Knowledge Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Knowledge Management

The Nature of Knowledge in organisations

Knowledge and Business Success

Generation of New Knowledge and Usage of Existing Knowledge

Requirements for Successful Knowledge Management (Infrastructure)

What is knowledge?

Hearing the word "knowledge" many people first think of expertise which is an important but not the only puzzle stone of what knowledge is all about. Knowledge forms a framework out of experiences, expertise (based on skills and abilities), values, rules and context information for judging and integrating new experiences and information. Formation and usage of knowledge takes place in the brain and is therefore bound to individuals. Knowledge is both a process and a stock. Knowledge is drawn one third out of documents and two-thirds get across by personal contacts like formal training or informal talks [DaPr97].


What is the difference between data, information and knowledge?

Knowledge relies to a certain extend on data, codified tokens without interpretation of their meaning. They are the raw material for the creation of information which reaches as a message the receiver for whom the content causes a change (world picture, self-conception) and helps him to get a new insight accepted. The usage of knowledge leads to ability of the person who acts willingly. If one acts correctly in the context one could speak of competence in this knowledge domain which leads to competitiveness in the long run. This is best illustrated by the "Knowledge Staircase" [Nort98].

Knowledge Staircase


Is knowledge an object or a process?

Knowledge is the result of a learning process. If it can be codified and stored in a form usable for others, knowledge is an object. If this knowledge pieces are reused by individuals for their purposes, then it is built in the individual context of the user. In this case one could speak of knowledge as a process.


What modes of knowledge are there?

Knowledge may be available in individual form bound basically to a person. Knowledge in collective mode may be found in processes, routines, practices and rules of an organisational unit or working group. Another knowledge mode essential for knowledge management is implicit and explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is the individual knowledge base of a person which cannot be easily communicated, whereas explicit knowledge is methodical, systematical, and is available in articulated mode. It may be disseminated with aid of information and communication technology. The root problem of knowledge management is the transition of implicit knowledge to explicit ones. Only explicit knowlegde is at call for the organisation usable for all its members. Knowledge may exist internally or externally at consultants or co-operation partners of the company. The "Knowledge Cube" illustrates this context in three-dimensional form [Mitt99b].

Knowledge Cube


What forms of knowledge are there?

The following forms of knowledge [Baec98, p. 6ff] may be distinguished in organisations, which help to delimit knowledge management from the concept of the learning organisation [FrBa99].
Product knowledge consists of knowledge of the product itself and of production knowledge. The first relates to the problem solving a product contributes to a certain extend, and the second to what technologies enable a cost effective and efficient production. Product knowledge is widely explicit and internal.
Expert knowledge comprises knowledge of relevant environments of an organisation describing how e.g. Abläufe anders als bisher gestaltet werden können. It is also explicit and may be internal or external depending on the incorporation of external advisors.
Leadership knowledge contains all standards and rules for coordination of work sharing, for authority and discipline as well as the organisational specific tools for people management. It defines the way how product and expert knowledge is treated and it is mostly of implicit mode.
Ambience knowledge combines knowledge about what expectations are drawn on whom, how controlling mechanisms work and are to be handled, which intention is expressed by what wording. It is seldom ecplicit and becomes visible through concrete experience. The demarcation to leadership resp. societal knowledge cannot be clearly met.
Societal knowledge defines what an organisation looks like, how it functions, which behavior rules obtain inside and outside the organisation, and also which legal guidelines apply for the organiastion. Ist is mostly implicit and operates as an permanent framework of all apperceptions and interpretations.
Knowledge management deals rather with product and expert knowledge and the rationing of these knowledge forms, whereas organisational learning with leadership, ambience, and societal knowledge and its critical questioning.


How far is individual knowledge important to the organisation?

The whole knowledge of an organisation is based on the knowledge of its members. If one member leaves the enterprise, then often a part of the organisational knowledge gets lost as well. With help of systematised knowledge management this problem might be reduced.


What is an organisational knowledge base?

An organisational knowledge base is the entirety of all data and documents in any form, which are stored within the organisation as well as the business rules, which are reflected in the way the members of the organisation work together.


What part plays knowledge for the success of an organisation?

As a result of a study of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) upon the relevance of knowledge management in German industry [Bull99] the share of the factor knowledge in the value added is already above 50 per cent. According to the appraisal of the 250 surveyed organizations production may be increased by one third on the average through efficient use and cultivation of the ressource knowledge. The enterprises also declare using less than the half of the available knowledge. This is ascribed to certain uncertainty of the existence of reasonable and proper methods and tools for knowledge management.


What knowledge is of strategical importance?

The knowledge within the key processes of an organization is of strategical importance for the enterprise. During further development of the key processes the key knowledge has to be extended and renewed in order to gain competitive advantage.


How to generate new knowledge?

Individuals are generating new knowledge by gathering information and combinding it to their personal experience. Thereby they are able to solve unresolved problems (e.g. torches for lighting) or solving them in a new way (e.g. gas lantern or lamb with electric bulb) or coming to a conclusion which revolutionizes a branch of a science (e.g. Einstein's theory of relativity).
New knowledge in organizations comes into existence through finding new possibilities to design business processes more efficiently or product ideas opening new business branches for the enterprise by targetedly using creativity techniques (e.g. brainstorming, synectic, mind mapping) or methods and tools for knowledge management (e.g. dialogue, story telling, micro article).


How to identify/distribute/share/store/protect/measure/evaluate knowledge?

Relevant knowledge for the organization can be identified at best by finding out along the key business processes who is often contacted if someone searches for process-relevant data. These persons are the knowledge bearer of the key knowledge of the organization. In parallel data bases and file servers can be scanned for relevant data resp. documents. For this purpose again tools for knowledge management mastering complex search processes and structuring aid may be utilized the first first for support of the expensive search processes, the second for the restructuring of the organizational memory.

Only explicit knowledge can be stored in any form (documents, pictures, film, a.s.o.) at best electronically.

Only explicit knowledge having been stored in any form (at best electronically) can be distributed. Search engines assist in finding the required information.

Knowledge sharing happens when staffer compare notes of their concrete work content and help each other to solve problems. Knowledge sharing can be assisted with the forming of communities of practice (=knowledge management method).

The protection against outside of knowledge is essential as long as one did not succeed in creating a organizational culture which cannot be imitated by others. Basically the active and unlimited exchange of information promotes the generation of new knowledge helping organizations to hold or advance their competitive postion. The definition of access authorizations or the use of firewalls secure the stored knowledge.

Measuring and evaluating knowledge can only be done after having defined knowledge goals explicitly. By applying the GQM-method (goal-question-metric)appropriate metrics can be derived from the goals.
Examples of knowledge goals: Knowing everthing relevant about our most important customers
Examples of questions: Is there a list of our most important customers? Are there standarized recordings of customer calls? If yes, how often are they used?
Examples of metrics: number of customer call recordings per customer, quantity of usage per customer and month


How to identify/"forget" outdated knowledge?

Outdated knowledge of the organizational memory can be easier identified if data and documents are marked with their expiration date and/or the frequency of their usage. If the expiration date is exceeded, the data resp. documents might be deleted automatically. If a document is used very rarely the person responsible for the knowledge domain has to decide whether or not to delete it and arrange for the deletion.
"Outdated" business processes are not as easy to "unlearn". For this purpose it is necessary realizing that there is a better procedure and to get the staffer to change the procedure. This is managed best by letting the employees reorganize it by themselves and afterwards exercising the new procedure together.


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Last update 09th Jan 2005