound information access strategy, structuring knowledge assets using best practices to design an information architecture, and then sharing this knowledge with 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. When a knowledge gap is identified, new knowledge (usually from collaboration with a human resource/subject matter expert) must be captured and entered into the KM system. This system is typically a knowledge base; however, a KM system also typically includes review and approval workflow and collaboration functionality, creating a new explicit knowledge asset.

In contrast, tacit knowledge is much more difficult to explain to others 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 a knowledge management platform. Human judgment and expertise are forms of tacit knowledge. While tacit knowledge, by its nature, is difficult to manage, reference libraries of high-quality explicit knowledge allow humans to make the best of their tacit knowledge – their expertise and experience.

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, such as communicating with customers or writing effective product descriptions, can be considered implicit knowledge. Embedded processes may contain implicit knowledge – the knowledge is inherent to the process.

All organizations have their own blend of explicit, tacit, and implicit knowledge. The purpose of knowledge management is to recognize these types of knowledge, organize the explicit knowledge, and create expertise location and collaboration tools to enhance access to implicit and tacit knowledge to better equip organizational teams and serve your customers.

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

  • Achieve process innovation. Optimize corporate information to discover new efficiencies and develop a unique competitive advantage.
  • Gain competitive advantage. Organizations compete on knowledge. The faster and easier it is to access knowledge, the more agile the organization is – meaning it can respond to competitive threats and market opportunities more quickly.
  • 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 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.

Origins of Knowledge Management Strategy

All human progress is based on knowledge. Knowledge has been captured and organized since ancient times[1]. The concept of corporate knowledge management as a discipline originated from management consulting firms like Arthur D. Little (ADL), McKinsey & Company, and Ernst & 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 applications – such as document repositories and search systems - to handle and utilize this information – a technique that was later referred to as knowledge management and marketed to other large organizations. However, knowledge is more about unstructured information that comes from human collaboration and problem-solving and less about databases.

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

What Is the Knowledge Management Process?

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

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

What is the Knowledge Management Process? Three key steps are described below.

Step 1: Identify Processes that the Knowledge Management Strategy will support

The first step of a successful KM strategy is understanding how gaps in knowledge and difficulty in locating information are impacting the organization. A KM strategy needs to focus on a process that can be measured and that impacts the organization’s efficiency or effectiveness. A knowledge initiative in support of specific business process needs to identify measurable baselines and expected outcomes for funding to be justified. Digital transformations should always include a knowledge management strategy, which is sometimes missing from large-scale transformations. A plan to make it easier for people to get answers to their questions and collaborate with colleagues in support of a specific business objective is essential.

This step also involves determining which knowledge management technology makes the most sense for your organization and identifying organizational knowledge silos of information that currently exist. Creating a detailed plan to eliminate these silos and then implementing it will allow for a free flow of information for internal teams and for customers. See a knowledge management strategy in action here.

Step 2: Construct an Information Architecture

Many organizations want to jump right in and start using a knowledge management tool or knowledge base technology to deal with fragmented knowledge. Vendors increasingly suggest that artificial intelligence-powered tools will solve knowledge problems. However, artificial intelligence applications run on organized knowledge and data. Thus, building an information architecture is a crucial next step in the knowledge management process.

Every digital interaction throughout your operation depends on an information framework 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 the lines of communication open as your organization develops a robust information architecture strategy. This step in the knowledge management process is essential to ensuring that information is accessible, easily understood, explained, and known throughout the company. To find out how an information architecture strategy helped The Jackson Laboratory, click here.

Step 3: Innovate with Automation

Once an appropriate information architecture strategy is implemented, your organization can begin to implement technology to automate parts of the knowledge lifecycle processes.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that there either already is, or will be, artificial intelligence supporting your customer's buying journey. These virtual assistants, chatbots, and robotic process automation (RPA) 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. AI technologies can help apply a new information architecture to legacy content and can assist in the clean-up and curation of that content.

The Benefits of Knowledge Management Programs

The final stage of the knowledge management process is to leverage the benefits of your newly curated knowledge management program. To recap, a knowledge management strategy is a compilation of your organization’s explicit knowledge supporting a measurable business process. Tools and processes enable access to both explicit and tacit knowledge based on human judgment and experience through collaboration and expertise location. Technology and software are the enablers, but require a best practices approach to information architecture.

An effectively implemented knowledge management strategy and knowledge sharing program will allow your organization to realize the benefits of knowledge management:

  • Information that is easier to access and understand. Implementing a knowledge management program means eliminating information silos, resulting in a knowledge base that's easy for everyone within the company to navigate and utilize.
  • Transparent communication of policy and procedure information. Your teams can easily communicate policies and procedures to one another and, in turn, clearly communicate to customers.
  • Increased collaboration. With better communication and streamlined knowledge flows come more opportunities to collaborate across all departments.
  • Customers are connected with the right information. Knowledge-based software serves as a critical tool in delivering the right information to the right customer at the right time. Automated tools such as chatbots can improve the customer experience even further.

Ultimately, a well-executed knowledge management strategy will create a sustainable competitive advantage for your organization. Not having a KM strategy will place it at a disadvantage in the coming years.

Strategies to Improve Knowledge Management

An effective knowledge management strategy relies on a well-designed information architecture based on industry best practices. It also requires managing the knowledge review, approval, and disposition process, implementing the right tools, and allowing employees to draw collaboratively from well-designed knowledge bases.

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 correctly.

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

  • Rather than seeing a 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.
  • Embed knowledge transfer in education and training programs into your overall knowledge management strategy. Equipping your teams with the skills they need to use 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. Organizations often invest in an initial KM initiative without considering the need for ongoing program investment.
  • Emphasize the value of sound knowledge sharing with your leadership team. Leadership may need to be made more aware of the internal strain that poor knowledge sharing imparts on employees. Gain leadership buy-in to make the investment needed to improve your overall knowledge management program by explaining both the benefits of having a program that fosters information organizing and sharing and the drawbacks of poor knowledge sharing.

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 offered knowledge management strategy and implementation services for customers across a variety of industries. 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?

Schedule a no-cost briefing with one of our KM experts.

Read about how digital transformations sometimes lack knowledge management components.  

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.





Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.