Knowledge Management Systems: All You Need to Know



Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: October 30, 2020

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”- William Bruce Cameron in Informal Sociology

An important part of knowledge management is understanding that different forms of knowledge can exist. For example, the knowledge captured in the document needs to be managed differently as compared to knowledge gathered over the years by a craftsman. 

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A knowledgebase serves as the repository of information that customers and/or staff need to use a product or service. The content comes from the subject matter experts and is expanded and improved over time.

Types of Knowledge Management Systems

Within organizations, knowledge base is categorized into explicit and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge refers to codified knowledge. On the other hand, tacit knowledge refers to non-codified and experience-based knowledge. 

Another form of knowledge that has developed in the past decade is embedded knowledge. It involves dealing with knowledge embedded in structures, manuals, and routines. 

Let us try and understand the different types of knowledge used in organizations.

1. Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is formal and often written in code. It is easy to store, identify, and retrieve.

Managing explicit knowledge involves ensuring that people have access to what they need, important knowledge is stored, reviewed, and updated. 

However, many organizations consider explicit knowledge as less important. It is because it is simple and does not have experience-based information that can generate a competitive advantage. 

While the scenario is fast-changing, often knowledge management focuses exclusively on explicit knowledge. Moreover, the field of IT doesn’t have a clear definition when it comes to explaining the categories of knowledge. 

Thus, several products have been labeled Knowledge Management(KM) systems that are supposed to have both-tacit and explicit knowledge. However, they are nothing more than information and explicit knowledge management software. 

For example, explicit knowledge is found in memos, notes, documents, databases, etc. 

2. Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge refers to intuitive and experienced-based knowledge. 

It is also regarded as the most valuable source of knowledge and is critical to organizational growth. If companies don’t focus on developing their tacit knowledge, it can lead to a lack of innovation and a reduction in the capability of the workforce. 

A knowledge management system has a hard time handling tacit knowledge. An IT system relies on codification, which is difficult to understand for a tacit knowledge holder. 

For example, if a layman needs to write a blog on “how to read facial expressions?” It is quite difficult to put all the experiences gathered over the years in a single blog. However, an experienced person or a professional in the field of “face reading” might do justice to the blog. 

Similarly, an IT professional will troubleshoot a problem based on her/his experience. However, it will be difficult for the professional person to codify his/her knowledge into a document that would convey his knowledge to a beginner. 

The exact extent to which IT systems can help the transfer and enhancement of tacit knowledge is highly debatable. Strong emphasis must be placed on the tacit dimension. Moreover, developing the knowledge base will require focusing on people and processes involved and using IT in a support role. 

Tacit knowledge is found in the experience, skills, capabilities, values, and beliefs of humans.

3. Embedded Knowledge

Another category of knowledge that has evolved over the years is embedded knowledge. It refers to the knowledge locked in products, routines, artifacts, and structures. 

Culture and routines can be difficult to understand and also hard to change. On the other hand, formalized routines are easier to implement, and management can try to embed their lessons directly in the routines, procedures, and products. 

IT can be used to find organizational knowledge areas that can be used as a supporting mechanism for processes and cultures. However, IT can also have a bad influence on culture and processes if not implemented properly. 

Due to difficulty in managing embedded knowledge, firms that succeed will get a competitive advantage. Companies can then use the lessons to improve their workflow and even make better products. 

Embedded knowledge can exist in explicit sources. For example, rules can be written in a manual, however, it is not apparent why doing something as per the given rules is beneficial to the organization.

Each knowledge type is important for an organization’s performance and success. With the right knowledge base and strategies, companies can streamline their processes and achieve organizational growth. 

Did we miss out on any aspect? Let us know in the comments section below!

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