Valuable information isn't any use if you can't find it or share it with your employees. Knowledge management is a systematic approach to gathering, sharing and effectively using knowledge. IT is a big part of knowledge management systems, but they can also include hard-copy documents and the expertise of your individual employees.
Knowledge management systems such as wikis, databases or an employee handout of best practices make it easier for you and your team to share experience and knowledge. This can make it easier to reach decisions faster and better, to train and develop employees and to get the maximum use of your team's skills and abilities.
Management consultants were the first to preach the importance of acquiring, organizing and sharing knowledge within a company. As the business world entered the IT era, consultants saw that intranets, databases and wikis could be used to share information between veterans and newbies, headquarters and branch offices. The term "knowledge management" was first used in 1987.
There are lots of reasons you might see advantages of knowledge management in your organization.
- You want your sales force to benefit from each other's experience so you set up a "lessons learned" database or wiki.
- Your company's branching out geographically. A knowledge management system can make the policies you adopt at HQ available to the rest of the company.
- Your files are growing so huge you need an organized document management system.
- You want a reference library your staff can browse to upgrade their knowledge and skills.
- Your staff needs a list of who to call first when there's an emergency.
- You want your staff to have a guide to who the experts are in particular fields if someone needs advice or guidance.
If you're convinced of the advantages of knowledge management in your organization, the next step is to draw up a strategy. Asking yourself questions is a good beginning:
- How effectively is your company using its knowledge?
- What are your processes and policies on sharing information?
- What knowledge management system benefits are you hoping for? Is it simply to reduce errors and time lost figuring stuff out, or do you see a way to leverage knowledge for greater market share?
- How will you get buy-in from stakeholders, senior management and employees? Setting up a wiki or a database won't do any good if nobody writes anything in them.
These questions can help you see what sort of system will fit in with your overall business plans.
Before you commit, it's important to weigh the knowledge management system advantages and disadvantages. If you don't think the knowledge management system benefits outweigh the drawbacks, there's no point to going ahead. The advantages are considerable:
- Improved agility as you have the information to make faster decisions.
- With best practices and lessons learned organized in the system, you can solve problems more quickly.
- The resources in your knowledge management system can support your employees' growth and development.
- Specialists can share their expertise with multiple employees with one entry in a wiki.
- Better communication.
- It's easier to find, use and reuse relevant information.
- Better knowledge can help you recognize market trends and spot problems.
- You get the maximum use out of your team's existing skills and expertise.
- By having more knowledge and experience available, you can make better decisions.
However, there's also a downside:
- You have to motivate your team to share their knowledge, and to use the information you've made available.
- You and your people have to capture and record business knowledge efficiently.
- You have to choose and implement a system that works with your company's existing processes and fits with your business strategy.
- Knowledge management is a continuous process. It's not enough for experts to enter their information – they have to go back and update it regularly as things change.
To succeed, you need clearly defined goals and knowledge management strategies. You also have to develop a business culture where sharing, using and updating knowledge is standard practice.