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Should knowledge management software be an investment priority?

24 June 2021
  

The gist of most boardroom conversations happening right now will be around revenue forecasts and how to still maintain a tight grip on purse strings. In these circumstances would you consider knowledge management software to be a priority or a nice to have? Some might initially answer “a nice to have” but think about the importance knowledge management has had on solving business problems during this pandemic.

Most businesses have survived on the problem-so abilities of their employees in some way or another. Even if you’re not familiar with the topic of knowledge management, you still understand that behind any business there is some form of knowledge driving it.

We’ve just witnessed longstanding business models that have thrived for generations being flipped on their head and felt newfound levels of segregation and isolation. Throughout the confusion and chaos we’ve clung to technology to keep us connected within our personal and working lives. We’ve gone from working in the office to working from home and now many are experiencing a new era of ‘hybrid working’. Technology has been the spoke keeping the wheels of most businesses turning which has led to large investments within the digital workplace. ‘Digital’ is now an integral part of most people’s day-to-day working lives.

Market conditions are set to be dynamic for the foreseeable future with uncertainty being the only known. The knowledge and ‘know how’ of employees will be at the forefront of innovation, problem solving and competitive advantage during these uncertain times. Therefore, businesses need a software solution to harvest and distribute knowledge throughout its layers and within this increasingly digital era. A knowledge management software solution needs to be an integral component of the modern digital workplace. Businesses need to develop strong knowledge management capabilities to create and disseminate knowledge so that they can stay ahead of the game and navigate these uncertain times.

What is Knowledge Management?

White concrete building that looks like library

Knowledge management is simply the control and organisation of knowledge. The practice of knowledge management is applicable within any business. Think about it: all employees within a company must share knowledge of how to action certain activities and practices within the business. The context to which the knowledge is applied however is very specific to an organisation’s needs and differs from business to business. Academics, practitioners, government, for-profit/non-profit organisations all have their own application of knowledge and therefore the management of it. In a broad sense it can be defined as:

 

“Strategies and processes designed to identify, capture, structure, value, leverage, and share an organization's intellectual assets to enhance its performance and competitiveness. It is based on two critical activities: (1) capture and documentation of individual explicit and tacit knowledge, and (2) its dissemination within the organization.”

Business Dictionary.com

 


Let’s break this definition down. To understand the underlying principles of knowledge management, firstly we must understand the types of knowledge that are created within a business. There are two main types of knowledge created within an organisation: explicit and tacit knowledge.

Explicit and tacit knowledge

Explicit knowledge definition
"Explicit knowledge can be articulated and easily communicated between individuals and organisations." Cambridge dictionary

This type of knowledge is concrete and can be easily codified. It can therefore be captured and put into a database. Think process notes, manuals, how-to videos. This type of knowledge is easy to share with others. Explicit knowledge can also be collated to form analysis and is usually used within business reports. Using a market research report as an example it would be used to build the trends, stats, demographics, competitor information and so on. This type of explicit knowledge is very valuable to an organisation.

Tacit knowledge definition

“Knowledge that you do not get from being taught, or from books, etc. but get from personal experience, for example when working in a particular organisation:

There are forms of tacit knowledge that develop among the employees of an organisation.

The team members reported that they learned a lot from each other, especially tacit knowledge.” Cambridge dictionary

Tacit knowledge is also referred to as tribal knowledge or know-how. It’s the knowledge we get through carrying out an activity and our experiences of doing it. We gain insight and intuition when we partake in an activity. This kind of knowledge is difficult to articulate to others because it’s hard to communicate when we try to write it down or verbalise it.

Turn Knowledge Into Action written on a board with a business man on background

With the definitions of explicit and tacit knowledge in mind, think about how these knowledge types would be used to create an intellectual asset. Within this context firstly think about the ‘know-how’ (tacit knowledge) that is used to create an intellectual asset. It’s created using a large proportion of a person and/or group of people’s knowledge, skills, expertise. They then must document it to develop it (explicit knowledge). The company then needs to find the best way to harvest this knowledge. It needs to find the best way to identify, organise and share the ‘know how’. Think about all the different combinations of explicit and tacit knowledge it takes to create an intellectual asset. As an example, we will use the trade secret of the Dr. Pepper recipe. It’s rumoured to be made from 23 different flavours. This recipe was first created by the young pharmacist Charles Alderton in 1885. It was crafted using his experience (tacit knowledge). As the drink grew in popularity it needed to be manufactured, bottled and distributed. To be a success at producing this drink at scale there are a number (hundreds) of different combinations of tacit and explicit knowledge that needed to be developed and shared throughout the organisation.

From tacit to tacit:

When Alderton first discovered the drink he worked at Morrison’s Old Drug Store. He shared his tacit knowledge of how he made the drink with the owner Mr Morrison. Mr Morrison learns Alderton’s tacit skills through observation, imitation, and practice and so it becomes part of Mr Morrison’s tacit knowledge base.

From tacit to explicit:

To produce the Dr Pepper drink repeatedly and with the same consistent taste Alderton created a recipe for the drink. The recipe can then be followed by another person who would then have the basis for making the drink.

From explicit to tacit:

As the Dr Pepper drink grew in demand Alderton had trouble manufacturing the drink on a large scale. He sold the recipe to the Ginger Ale corporation. Manufacturing experts at this company were able to take the recipe (explicit knowledge) and apply their expertise (tacit knowledge) on how to produce the drink at scale.

From explicit to explicit:

For the drinks to be produced at scale they would have been bottled on a production line. This process would have been ‘followed by the book’ and therefore the same process carried out repeatedly again and again.

Knowledge management and competitive advantage

If we take a for-profit business as an example, to be successful it needs to develop abilities from knowledge (both tacit and explicit) to produce some sort of tangible or intangible value that can then be purchased by a customer and make a profit for the business. The business also needs to do this differently from its competitors. It develops business capabilities through combining different sets of abilities and knowledge. These combinations are unique to that specific business and are therefore termed it’s unique source of competitive advantage.

A company’s source of competitive advantage cannot be static. External and internal conditions, consumer preferences and competitor offerings are constantly evolving. Therefore, the knowledge and abilities to which an organisation creates value must also evolve to remain in demand and competitive. Think about Dr Pepper today, it’s now over a hundred years later from when it was originally created. Manufacturing the drink at scale back then would not be enough to carry on its success today. Not only would things like the production and distribution of the drink have dramatically changed over the years, the Dr Pepper brand is certainly also a crucial aspect of the drink’s success today.

To enable an organisation to: react to changing market conditions, achieve growth and sustain competitive advantage it must possess strong knowledge management capabilities. These capabilities need to be integrated within the organisations working practices and routines. This is especially true for organisations competing in fast dynamic markets. The flow and efficiency of how knowledge is fostered and transferred throughout the organisation is therefore critical.

Fostering a knowledge culture

Closeup young woman with worried stressed face expression eyes closed trying to concentrate with brain melting into lines question marks deep thinking. Obsessive compulsive, adhd, anxiety disorders

It’s important to reduce any barriers to knowledge sharing and foster a culture that promotes organisational learning and the sharing of knowledge. Openness and trust are key characteristics that need to be instilled within the culture. Individuals need to be encouraged to share their experiences and expertise. This then brings about the confidence a person has in their own abilities. Tacit knowledge is often highly subjective and made up of an employee’s insights, intuitions, and hunches. Therefore, an employee needs to feel they’re in a safe environment to share their tacit knowledge of their working practices and routines. This can be done through mediums such as brainstorming sessions, group problem solving, mentoring and collaboration initiatives. Tacit knowledge can then be developed into company explicit knowledge via identifying and documenting lessons learnt, best practices and bench-marking of these initiatives. This harvested knowledge can then be fed both horizontally and vertically across the organisation.

Proper management of this knowledge means it is available to all levels of the business. It can be used in decision-making, to solve problems and to innovate thus contribute to the constantly evolving source of competitive advantage.

Knowledge is disseminated throughout an organisation through knowledge management capabilities that are integrated into existing working practices, routines and initiatives.

To achieve this there needs to be an infrastructure in place that allows people to share knowledge within the context in which it is required. Employees need to be provided with the tools to be able to create, store, disseminate, and utilize knowledge and expertise within the organisation.

Knowledge management capabilities and technology

The relationship between technology and knowledge management is similar to the relationship between tools and the mind. For example, the mind uses tools to transfer and explain an idea. Knowledge management uses technology for the transfer and exchange of knowledge. Technology therefore, plays a pivotal role in developing knowledge management capabilities. IT infrastructure enable’s employees to create new and maintain knowledge from existing working practices, routines and initiatives within a range of formats from best practices to how-to videos. Employees can then store the knowledge somewhere, access and reuse it.

If however an organisation doesn’t allocate proper investment, time and resource into implementing a suitable knowledge management software solution, employees will still create and reuse the knowledge they acquire. If the knowledge management software doesn’t support employee needs and isn’t properly maintained, then the employees will struggle to use it. This then leads to people putting knowledge in places others can’t find, re-making things others have already created, and reusing knowledge that’s out of date or incorrect.

Microsoft Office 365: Knowledge Management software tools

A knowledge management software solution should make the dissemination of knowledge easier and faster for people by providing them with the tools that they need. Microsoft Office 365 is the perfect tool to help organisations foster a strong knowledge culture.

Microsoft Office 365 is one of the most versatile knowledge management software collaboration technologies. It can handle various knowledge management challenges successfully. If implemented and utilised properly, Microsoft Office 365 can empower employees with real knowledge management capabilities.

Below is a list of Microsoft Office 365 tools that can help foster a knowledge-enriched environment:

Microsoft SharePoint

Given SharePoint’s wide presence, it makes sense that many companies would want to build their knowledge management systems on this software. Employees who are already familiar with using SharePoint for their day-to-day document management and business processes will find it easier to transition to a full knowledge management software solution set up in their existing environment.

To turn SharePoint into an effective knowledge management solution, organisations need to integrate the platform with a data classification tool that extends the out-of-the-box capabilities of SharePoint with a more robust search, a true information architecture, taxonomy and term management.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration. It supports discussions and conversations across departments. Employees can easily create and access communications. It is a handy business application that facilitates remote teams worldwide to collaborate virtually and increase operational efficiency.

Microsoft Yammer

Yammer is an enterprise social networking tool that is part of Microsoft Office 365. Its key features include: a discovery feed, content search, conversations, and groups. This helps employees to stay in the loop, identify and reach out to knowledge holders no matter whether they’re geographically dispersed or working from a mixture of home and in the office. Yammer’s also has a mobile app.

Microsoft Viva

This is Microsoft’s employee experience platform and they term it as an “organizing layer”. Microsoft Viva is set out into 4 modules:

Microsoft Viva Overview

Viva Connections: A framework through which you can deliver your intranet to keep employees informed, connected, and inspired. It brings a personalised feed of information that is relevant to the employee.

Viva Topics: Free’s up time by making it easy for employees to find information and put knowledge to work using AI-powered technology.

Viva Insights: Give leaders, managers, and employees data-driven, privacy-protected insights that help everyone to keep focused and organise their workloads effectively.

Viva Learning: Empower people to gain skills, educate and develop themselves. It’s integrated into a number of learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and can also be linked to in-house content meaning learning is embedded within the apps employees already use.

Atlas Knowledge Productivity Platform

Atlas Knowledge workspaces

Effective knowledge management software solutions should provide: a simple way to create and validate knowledge, taxonomies to organise knowledge, and leverage technology tools such as Microsoft 365 to connect people to knowledge.

Advanced organisations use their knowledge management software to facilitate collaboration, uncover innovation, and automatically serve up content to employees in the right moment.

Atlas makes finding and sharing knowledge in Microsoft Office 365 intuitive, with tools that engage users to capture knowledge, including a AI powered knowledge capture experience, centralised knowledge base and a powerful way to find knowledge. It’s a digital platform that enables successful digital working by providing an anchored hub that caters to specific user needs. This structure provides the user with everything that they need to complete the tasks to do their job. It provides them with a highly organised and easy to use structure to store, access and reuse knowledge.

Atlas significantly enhances knowledge management in SharePoint because it integrates with the knowledge stored in SharePoint and other Microsoft applications with its data classification tool. This extends the out-of-the-box capabilities of SharePoint with a more robust search, a true information architecture, taxonomy and term management. Atlas collates information that is normally sits in separate silos in Microsoft Office 365 such as documents, external insights, Yammer conversations, Teams chat and more.

In summary, Atlas overcomes some of the key challenges organizations face when it comes to:

  • only a small percentage of people contribute knowledge in an organization
  • information and knowledge is stuck in silos
  • knowledge is often not captured or converted from unstructured data
  • knowledge is hard to find if you don't know what you are looking for. 

Author bio

Celine Broughton

Celine Broughton

My work hasn’t typically followed the traditional marketing pathway over the last 15 years. I’ve been involved in a wide range of projects including: bringing new products to market, implementing regulatory changes, acquisitions, data migration, strategic alignment, staff training and much more. This has given me valuable insight into the ways in which different businesses operate enabling me to build a strong analytical skill set.

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