Knowledge management has gone through many cycles of popularity during which its value was alternately recognized or rejected. Most recently it has gained new attention due to the need for training data for artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Some organizations are creating separate groups to support innovation in cognitive computing, since cognitive computing runs on correctly structured knowledge; however, that approach will lead to greater knowledge fragmentation.
Instead, organizations need to build a holistic knowledge management program that accomplishes the following:
- Includes best practices in capturing explicit knowledge,
- Encourages cross-group collaboration and organizational learning,
- Establishes an organizational culture of knowledge creation/knowledge acquisition, knowledge access, knowledge transfer, and knowledge retention across departments, and
- Serves multiple use cases and scenarios.
In other words, organizations should develop a KM strategy that supports current needs and also a future of AI-powered knowledge systems.
KM for Customer Experience
The customer journey is truly a knowledge journey. Customers need to understand offerings, products, services, and solutions. They need information in order to make selections, to install or use the product, and to obtain ongoing support and service. Since the customer experience cuts across so many departments and processes, it is important that every individual in each department has access to the knowledge assets they need to accomplish a specific task in support of a specific business process.
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. Knowledge runs the 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 is in people’s heads. They may seek answers through folder structures on shared drives or personal organizing principles on their local desktops. Increasingly, support organizations are trying to shift calls to self-service – through websites, apps, and digital assistants and chatbots. However, these systems are often built without a consistent knowledge strategy that includes developing a knowledge architecture based on best practices. Leadership needs to view existing knowledge as a strategic asset and identify the locations of critical knowledge and high-value intellectual capital, and then define tools, systems, and processes for enabling and streamlining knowledge flow.
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 externally facing processes.
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 are forced to rely on siloed information scattered across multiple, fragmented systems. When a specific need arises, no common source of information is available for all the teams to reference. A KM strategy addresses these needs in a methodical, consistent way.
Customers expect much more today than they did just a few years ago. 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 answer is that assembling knowledge and making it easily accessible to both your internal teams and your customers is not an easy task. 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. If your, organization, has developed a KM initiative to solve a specific problem for a business unit, the lessons learned can be applied to another business unit or department. Knowledge management strategies are iterative and constantly evolving as the needs of the enterprise evolve.
Keep reading this comprehensive guide to learn more about:
- What is Knowledge Management
- Knowledge Management Process
- Benefits of Knowledge Management Programs
- Strategies to Improve Knowledge Management
- Knowledge Management and Earley Information Science
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 a 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 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. When a knowledge gap is identified, new knowledge (usually from collaboration with a human resource/subject matter expert) needs to 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 in addition to 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 judgement 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 to 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 . 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.
- 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 is impacting the organization’s efficiency or effectiveness. A knowledge initiative in support of specific business process needs to identify measurable baselines and expected outcomes in order for funding to be justified. Digital transformations should always include a knowledge management strategy, but sometimes this is 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 .
- 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. Increasingly, vendors are suggesting 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 is dependent upon 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 and explained, and known throughout the company. To find out how an information architecture strategy helped The Jackson Laboratory, click here.
- Innovate with Automation
Once an appropriate information architecture strategy is put in place, 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. And 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 in support of 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 will be able to 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 base 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 lead to 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 employees drawing 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 in the right way.
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 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. Organizations often invest in an initial KM initiative without considering the need for ongoing program investment.
- Emphasize the value of sound knowledge sharing to 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 making 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 a 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:
- Role-Based Knowledge Management | Co-op Insurance
- R&D Knowledge Management Roadmap | Janssen
- Information Management Strategy and Architecture | The Ford Foundation
- Applied Materials Improves Knowledge Sharing and Reuse
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