It has become more and more apparent how important knowledge as an asset is to an Organisation. In the highly competitive economic climate we currently find ourselves in, an Organisation that has used this asset in the most efficient manner is the organisation that has achieved competitive advantage. The issue is that Organisations know, but don’t know they know. The challenge is to tap into the inherent knowledge of the resources within your Organisation.
Little surprise then that Knowledge management, though not so old a concept is being embraced by organisations even irrespective of their size. Managers worldwide have realized that they can use knowledge in the organisation to build on core competencies and achieve competitive edge.
Numerous surveys carried out (Dilnutt, R. 2002, Squier & Snyman 2004 and Delphi group, 1998) on the adoption and implementation of knowledge management by organisations worldwide all suggest the importance of KM for the attainment of competitive advantage. Also common amongst European and US organisations was the use of document management (repositories) as a technology that supports KM in their organisations. This was found to also be the case in the US.
The case of British American Tobacco Company (BAT co)
In 2004, the UCSF Library and Centre for Knowledge Management commenced on a four-year project to enable the British American Tobacco Co (BAT co) manage its knowledge better. The BAT due to its line of business is involved in numerous litigations, a lot from the United States of America and all internal corporate documents from litigations brought against several tobacco companies were previously stored in a central depository located near London. The problem was the difficulty involved in accessing the over 1 million documents, because researchers had to travel to the depository in London each time information was needed. As such new litigations could not be managed properly even though there was knowledge that could be gained from previous and similar litigations.
UCSF library and Centre for Knowledge Management then integrated data in the depository into a digital archive, which provides access to over 2 million digital surrogates of BAT co’s documents. All records were integrated into what is now called the Legacy Tobacco Documents library.
This singular project has tremendously improved the response to litigations on BAT co and has provided a means to capture knowledge on any tobacco case involving the BAT co.
The case of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
In implementing a knowledge management system in an organisation, the knowledge of individuals within that organisation may be tapped using a Community of Practice.
Etienne Wenger (2004) suggests that knowledge management in an organisation is actually the business of the practitioners and not the managers as may be perceived by some. He relates this to a donut with an empty hole which represents the management. Based on this suggestion, one can state that where there is no practice and no sharing, then there can’t be knowledge management. Communities of practice (CoPs) have been known to target the social/cultural problems encountered in knowledge management in an Organisation.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under the US department of Transportation adopted the use of CoPs. Mike Burk (2009) gives a step by step description of measures taken to define and implement its knowledge management system. The FHWA already had a basis for a CoP as they had some formal or inform networks of staff meeting and sharing ideas. What needed to be done then was just to foster and support these communities with improved tools. An electronic CoP called ‘rumble strips’ was then created (Rumble Strips). The website features types of products used in the transport sector, examination of drawbacks recorded in the use of products, a library featuring research papers on these products, and a resource page to cater to specific questions. The general idea was to store ideas of users and use the stored ideas to create new ideas and solutions which in turn are stored.
By improving the way an Organisation creates, shares, stores and provides access to experiences, knowledge can be gained and this knowledge, if managed efficiently with the use of knowledge-based approaches such as Cops, Web 2.0 technologies etc, would enable that organisation raise it’s expertise and consequently build on its core-competence to emerge as a top player in its industry.
Delphi Group (1998), Survey of KM practice in USA, available at: http://choo.fis.utoronto.ca/UvA/Kmsurvey/default.html (accessed 21 March 2009).
Dilnutt, Rod (2002) Knowledge Management in practice: Three contemporary case studies. International Journal of Accounting Information Systems
Volume 3, Issue 2, Pp 75-81
Mike Burk (2009) Knowledge Management: Everyone Benefits by Sharing Information. Available at: http://www.about-goal-setting.com/KM-Library/knowledge-management-case-study-federal-highways.html (accessed 02 April 2009)
Squier, M. & Snyman, R. (2004) Knowledge management in three financial organisations: a case study Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives approach. Emerald Group Publishing Limited Vol. 56 No. 4 pp. 234-242
UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, (2009) Available at: http://www.library.ucsf.edu/about/projects#batda (Accessed 02 April 2009) University of California, San Francisco
Wenger, Etienne (2004) Knowledge management as a doughnut: Shaping your knowledge strategy through communities of practice, Ivey Business Journal, available at: http://www.iveybusinessjournal.com/view_article.asp?intArticle_ID=465 (accessed 21 March 2009).