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Within an enterprise, KM is that process which identifies and brings to bear relevant internal (i.e., from within the enterprise) and external (i.e., from outside the enterprise) information so as to inform action. In other words, information becomes knowledge as it enables and empowers an enterprise's work force, known in this context as its knowledge workers. The information components of any KM process come in one of two flavors:
Explicit knowledge — structured or documented knowledge in the form of written reports, computer databases, audio and video tapes, and so forth
Tacit knowledge — undocumented expertise walking around in the heads of the enterprise's knowledge workers or external third party subject or process experts
The task of a KM process is to organize and disseminate explicit knowledge, as well as to bring together knowledge workers and the appropriate information — explicit and tacit — required for their assignments. The greatest challenge to those charged with KM is the targeting and conversion of tacit to explicit knowledge and its timely delivery to those in need.
Before the Internet, many business leaders viewed KM simply as an expensive and somewhat frivolous undertaking. But as it has become clear that well informed employees and IT-enabled business processes positively impact enterprise performance, management resistance to KM has softened. Furthermore, the arrival of the ubiquitous Internet has provided organizations with a relatively low-cost platform for information gathering and sharing. In brief, the value proposition for KM is as follows: KM optimizes the value of what workers know in delivering value to customers, and hence KM serves as an enabler of performance excellence.
Knowledge management is all about enabling, empowering, directing, and energizing the work force in fast-paced, evolving, and increasingly virtual enterprises. A partial list of the tangible benefits from such a KM program might very well include the following:
Better understanding of the marketplace and customer needs
More effective sales process as measured in terms of customer retention
Faster and higher quality product/service time-to-market
Reduced operating costs and overhead
Reduced new venture/current operating exposure
Higher level of innovation
Broad-based adoption of industry and process best practices
Higher employee retention
Of course, the vendors of IT products and services make the same benefit claims. The author has no intention of overselling KM or its underlying technologies. Knowledge management may work for your organization, but getting there and sustaining the effort is not easy. This chapter and case study will tie a field-tested KM enablement process to the key drivers of success for an IT organization, illustrating the possibilities as well as the barrier to its successful application. Although the focus of this case study is an institution of higher education, the business issues and IT challenges faced by Northeastern are common to any multi-location enterprise with diverse lines of business serving a heterogeneous consumer population.
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