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Challenges in Knowledge Management

Scholars from many disciplines have long studied the field of knowledge management, and significant challenges endure. These challenges exist in both theoretical and conceptual application of knowledge management. Change will be omnipresent—requiring organizations to make incremental or continuous improvements, and breakthrough or "game-changing" advances.

Organizations can establish a structure; communicate their intent and the benefits to the organization and to the individual. You can extend the invitation, answer all of their questions and accept their ideas for improvement. Still, people will only recognize value and participate if that value is applicable to them. The question is: What are the contributions that knowledge management will make as a field of study and a relevant practice? Perhaps with knowledge as one of the most important resources today, management should attempt to identify, generate, deploy and develop knowledge.

The problem in many organizations is that they do not transmit the value that they placed on the organization's knowledge and learning processes. The result is usually a lack of participation in the knowledge management process. Organizations need to become savvier and understand how to manage their knowledge environments to optimize their capability to innovate and make better decisions. The concept of knowledge management and the degree to which its value is outpacing the tangible assets of companies has become an issue of concern for many organizations and managers. Human capital is seen as a company's total workforce and its knowledge about the business. It is seen as crucial for positioning the company's assets, both tangible and intangible.

A major challenge is the theoretical and conceptual lack of a common definition of knowledge management. The widespread variation about what constitutes knowledge management needs to be addressed. If knowledge is an essential resource for establishing competitive advantage, then management obviously should attempt to identify, generate, deploy and develop knowledge. As a result, managers need more knowledge about knowledge and about how it can be managed, if it can be managed at all. Furthermore, organizations have to make available the right infrastructure and encouragement, and get the "people factor" right. Managers must promote and facilitate knowledge sharing without controlling it. The people factor is a key element for an organization to develop and promote knowledge sharing. Even with a fantastic system and knowledge management infrastructure in place, people may still not be willing to share. Technology helps people share more easily, but does not make people share. Managers still need to connect with people to encourage them to share.

Ikujiro Nonaka articulates one of the reasons for this issue very well in his book, "The Knowledge-Creating Company." It seems that despite our heightened awareness of "intellectual capital" in western management, few managers truly grasp the concept of a knowledge-producing company, nor how to manage knowledge. They simply misunderstand what knowledge is and how their organization can leverage it! Western managers have a very narrow view of what knowledge is and what their organization must do to exploit it. It appears that they hold the belief that the only useful knowledge is quantifiable data. It has been found that managers at most highly successful Japanese companies tap into the tacit knowledge of all employees and turn it into explicit knowledge for the organization. These companies and their managers realize that in a knowledge-creating company, inventing new knowledge is not a specialized activity restricted to the domain of the R&D department, marketing or strategic planning. It is in fact "a way of being, in which everyone is a knowledge worker—that is to say, an entrepreneur". It seems that western management can learn a few things from successful Japanese companies to improve how they leverage knowledge. Executives at these Japanese companies are managing their knowledge treasure to the benefit of the company, its employees and its customers. This is just one of the many other reasons knowledge management is an enigma for many executives and ultimately their organization; employees and customers are the losers.

Another challenge for knowledge workers is the ability to discern what they can contribute in the quest for organizational knowledge. Many knowledge workers are unable to effectively collaborate and contribute to the strategic goals and mission of their organization. Knowledge management systems provide tools to leverage organizational content and collaborate, however many lack the tools a knowledge worker needs to know what to contribute to their organization. Communicating the goals that drive innovation to everyone is a daunting task for most organizations. Even when the goals are made known to each employee, they often lack the innovational skills. It seems that the value of knowledge management relates directly to the effectiveness with which the managed knowledge enables the members of the organization to deal with today's situations and effectively envision and create their future.

Knowledge management solutions should provide an intelligent knowledge dashboard to help employees hone in on the information needed by the organization to accomplish its goals.

WSN Insight, a KM solution for SharePoint, delivers the relevant collaboration requests (aka conversations) and content for each knowledge worker to a personalized knowledge dashboard. The dashboard contains many conversation key performance indicators (KPIs) to help prioritize matters. The feature also has the ability to find the members of the organization who can contribute to the conversation based on various attributes (skills, projects, experience, customers, etc.) of each employee. This solves some of the biggest challenges organizations face when implementing a knowledge management infrastructure.

Dierkes, Berthoin Antal, Child and Nonaka, 2003
Reinhardt, Bornemann, Pawlowsky and Schneider, 2003

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