Knowledge management has become a red-hot buzzword in management circles since its emergence in the early 1990s.
There's been much hype around the practice, which has led serious managers to ask if it has any substance.
A preliminary assessment of the results of knowledge management in practicing compa- nies shows that it is real and very much alive, even though some companies are capitalizing on the concept in name only.
No doubt, many companies have jumped on the knowledge-management bandwagon without understanding the meaning and implica- tions of this fuzzy branch of management sci- ence. In fact, most companies are still grappling with the concept today. And technology compa- nies have cloaked themselves in the new cloth of knowledge management to boost the sales of existing data management products. It's no surprise, then, that scores of de- finitions for knowledge management exist.
Despite the many interpretations, a good number of companies have grasped the essence of knowledge management and successfully leveraged it to produce concrete business results. In particular, large international companies have found knowledge management useful in facilitating inter-active flows of knowledge across the organization worldwide.
To the critics who dismiss knowledge management as just a fad, here's what practitioners have to say. "Knowledge management is not about yet another operational efficiency fad. It is about the strategy of the company," says Karl-Erik Sveiby, the founding father of the concept of "knowledge organizations." Dan Holtshouse, director of corporate business strategy at Xerox Corp., Rochester, New York, says with a positive tone, "There is something very real."
Holtshouse, the firm's knowledge initiative leader, says the company has looked at 60 to 70 case studies of companies and found they have been doing real work around the subject. "I'm very sympathetic to the skeptics because they either haven't engaged in the subject yet or may be engaged in the wrong way," he says. "Thirdly, they are not too adaptive to change.
So there's a certain resistance."
As the understanding of knowledge management gradually increases, fewer and fewer companies consider it a passing trend. According to a KPMG knowledge management study conducted in early 1998, only 2 per-cent of respondents considered knowledge management to be a fad, com-pared with nearly 33 percent in a similar survey done in 1997.
A Management Review survey conducted late last year confirmed a confidence in knowledge management as a strategy that will offer a com-petitive edge in the future (see page 20 for our survey results). Although as many as 63 percent of the 1,626 U.S. respondents said they did not have a knowledge management program in place in their organizations, the ma-jority (79 percent) believe knowledge management is vital to their compa-nies' future success. Apparently, it's not just another buzzword.
The central theme of knowledge management is to leverage and reuse resources that already exist in the organization so that people will seek out best practices rather than reinvent the wheel. Companies usually take one or more of the following ap- proaches to knowledge management to achieve this objective:
* Capturing, storing, retrieving and distrib-uting tangible knowledge assets, such as copy-rights, patents and licenses.
* Gathering, organizing and disseminating intangible knowledge, such as professional know-how and expertise, individual insight and experience, creative solutions and the like.
* Creating an interactive learning environ-ment where people readily transfer and share what they know, …