What is Knowledge Management anyway?

What is Knowledge Management anyway?


I was recently asked that question by a friend who visited my blog and tried to figure out “what is it that you do anyway?!?” So I promised I’ll explain in a future post and here it is…

First I’ll say that from my experience, if you ask 10 people who define themselves as experts in Knowledge Management (KM from now on) to define KM, most likely you would get 10 different answers… actually, sometimes when you asked the same person that same question on different occasions you may get different answers! (You can get some examples in a blog post titled “Definition of KM” in “Gowry’s View of Knowledge Management” blog).
If I have to pick one definition I’ll take this one by Karl Wiig, Chairman and CEO Knowledge Research Institute (1997):
“Knowledge management is the systematic, explicit, and deliberate building, renewal, and application of knowledge to maximize an enterprises knowledge-related effectiveness and returns from its knowledge assets.”
To me, this mean Knowledge is considered an asset and as such we (and organizations in particular) should manage it in the same way we manage any other asset – working methodically to increase the quantity & quality of this asset.

You may ask yourself first, what is knowledge? (You should by the way…) we have:

  • Explicit (meaning clear, physical, obvious – that you can see) can be structured / unstructured:
    • Structured – in databases or other data structures such as XML for example, in a way that allows us to easily distinguish between parameters and characteristics in order to analyze it.
    • Unstructured – bulk text files, documents etc. that are not as organized and therefor it is harder to deduce insights and they require diving deeper into the content in order to get to the answer or insight you seek.
  • Tacit (implied, not physical) ideas, experiences and insights that people carry in their heads.
The problem (mainly) with the tacit knowledge is that we depend on the person that is actually holding this type of knowledge in his head to be available when we need him, and sadly that’s not always the case… people change positions in the course of their careers, they may leave the company and for sure they go home from time to time and take the knowledge with them!

Since knowledge is an asset, our goal should be to capture this knowledge and allow it to exist within the company systems so that we may leverage it whenever we need.


So the easiest diagram describing the main functions of KM includes 3 functions – we need to capture the knowledge, map so that eventually we can leverage it (and go back and capture the new knowledge that is generated….)

That’s more or less what KM is about… so why are there so many different definitions to KM out there? Why almost every company struggles with the question of how to implement KM? I can think of several reasons:
  1. KM is a multi-disciplinary practice that involves methodology and tools for independent fields of expertise such as document management, collaboration, social networking and much more, so KM for each company may be composed differently.
  2. Delivery of a good KM solution requires analysis of the people should serve, the processes they follow, the tools that are available and the culture that exists and addressing each of these aspects. That means the KM expert should be part System analyst, part business analyst, part organizational consultant, part psychologist and part philosopher (and it’s that part in particular or again the different solutions that are offered in each case that lead to so many definitions…)
I hope I gave you some clue as to what KM is and what it is that I do,
feel free to respond and ask questions, in the future I’ll dive deeper in to some of the topics I’ve mentioned here and lots of others.

Related posts