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What is Knowledge Management

Ana Canteli

Written by Ana Canteli on February 15, 2019

Knowledge management has many definitions, almost as many as experts who have discussed the issue or people who have faced it.

It seems that there is no single definition valid for all because although it seems like a concept that has existed forever, in reality in the business world and in the context of organizations is relatively new.

The first definitions in the matter arose in the consulting field at the end of the 80s, after the eruption of technological advances such as the Internet - its application in closed environments in the form of an intranet - the creation of databases, relationships or extranets. These companies realized that with these new tools, it was possible to transmit information more effectively in increasingly complex environments; such as large corporations, in which the information was dispersed, was confined in silos or even easily lost. As we can imagine, a new product that offers competitive advantages deserves a new name; hence the term organizational knowledge management, which means the creation of a system that allows and promotes the creation and replication of high value, meaningful and accessible information throughout the entire company.

What is knowledge?

To better understand what organizational knowledge management is, it is necessary to be clear what knowledge means in the context of companies.

To begin with, it is best to analyze the theory of knowledge. Knowledge needs information to exist, and the information is based on data. A datum is the minimum unit of information possible about facts or specific elements, susceptible to study or analysis. A succession of data forms information that is an interpretation of the data, subject to the conditions in which it occurs. Information is created by the relationship between multiple pieces of data, the meaning given to them and the patterns assigned to them.

Thus, knowledge can be considered as information applied and assimilated through experience, integrated into a broader context, together with skills or interpersonal abilities.

In the business field, organizational knowledge management seeks to transfer the knowledge and experiences of employees, so that they can be used as an available resource within the organization to obtain competitive advantages. From this point of view, human resources become the main asset.

In fact, in the post-industrial society in which we live most of the labour force of society interacts with information management. So, we can say that in the information age, the competitiveness of companies is based on their ability to create the right environment in which to share information, experiences and existing knowledge at the individual and collective level. Do not forget that the information, knowledge or skills do not reside exclusively within the organization but can also be created outside. Many people identify knowledge management as a new method of business management associated with internal knowledge management  (business intelligence). And that is a true statement, but also limited. It must be borne in mind that the external knowledge of the company is much greater than that which is housed in it and that the use and management of external knowledge must be addressed at some stage of the process.

What is knowledge management?

We started by saying that there is not yet a universally accepted definition of the concept of knowledge management. However, each of the most accepted definitions contains common elements.

Knowledge management is a systematic process of searching, identifying, organizing, filtering and presenting information to the members of the organization, with the aim of improving in a specific purpose. We can also understand knowledge management as the treatment of information, from its creation to capture and send it where it is needed for its use, development, evaluation and assimilation.

The fundamental pillars on which a knowledge management system is based are:

  • people
  • information
  • the set of programs in which this information is stored

The elements that make up this ecosystem can be classified into tangible and intangible knowledge; explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.

The most important intangible element is intellectual capital, composed of:

  • Human capital: the set of individual knowledge that is part of the organization's personnel and that can produce value for the entity.
  • Structural capital: this is the knowledge that the company manages to explain, systematize and internalize: from the organization chart, through the software suite or the corporate culture.
  • Relational capital: the links that the organization has managed to establish with customers, suppliers, public institutions and interest groups and the value that these relationships bring to it.

The tangible elements are those that can be measured, touched, manipulated or felt. It is not necessary for an element to fulfil all these characteristics in order to be tangible, especially in the subject that concerns us. Tangible knowledge is information captured in the organization as part of a process, a database or simply a list. It is information that can be used when necessary and that does not need to be recreated. Tangible knowledge is also explicit knowledge, and can be articulated, encoded, stored in a medium and transmitted immediately.

Finally, tacit knowledge is information that is difficult or impossible to communicate verbally or visually, systematically or using traditional means; but which is owned by the individuals who are part of the organization or relate to it. They are the existing ideas, experiences, customs, values, history or beliefs that are shared among the participants of the business context.

Elements of a good knowledge management system

In general, there is a misconception that presumes that the implementation of a knowledge management system is solved with the acquisition of a computer program. And this is false. The software suite helps, but it is not the most important thing. The whole organization is involved in the construction of a knowledge management system.

Analysis and audit

If we want to implement a knowledge management system it is fundamental to understand the organization. You cannot approach a company and say "we are going to implement this process of knowledge management in our standard way” because the most likely thing is that the project will go to waste. What we must do first is observe, see what happens in the company, how it relates to its environment; see the flows of knowledge and from this observation and interpretation, facilitate things for the organization.

In fact, knowledge management could be summarized as binomial information and human resources management.

Human resources management

In the context of knowledge management, the management of human resources means developing participatory management strategies in which the commitment and motivation of employees are stimulated, in such a way that co-responsibility among workers arises naturally. The environment created, together with information technologies, create favourable conditions for the advancement of the corporate culture towards a new horizon in which the knowledge generated, shared and maintained within the company becomes productivity, more human perspectives and processes leading to organizational improvements. Because employees who work in companies that care about knowledge management, manage to work much better and grow with the company.

The knowledge management approach is not only about results and financial growth, but also personal growth. These are complementary management strategies that generate benefits for the company as a whole.

Permanent innovation

Although knowledge is one of the few assets that are revalued over time, we must also bear in mind that the life cycle is getting shorter and shorter. The products and services are increasingly sophisticated and implicitly have valuable knowledge in quality and quantity, but that must evolve over time. That is why those organizations that exploit the accumulated knowledge - fruit of experience, training, human talent, among other resources - when innovating or tackling problem-solving, will become the market leaders. An organization that learns (from its achievements and also from its mistakes) is an expert in creating and acquiring knowledge to modify its behaviour as a reflection of new knowledge, interpretations and conditions. It is here where process re-engineering becomes a fundamental element of the policy of permanent innovation and it also allows effective application of management strategies and management by objectives or the implementation of continuous improvements.

Best practices and lessons learned

For employees, the implementation of a new knowledge management system may involve a sudden change in the treatment of information. They can see it as a threat that deprives them of their strategic value because when the company disposes of its know-how, it will not depend on them. It is at this moment where the head of knowledge management should be supported by the board since it is up to him or her to develop a set of actions that provide security and incentives to the employees, that they increase and not reduce their possibilities and increase their commitment. This will ensure that knowledge is incorporated into products and services, that employees want to know more about what is of interest to the organization, and that it takes better advantage of the knowledge of its employees. The project leader should focus efforts on exploiting managerial skills based on change and values. Making the recipients of the changes feel part of the transformation process is essential to guarantee acceptance. Whenever possible, managers should consult their team for their opinion, understand what practices need to be improved and how to do so to optimize experiences and organizational processes.

Organizations are formed by people, physical spaces, processes, tools and their own culture (thoughts, beliefs and challenges). Knowledge management seeks to work all these aspects simultaneously.

What OpenKM brings to knowledge management

The OpenKM document management system allows the creation and maintenance of the intellectual capital of the company. What is created in the company, stays within the organization for the benefit of the entity. On the other hand, the acquired knowledge must be stored, so that it can be reused and organized and structured most conveniently.

Also, it is essential to break down the barriers that prevent information from being shared. The communication tools of OpenKM allow users to be interconnected at all times so that when a team member acquires new information or has any questions, the other users can be informed about the event in real time. Functionalities such as notes, relations, forum or wiki, help keep communication up to date, among users who work on the same content, department or project.

The OpenKM task manager allows users to meet to discuss issues relevant to their interests. In addition to convening the meeting (physical or virtual), they can send individual or group invitations and attach the contents on which the conference will focus. On the other hand, they can manage the meeting calendar (date and exact time of the event, but also repeat it if necessary every day, week, month, etc.)

The OpenKM document management system can play the fundamental role of the company's knowledge management system. For this, it is necessary that the personnel know that they have the software architecture of the company as a platform, to sustain the organization's business processes and procedures, that with the detection of new data and knowledge; It will be easier to analyze them and incorporated into the know-how of the organization. This is one of the most notable symptoms of the strength of the entity. The knowledge management of the company will help strengthen its position in the face of external aggression and periods of instability or uncertainty; since the organization will be able to adapt better to the changes and even develop more effective strategies depending on the context.

The creation of intellectual capital is a fundamental ingredient for knowledge management, but to be useful, it is essential that the appropriate corporate culture accompanies it. Staff will need to be supported by the organization's suite of programs. In this sense, OpenKM allows the transparent integration of the document manager, in the suite of applications of the company thanks to the SDKs, since the combination of the IT structure is an essential element in knowledge management. Besides, the KCenter platform can be used to create new applications based on OpenKM's open source technology. And the entire platform must be designed to encourage collaborative and mutually supportive behaviour of the members of the company.

The knowledge management system helps to create a network of teamwork in which users who work on the same content or belong to the same group or department are guaranteed easy access to all the resources they need, thanks to the granular security management. With it, you can independently manage the group or individual access to the contents, and the rights they have over them: reading, writing, deleting, downloading, etc.

Through the task manager, the multidisciplinary analysis of the events that occurred with the information and documentation of the company can be promoted. For example, user X, who works in the customer service department, has negotiating skills and also speaks English and French. We have a new client who will generate a new project in French. Our technical staff does not speak French; we can identify this employee as a candidate for the project manager. Maybe the most active people in the Forum, the wiki, notes, establishing links between contents, convening meetings, requesting new reports; are the right people to lead new projects, address new objectives and thus take advantage of the competitive advantages that the exploitation of know-how has brought out.

OpenKM presents Machine Learning components that facilitate the capture of tacit knowledge. When new content is introduced into OpenKM, the document manager extracts the keywords through natural language processing, through KEA (in English, Automatic Keyphrase Extraction). It serves to extract structured information from unstructured sources. The extraction of relevant phrases and terms that offer a concise description of the content is useful for indexing, searching, summarizing and categorizing the information or conceptualizing knowledge management of specific domains. Machine learning is an artificial intelligence application; an application that can perform more complex tasks.

With OpenKM you can define and update the objectives of the organization based on the type of goals or achievements, the nature of the task, or the level within the entity.

The use of all the functionalities of the document manager and even the implementation of the software within the IT suite of the company must be conceived to:

  • facilitate the achievement of objectives
  • the update of the platform as needed
  • collaboration among staff
  • ensuring the elimination of barriers between the members of the company, when they arise.

The technical staff with a developer profile can create new applications based on OpenKM and connected to the document manager. Besides the automation, the workflow engine, and the zonal OCR allow creating new, more efficient and efficient business processes that amortize the intellectual capital of the organization.

The OpenKM Administration panel allows the department technician to easily adapt the platform to the needs of the organization.

The OpenKM subscription service can be an excellent tool. When we subscribe to content, every time there is a change, we will receive a notification. What's more, in OpenKM we can create search agents. It will no longer be necessary to search for something actively in OpenKM. The system will alert us to the appearance of events related to our interests.

The subscription service, the reports, the automation, workflow, OCR, are functionalities that can alert us whenever new information appears, which contributes to the establishment of processes to automatically identify the data.

The management of profiles and security management at a granular level, makes users at a group or individual level access the same functionalities and information, related to the content they need to work, thus contributing to the prevention of communication barriers. Identifying responsibilities and competencies are essential for security management and when designing user profiles. They can be created by an individual or by a group of users.

Any user who has a login and password can access the system. Also, if the organization uses the KCenter, it can create a platform for free access, in which the users do not count in the licensing system. For example, a knowledge base, in which the user, according to a series of selections, accesses the most pertinent information. Is it a technical question? Are you a customer? Are you a user of the free version? Depending on the answer, we will assist you according to the business process A or B.

Through the templates, you can create a channel of requests management to the technical department or through the task manager to organize periodic meetings between department managers, who will collect the requests and suggestions of their staff.

OpenKM, apart from being a document manager, is also a records management system. The new knowledge acquired can be managed as records or files. OpenKM modules can also be used to identify, classify, categorize or code knowledge. The barcode module can be used to assign a code to each file; In this way, the information is identified and filed more easily.

Once new information has been identified and corroborated, it can be transmitted to the staff; through email, automatic notifications, promoting the subscription ...

Example of the use of OpenKM as a knowledge management system

OpenKM has been installed in a teaching organization that uses the document manager as a prominent element of its knowledge management system.

The educational materials (books, maps, templates, exercises, works, videos, audios, tests, exams and more) have been the subject of a consultancy analysis that has created a classification table of the types of documents with which the organization works that has resulted in the generation of a documentary series. The identification of the documentary series has been a fundamental step to automate the documentary management of the educational centre and the implementation of the paperless office and of the knowledge management system.
The OpenKM document management system was integrated with the centre's CRM system, which has a switchboard that acts as a central point of contact; they attend to the public online and by telephone and also take charge of receiving paper documentation.
Thanks to the table of documentary series, OpenKM included OCR templates of paper documents, which are introduced into the system through the scanner. The document manager checks the incoming document with the models. When the document matches a file type, it identifies it, indexes it, catalogues it, extracts the key values as metadata and stores them in the appropriate path within the directory. Depending on the type of document, the file can send an email notification, start an automatic process, a workflow or transfer the document to a third application. For example, if a member of the teaching staff wants to request a few days off, or a permit for a medical appointment can register the request through an application model available in OpenKM. But the demand is not managed in OpenKM, it is sent to the SAP application through a custom-made connector; as was decided within the organization.
The teaching material is cataloged by subject, degree and year; it is analyzed in relation to the final year project and the practices carried out by the students in a professional environment.
After presenting their projects and completing their internships, the students fill out forms that are treated by OpenKM to extract the key contents in the form of metadata, while carrying out reports that highlight the materials and the most significant subjects.
This helps the school improve training plans, and to disseminate informative documents internally, to help teachers to enhance the teaching material for the next course and to propose improvements in the teaching approach. And for the department of marketing and social networks, this material means new content, with which to attract new students - recent graduates, people looking for new professional opportunities, companies in search of training recycling solutions, etc.

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