What is KM?

Someday the Knowledge Management profession may be able to stop introducing itself, but in a culture of management fads perhaps confusion and skepticism is to be expected. Knowledge Management however is not fad, it existed long before the term was coined, and will likely outlive it. From cave paintings, to storytelling, to books, to apprenticeships, to formal education and training, the value of capturing information and learning from our predecessors has been valued for centuries. Universities and professional organizations evolved not just to share knowledge, but to create environments where new knowledge can be developed. Most successful companies today got to where they are because they innovated, and innovation is what the human mind does with its knowledge when presented with a problem. People will naturally seek to learn and collaborate, but too often corporate environments get in the way; Knowledge Management seeks to clear the path, then support and guide what is already happening in a more effective direction than if it were left to chance.

Definition of Knowledge Management

Defining Knowledge ManagementThere are over a hundred “accepted” definitions of knowledge management (Dalkir, 2011) with a remarkable variance on meaning. As my knowledge of the profession grow has grown, my preferred definition has changed. I find few definitions address both the sharing and creating aspects of KM and many are too long to be useful, but this definition of knowledge management from APQC is both simple and complete:

Knowledge management (KM) is a systematic process that enables information and knowledge to grow, flow, and create value. The KM discipline is about connecting people to the information and expertise they need to achieve business results.

For some time, my preferred definition had been one developed by the Gartner Group and Bryant Duhon, “Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.” (Duhon, 1998) This definition is widely accepted, integrates the information life-cycle, and references tacit (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tacit) knowledge, but noticably leaves out knowledge creation.
APQC not only mentions growing knowledge, it goes on to explain why KM is important, “to achieve business results.”

Applying Knowledge Management to Business Needs

In The New Knowledge Management (McElroy, 2003) Mark McElroy described the first generation of knowledge management as “supply-side KM,” focused on integrating previously created knowledge by distributing, sharing, and integrating with other activities. McElroy goes on to describe “demand-side” knowledge processing, which adds the production of new knowledge to the “Knowledge Life Cycle”.
Many American companies have embraced an IT-centric version of knowledge management, however a machine can only be used to store information, analyze data, and even share knowledge; a human mind is required to produce new knowledge. An organization that only wants to share and distribute information may be able to afford to emphasize IT over KM, but an organization that wants to lead its industry in new ideas and innovation will benefit from knowledge management.

Rather than leaving things to chance, a Knowledge Manager will:

    1. Analyze the Knowledge Environment to identify knowledge requirements, flow, gaps and barriers.
    2. Design a strategy to create, enhance, or preserve knowledge flow and knowledge creation within the organization.
    3. Develop solutions to create, enhance, or preserve knowledge flow and knowledge creation in support of business objectives.
    4. Implement those solutions in a manner that will maximize adoption by the corporate culture.
    5. Evaluate the impact of solutions on the desired business objectives and analyze the effect on the knowledge environment.

KM In Action

Done right, knowledge management is a catalyst that works within other management models. It helps an organization ensure information is getting to, and knowledge is shared between, the decision makers, innovators and other knowledge workers in the organization. Information technology, information management, and content management, are just a few of the tools in a KM’s bag; so is an understanding of the principles of learning, organizational culture, change management, leadership and more.

Works Cited:

APQC. (2011). Process Classification Framework: Knowledge, Improvement, and Change Management Definitions and Key Measures. Houston, Texas: APQC.

Dalkir, K. (2011). Knowledge management in theory and practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Duhon, B. (1998). It’s all in our heads. Inform , 12 (8), 8-13.

Koenig, M. E. (2012, May 4). What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained. Retrieved February 22, 2014, from KM World:

McElroy, M. W. (2003). The Knowledge Life Cycle (KLC). Retrieved February 22, 2014, from KMCI:

McElroy, M. W. (2003). The New Knowledge Management: Complexity, learning, and sustainable innovation. Hartland Four Corners, VT: KMCI Press.

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2014). tacit. Retrieved February 22, 2014, from Merriam Webster:

Further Reading:

University of North Carolina, Introduction to Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management: a term lost in translation – Knoco stories

What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained – KM World