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Yet another case for KM

By Hugh McKellar, KMWorld executive editor

For more than six years, we’ve been advocating the practical application of knowledge management to achieve business success. But the term itself has undergone its ups and down—sometimes embraced and celebrated by vendors and analysts alike; at other times selectively used depending on the ever-changing technology climate. One thing is certain, though, sharing knowledge throughout an enterprise to build a learning and collaborative environment is not just a passing fancy—it has become the lifeblood of any successful organization.

Turn to p. 20 for a look at some of the knowledge management programs and, yes, even degrees offered today in colleges and universities. The list possibly omits some of the other initiatives around the country. The institutions we’ve included establish a solid foundation on the theory of organizational knowledge and learning and also encourage practical applications. Interesting, the students participating in the programs aren’t only young adults in their early twenties, but mature executives from some of the most successful corporations in the United States. That’s especially the case with the program at The George Washington University.

So, with this in mind, I was especially intrigued when I received a new book published by Jossey-Bass in its series “New Directions for Institutional Research.” Edited by Andreea M. Serban of Santa Barbara City College and Jing Juan of Cabrillo College, "Knowledge Management: Building a Competitive Advantage in Higher Education" convincingly makes the case for KM’s vital role in colleges and universities, in particular for institutional research.

Corporations have acknowledged that far too much information has been stored in isolated silos and have begun to break down the barriers between them, eliminating to varying degrees duplication and developing effective mechanisms for sharing and disseminating knowledge, as well as building collaborative environments. I’m not sure that can be said for the halls of academe. Maybe this is a simplistic analogy, but the ivory towers seem to have been built by one of the very tools KM has proven to be so unsavory and downright destructive: knowledge hoarding.

Think about it. Where else would efficiently harvesting institution knowledge, sharing that information with the right people at the right time in the right context and then building a true learning culture be more important than at institutions of higher learning? But the impediments to establishing that at the college and university level are likely even more daunting than those for the enterprise, where the economic imperative dominates. Interesting, though, today’s university’s are starting to face ever-fiercer competition from online degree programs and the host of e-learning initiatives, so administrators must acknowledge a growing economic imperative of their own. Our system of higher education has a lot to learn.

Serban and Luan’s collection is a surprisingly well written and documented discussion of knowledge management in general. For those qualities alone, I recommend it to anyone. And while the book focuses on KM and its role in institutional research, it is also must reading for college administrators because it addresses how knowledge management can provide a competitive advantage in their professional environment.

Higher education is an emerging market for knowledge management, and vendors and professional service organizations should sit up and take notice if they haven't already.

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