Knowledge Management

Knowledge management as a valuable resource and competitve advantage
Knowledge management as a valuable resource and competitve advantage

Knowledge management is an essential aspect of today’s business. Knowledge is considered a valuable resource and represents a competitive advantage in the evermore globalized world. Also, for medium- and small-sized businesses as well as institutions such as schools, associations, or organizations, knowledge management plays an increasingly important role. Knowledge management means existing knowledge can be

  • identified,
  • interlinked,
  • evaluated and
  • utilized as strategically and operatively as possible.

To that end there are various knowledge management methods. Knowledge managers, who coordinate the knowledge of a business, ensure that the entire existing knowledge is saved, managed and readily available to others. Only in this way can all employees be kept informed and up to date at all times. Knowledge, however, is not restricted to the business itself. In fact, partners, suppliers and customers have external knowledge, which is made available to the business by knowledge managers. This allows new knowledge to be generated and realized in innovative products, processes and business areas (Innovation Management).

Knowledge management is implemented via a knowledge management system suitable to the specific business’s structures. This system supports the knowledge manager in keeping in full control and connecting loose ends. Also useful are knowledge management instruments such as knowledge management software or a knowledge database, which collects, organizes and structures the data and makes it available to all employees by means of smart document management. Knowledge management tools like these usually simplify project and process management significantly. Scientists have designed various knowledge management models which identify different core processes and activities in knowledge management. With these models, experts can create individual concepts for the introduction of knowledge management for specific businesses.

1. Concept

A concept is needed to introduce knowledge management into a business. There are experts who create individual concepts for specific bunisnesses.

1.2. Concept Development

Concept development is an essential pillar in a business’s progression to develop new projects (e.g. knowledge management) or products. Developing a concept is part of a concept developer’s responsibility. In contrast to a project manager, who has to follow strict guidelines, a concept developer has to be a bit more creative. The creative leeway in concept development is the basis for the future project plan – as well as its success. The prime objectives, those responsible, the work packages, the implementation steps, and the timeline for the product development can be derived from the concept design. A concept template, available as a free download online, simplifies the work involved in developing a concept.

Concept development primarily consists of:

  • listening
  • asking questions
  • understanding the client’s problem
  • collecting all the essential facts

All this information is included in the concept plan. Concept developers form ideas of their own and find the most appropriate solution approaches for the problem. At the same time, they must progress in a well-structured manner, using suitable concept development methods and instruments. One should be able to recognize a theme and a logical, comprehensible structure (concept modules).

When creating a concept plan, certain points should be considered:

  • the description and purpose of the project
  • the situational analysis (impact factors, connections, opportunities, weaknesses)
  • the objective (priority, nature of the objectives, e.g. content-related or financial)

The evaluation is also a part of concept development, so that decision makers can better estimate the opportunities and risks of the project and make well-founded decisions. The point “project realization” within the business concept contains all necessary aspects to that end, like the resource or budget requirements. And: the concept must be intelligible to all involved.

2. Tools

2.1. Semantic Systems/Search Engines

Semantic systems are tools to handle the increasing flood of data. Every day, employees are confronted with a vast amount of new information from emails, PDFs, documentation or product descriptions. Semantic systems assign a semantic tag to each piece of data based on its meaning (semantics = meaning). This enables database searches for keywords and different contexts of meaning. At the same time, this changes the mode of access to this information. A semantic net, or semantic network, maps terminological connections and different meanings of words.

A semantic search is already offered by internet search engines such as Google. The search engine algorithm deploys semantic analysis to provide tailored and relevant search results. Search engine optimization (SEO) of online content and search engine marketing (SEM) also rely on the user to search for keywords of a certain meaning within a context. The ranking of the content includes its meaning, coherences, connections and relations. Search engine advertisements are targeted at the precise content the user is searching for. Notably, every human has a semantic memory which is organized in a semantic network. It comprises factual and common knowledge, which is accumulated in the course of one’s life. Therein the basic meaning of words, terms and their connections are stored as verbal or visual codes.

2.2. Knowledge Databases

Knowledge databases are an integral part of knowledge management. The advantages of knowledge databases lie in their function to collect the entire knowledge of a business (e.g. documents, pictures, videos) and make it readily available to employees – at any time and any place. One challenge for knowledge databases in businesses is the mutability of knowledge, i.e. knowledge changes fast, becomes obsolete and often thereby loses its relevancy. Accordingly it is necessary to “feed” the database with new knowledge and keep information up to date. Setting up a knowledge database requires time and money – for organization, hardware and software, as well as the adaptation and implementation (interfaces!) of the knowledge management system. Specialized employees are required to set up a knowledge database. In larger businesses knowledge databases are the standard today. Small and medium businesses often refrain from this investment due to its cost.

On today’s market there is a variety of knowledge database software to organize knowledge and make it accessible. Knowledge management software allows for instance document management, idea management or the management of the entire knowledge (knowledge management). The size of the business usually determines the most suitable knowledge management tools:

  • knowledge databases (structuring, workflows, document collaboration)
  • intranet
  • employee portals
  • share points
  • clouds
  • wikis
  • groupware/collaboration management systems (employee interaction)
  • enterprise search engines for larger businesses to conduct document searches

There are also solutions that connect wikis with social media tools. Some manufacturers offer a freeware knowledge database (open source knowledge database).