Definition of Knowledge Management

Definition of Knowledge Management

Have you ever heard the saying, “Knowledge is Power?” In business, the knowledge that your organization holds can act as a competitive edge and an important asset. This is why knowledge management (KM), while a relatively nascent field, is crucial to a company’s success.

KM is often defined as an integrated approach of “identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets.”

What is knowledge management?

Online Community Forums, Learning Management Systems, or Customer Service Knowledge Bases are all examples of Knowledge Management Systems.

When an employee leaves an organization, they take with them their:

  • Knowledge
  • Expertise
  • Experience
  • Contacts

This means everything from their skills to their network and relationships is gone.

This loss can impact organizational output and cause a disruption in productivity.

Knowledge management attempts to prevent these losses by ensuring that internal information is captured, shared, and stored across an organization.

Companies lose billions of dollars each year because they fail to properly manage their knowledge structures. It’s no wonder this field has grown in interest and financial investment.

Why is knowledge management important to small businesses

When an organization has strong KM practices in place, they can reap the benefits of:

  • Improved decision-making: When making decisions, companies often collect pertinent information and then evaluate it to guide their thinking. When decision-makers have access to accurate, relevant, and curated data, they can make sound decisions much more quickly and confidently.
  • Innovation: In order to stay competitive, companies must always be looking toward innovation. Access to historical data is the foundation of innovation—having the data around what has or has not worked in the past helps direct change for the future. When organizations can quickly look back and get a clear picture, they can build on that to create new information. Being able to share knowledge and information across the world and remotely is also necessary for brainstorming and collaborative work. Companies that are unable to properly share information across borders make it difficult for their employees to collaborate.
  • Succession planning: When a leader leaves your organization, they take their expertise with them. Having their subject matter expertise intentionally documented in some kind of knowledge base helps with continuity when someone moves on from an organization.

Knowledge management helps codify their “know-how” and protects a company from significant disruptions in managing processes.

What is the history of knowledge management?

The concept and the terminology of KM have been traced back to the early days of the management consulting community. Consulting companies were the first to build tools like:

  • Intranets
  • Expert locators
  • Dashboards

Realizing these internal tools’ value, they began to market them to other organizations.

Consulting agencies began developing the field, tools, and best practices of knowledge management to their clients, and this was how KM was born in the 90s!

Characteristics of Knowledge Management

An easy way to understand KM is to break it down and discuss its 4 components, which include:

Content management: Organizations that manage their content well will have their organization’s data readily available to their internal users through: 

  • Portals
  • Dashboards
  • Content management systems

Expertise location: In an organization, subject matter experts hold a lot of domain and institutional knowledge. As companies become more global and remote, the organic knowledge transfer that would occur through watercooler chat no longer exists. This is why a knowledge management strategy uses expertise locator systems, which help identify and locate your experts.

Lessons learned: This refers to an organization’s efforts at capturing instructional knowledge or “How to” guides. An example includes knowledge bases.

Communities of practice: A community of practice is a group of individuals who come together frequently to share their:

  • Knowledge
  • Expertise
  • Lessons learned

For example, you may have a Community of Practice group around leadership, where leaders get together and discuss various topics, share experiences, and swap strategies with one another.

Knowledge management and remote work

Having proper knowledge bases for employees is more critical than ever as the world continues to work remotely. Now, companies need to have comprehensive information repositories to point their employees toward when they have questions.

For example, new hires need to know where they can go to access pertinent information related to their first few weeks of employment. When effective structures are in place, new hires can ramp up quickly as they don’t need to spend too much time fishing for information. They also learn to be more autonomous when they can easily find the correct information without asking their managers for help.

But it’s not enough to simply have the tools in place. Companies must dedicate proper resources to keeping their knowledge bases up to date. Data can become obsolete and out of date without information being constantly:

  • Created
  • Updated
  • Indexed

For example, if your company goes through a massive transformation, but your knowledge bases are not up to date, employees will lean on outdated processes and make mistakes.

Companies can also help by creating intentional virtual events that facilitate knowledge-sharing practices, such as town halls, leadership roundtables, and peer-to-peer learning.

Other terms similar to knowledge management that can assist you

  • Online Community Forums: “An online space created by an organization or a brand where members, customers, and fans can congregate, ask questions, receive peer-to-peer support, discuss interests surrounding the brand and make social connections.”
  • Learning Management Systems: “A software application that provides organizations with a framework for all aspects of the learning process.”
  • Customer Service Knowledge Bases: A way that “brands can enable their customers to help themselves, automating customer service as they want to.”

Looking forward to knowledge management

With 75 million Baby Boomers retiring by 2030, companies will definitely need to manage their knowledge correctly to ensure their companies are equipped for the new generation of workers.

Similar glossary definitions you must know

  • Contractor: A contractor is a self-employed individual. The contractor’s client (or the payer) has the right to control and direct only the result of the work — not what will be done, how it will be done, or where it will be done.
  • Applicant Tracking System: An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software application that lets recruiters and employers track candidates during the recruitment and hiring stages. Streamlines the recruitment and hiring processes from start to end.
  • Inventory Information Approval System: The Inventory Information Approval System (IIAS) standard is an Internal Revenue Service-approved inventory management standard that allows merchants such as grocery and drug stores to automatically identify whether a particular product in their inventory is a flexible spending account (FSA) or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)-eligible expense.

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