Organizations must manage vast amounts of data in today's digital world to make better decisions. This requires a lot of effort to ensure that the data is accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible to those who need it.

To manage the process and make the most of all that data, companies turn to knowledge management solutions. Knowledge management is a way of collecting and using information more capably.

Effectively managing knowledge is more important now than ever. Over the last few years, global upheavals and the transition to remote and hybrid work have exposed inefficiencies, risks, and knowledge gaps for many organizations.

As a result, awareness is growing—60% of knowledge management professionals surveyed said they currently see the field as either thriving or gaining ground. Moreover, two-thirds said their organizations plan to increase focus on knowledge management over the next 12–18 months.

Find out more about knowledge management, including its key benefits and tools to make it work for you.

Defining knowledge management

What is knowledge management: KNOWLEDGE spelled using letter tiles

You might be wondering, what is knowledge management? You may have explored the idea of personal knowledge management, but managing knowledge in this context refers to organizational knowledge.

It’s a rapidly growing field, and researchers acknowledge that there are currently several overlapping but inconsistent definitions. One of the most famous and succinct definitions of knowledge management came from Tom Davenport in the 1990s:

"Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge."

In other words, it's a way to create, store, and share information within an organization to be used by employees. These days, there are many different knowledge management models and frameworks, but they all share the same goal—to help organizations improve their performance by making better use of collective knowledge.

Types of knowledge

What is knowledge management: books swirling in the air

The key to managing knowledge is to understand that it comes in different forms, and each is handled differently. There are several frameworks that outline the various dimensions of knowledge. The SECI or Nonaka-Takeuchi model of knowledge dimensions is one of the most commonly used and popular models. Developed by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, the model describes the formation of organizational knowledge.

According to the model, there are three primary types of knowledge::

  • Explicit knowledge: When people think of learning new things, they’re usually thinking of explicit knowledge. This is knowledge derived from the organization, structuring, and interpretation of data. This form of knowledge is easy to document, transfer, and store. Examples range from a white paper to a set of instructions on using a product.
  • Implicit knowledge: This is a little harder to pin down and express than explicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is the "know-how" we acquire through experience and practice. Some argue that implicit knowledge is part of tacit knowledge, while others contend that tacit knowledge is more nuanced. As opposed to tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge can be documented. Examples include walking or riding a bicycle.
  • Tacit knowledge: Tacit knowledge is a combination of both implicit and explicit knowledge. It's the hard-to-articulate things we know based on our experiences and intuition. Tacit knowledge tends to be personal and unique to the individual, making it difficult to codify and transfer. Humor, problem solving, and leadership skills are examples of tacit knowledge.

Because of their unique qualities, each type of knowledge requires different management strategies. For example, explicit knowledge is easy to document and store in a knowledge base or company manual, while tacit knowledge is more difficult to capture and often requires employee training or mentorship programs.

The benefits of knowledge management

Understanding and effectively managing knowledge is essential for any organization that wants to stay ahead of the competition. Research identifies knowledge as "a key resource" for achieving sustained competitive advantage. It facilitates efficient and effective company processes and helps produce quality products and services.

  • Better decision-making: Knowledge management allows businesses to easily access the information they need. In addition, having a centralized knowledge repository makes it easier to track changes and trends over time.
  • Increased collaboration: Knowledge management systems make it easy for employees to find and share information—whether it’s organizing notes or keeping track of goals—which can increase collaboration and creativity.
  • Improved customer service: When knowledge is easily accessible, businesses can provide faster and more accurate service. In addition, having a centralized knowledge base makes it easier to keep track of customer queries and issues.
  • Reduced costs: Effective information management can eliminate errors caused by a lack of knowledge, reduce the need for multiple systems to access knowledge, and avoid duplicate efforts.
  • Enhanced organizational performance: Organizations can improve their overall performance by making it easier for employees to find and share knowledge. In addition, knowledge management can help organizations identify and address knowledge gaps.

Knowledge management has many benefits, but these are among the most important. Managing knowledge at every stage of the process can help organizations achieve their goals and improve their bottom line.

Stages of the knowledge management process

Person arranging light bulb icons

With so many benefits, it's no wonder that more and more organizations are looking to implement knowledge management. But where do you start? The process of knowledge management can be broken down into six basic steps:

  1. Collecting: Identifying the knowledge that needs to be managed and determining its location.
  2. Organizing: Classifying and categorizing the collected knowledge so it can be easily retrieved and used.
  3. Summarizing: Extracting the key points and simplifying complexities to create concise summaries.
  4. Analyzing: Understanding the collected and summarized knowledge so it can be effectively used.
  5. Synthesizing: Creating new knowledge by combining and recombining existing knowledge.
  6. Decision-making: Using the collected, organized, summarized, and analyzed knowledge to make decisions.

When these steps are followed sequentially, they form an ongoing process that transforms data into knowledge. While each action seems relatively straightforward, the overall process can be challenging. Organizations must have the right mix of people, processes, and technology to manage knowledge effectively.

Knowledge management tools and technology

Technology plays a vital role in obtaining, transmitting, and storing certain types of information, according to researchers. Knowledge management tools are used to gather and organize both internal and external organizational knowledge. These tools are commonly included as features in knowledge management software, but many are also available separately.

To benefit from effective knowledge management, all employees in a company should have access to the same information. The most effective knowledge management tools in your company's tech stack will organize and align information that employees can access.

There are a variety of tools available for knowledge management, including:

  • Knowledge base. A knowledge base is a digital library of information that employees can access. These typically include sections such as FAQs, how-to guides, and other types of articles to help employees find answers to common questions.

       Popular choices: Docuwiki, Notion

  • Document management systems. A document management system is a tool for organizing information and storing documents. These can be used to store internal company documents, such as policies or onboarding procedures, or external documents, such as customer contracts.

       Popular choices: Google Drive, Confluence

  • Content management system. A content management system (CMS) is a tool that helps organizations create, manage, and publish digital content. A CMS can create and manage a knowledge base and other types of content, such as blog posts, web pages, and email newsletters.

       Popular choices: Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal

  • Customer relationship system. A customer relationship system (CRS) is a tool that helps organizations manage customer data. A CRS can be used to create a knowledge base of customer information and track customer interactions and support requests.

       Popular choices: Pipedrive, Salesforce

  • Inventory management system. An inventory management system (IMS) is a tool that helps organizations track inventory levels, orders, and shipments. An IMS helps manage physical products but can also be used to track knowledge resources, such as books in a library or parts in a warehouse.

       Popular choices: Fishbowl, Katana

  • Project management tools. These tools help businesses track and manage projects more efficiently through time management and task management features. These tools can also be used to manage knowledge-gathering and sharing initiatives by creating and assigning tasks related to creating and updating articles.

       Popular choices: Asana, Trello

These are just a few types of knowledge management tools available. When choosing a tool for your business, consider what organizational knowledge you need to manage. Other factors like your existing information technology and how many team members will use the tool are also helpful.

Knowledge management use cases

When your team is equipped with the right tools and techniques, a knowledge management strategy can be tailored to fit your organization's specific needs. Many business processes and initiatives benefit from well-managed knowledge, including:

  • New product development: When developing a new product, it's crucial to have quick and easy access to the knowledge and expertise of your team. By managing knowledge throughout the development process, you can avoid duplication of effort, identify gaps in learning, and make better decisions.
  • Employee onboarding: New employees need to be up-to-speed quickly to start contributing to the organization. Knowledge management can help by providing easy access to the information and resources new employees need.
  • Change management: Change is a constant in business, and effective change management requires sharing information. Knowledge management systems can keep everyone on the same page and provide the information they need to transition smoothly.
  • Customer service and support: Customer service requires quick answers to customer queries. A knowledge management system can help customer support reps quickly find the answers they need and increase customer satisfaction.

There are many other forums where knowledge management can be beneficial, such as organizing information for writing business plans and managing information overload. If you want to improve your organization's performance, it's worth considering a knowledge management strategy.

7 tips to get started with knowledge management

Pencil drawing a line and a dot

If you're ready to implement a knowledge management program in your organization, consider these tips.

1. Define your organizational knowledge

How much knowledge do you need to accomplish your goals? What does your ideal customer look like? What processes do you need to implement to collect and share company knowledge?

2. Create a knowledge management plan

Once you've identified your goals and key stakeholders, you can start developing a knowledge management plan. This plan should include a process for collecting, storing, and sharing knowledge and a strategy for tracking and analyzing it.

3. Implement the right tools and technologies

Choosing the right technology for your company and team members is your choice. This could be as simple as setting up a folder structure on your company's intranet or using a tool like Google Drive or one of the many tools above.

4. Train and support your employees

Once you've implemented the tools and technologies, you'll need to train your employees on critical competencies. Ensure they have the resources they need to succeed, such as tutorials, user guides, and training materials.

5. Encourage employees to share their knowledge

Company culture is highly influential. Create an organizational culture of knowledge sharing by recognizing and rewarding employees for sharing their knowledge.

6. Measure the success of your knowledge management system

What goals did you set out to achieve? Are you meeting those goals? What changes can you make to improve your approach?

7. Continuously update and improve your knowledge management system

As your organization grows and changes, so too should your strategy for managing knowledge. Plan for routine optimization so you can review lessons learned and make necessary adjustments.

Forget about trying to "find it again" - it's all at your fingertips, meaningfully organised in one app.

Learn more

Stop asking “what is knowledge management” and start using it

When done effectively, knowledge management can positively impact all aspects of an organization, from increased collaboration to improved customer service. Implementing knowledge management has challenges, but the benefits make it worthwhile.

Ultimately, people are the key to successful knowledge management. When team members are willing to engage in knowledge transfer and effectively communicate with each other, knowledge management can help organizations reach their full potential.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Feel free to share, recommend and connect 🙏

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Erin E. Rupp
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Erin E. Rupp

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