New Zealand Applied Business Education Conference 2002 Knowledge Management Just a Buzz Word?


Nov 6, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)


New Zealand Applied Business Education Conference 2002

Knowledge Management

Just a Buzz Word?

Alan Jolliffe

School of Business

Trevor Nesbit

School of Computing and School of Business

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

PO Box 540, Christchurch

Phone (03)940

Fax (03)940

Knowledge Management

Just a Buzz Word?


Key Words:
e management, Components, Technology

Is knowledge management just another one of the business buzz words that are dreamed up
from time to time, or is it something real that is here to say?

A number of writers including Schneider and Perry (2001), Turban
et al (2002), Huang et al
(1999), Schafer (2000) and Tiwana (2001) have attempted to define what knowledge
management actually is, with many different concepts emerging. What has emerged clearly
from many, in particular from Schafer (2000) is that there ar
e three essential components to
what can be constituted as a knowledge management, namely people, content and technology.

Writers such as Davis and Hajnal (1998), Schafer (2000) and Nesbit (2001a, 2001b) have
described how knowledge management is a key in
gredient for organisations adopting

This paper is explores the definitions of knowledge management and ways in which
knowledge management is being used in organisations. The literature is reviewed, including
the writers identified abo
ve, and interviews of people in significant roles in two organisations
using knowledge management in New Zealand are analysed.


re is much discussion in business, education, government and not for profit organisations
about the knowledg
e economy and the need to be innovative and entrepreneurial to succeed.

Knowledge management has its recent origins in the development of information technology
for various companies and it has spawned the development of a number of software products
ch is not part of this research.

However a review of the literature shows that technology is only one of t
he drivers necessary
to ensure k
nowledge management is part of normal business.

Knowledge management has reached its most useful status in helping w
ith the development
and management of ecommerce businesses mainly because a large part of the ecommerce
business is dealing with electronic information. Ecommerce uses information in a coded way
(databases) and reports can be generated for management purpo
ses from those databases.

It is argued that knowledge management is more than technology, more than information
more than knowledge more than systems. It is about the following,

Seeking input into the organization form a variety of sources both internal
and external.

Systematically obtaining the information over a period of time

Business culture and way of thinking and doing things

Organisational learning to ensure people have the right skills and access to knowledge

Intellectual capital which can be capi
talized upon

Competitor analysis to better understand the competition

There are different levels of learning required by different people


Knowledge Management may be seen as being a reasonably recent phenomenon that has been
written about s
ince the mid
late 1990s. However, Drucker (1969) as cited in Stewart et al
(2000) described how the US has shifted from an economy of manufactured goods to a
“knowledge economy”, where the basic resource is not capital, but knowledge.

Bridges (1996) sugge
sts that knowledge work is hard to divide up into particular jobs but that
it is carried out by cross functional teams which then makes traditional jobs and job
descriptions redundant and Helgesen (1996) takes this further by suggesting that all workers
e knowledge workers in some way and that they are subject to continual upgrading.

Nasseri (1996) emphasised the importance of knowledge management suggesting that
intellectual capital management will influence strategic decision making while Barclay and
urray (1997) argue that knowledge is an explicit concern for business and that the turning of
intellectual assets into positive business results is vital. Zack (1998) suggested that
organisations undertake a knowledge based SWOT analysis and compare that w
ith their
competitors to identify how aggressively organisations were competing on knowledge.

Davis and Hajnal (1998) identified the emerging characteristic of knowledge workers in
management roles, and went on to describe how the emphasis for knowledge w
orkers is on
skill hybridisation and as such is not limited to general management skills. Lundvall and
Johnson (1994) as cited by Davis and Hajnal (1998) explained how Knowledge Management
extends to more unusual combinations of contextual, tacit and techn
ical skills, with these
being described as being combinations of “know
how, know
why and know

Davenport (1998) studied thirty one knowledge management projects in twenty four
companies and from this information identified eight key characteristics a
nd concluded that
while the eight characteristics vary from project to project in their importance effective
knowledge management is one of many components of good management but that in the
future all companies being equal it is the companies that can man
age and leverage knowledge
better will be those that are more successful.

Garratt (2000) discusses the concept of the Learning Organisation and it need to keep up to
date or ahead of the rate of external environmental change and organisations that drop be
that rate of change are likely to fail.

Garratt (2000) suggests that conscious learning is highly beneficial and may also become a
tradable asset. Central to this theme is the notion of knowledge and its management is
important and in particular it ne
eds to be applied to organisational learning in the areas of
operational learning, strategy learning and policy learning.

Malhotra (2000) discusses the concepts of knowledge management in relation to future
business practice and suggests that many current

definitions are related to storage of corporate
memory for future use and identifies and exposes 3 myths, namely 1 Knowledge Management
systems can deliver the right information to the right person at the right time, 2 Knowledge
management technologies ca
n store human intelligence and 3 knowledge management
technologies can distribute human intelligence.

Malhotra (2000) suggests that while organisations are still trying to capture, store and transfer
knowledge the problem is not one of lack of information

but human attention, innovation and
creativity and more importantly how to join information and humans together in such a way
that new knowledge can be created and used to solve current and future business initiatives.

Stewart et al (2000) outlines four
assumptions concerning the management of knowledge with
these being that (a) knowledge is worth managing (b) organisations benefit from managing
knowledge (c) knowledge can be managed and (d) that there is little risk associated with the
management of know

Many writers have linked Knowledge Management to eBusiness/eCommerce. Nesbit (2001a
and 2001b) in analysing case studies of New Zealand organisations described how
Knowledge Management is seen as being a key ingredient in eBusiness/eCommerce. Schaf
(2000) explained that Knowledge Management is a key issue in the eBusiness arena, and went
on to describe how “is all about translating knowledge and experience, instinct & values into
documentable knowledge that can be used throughout an organisation a
nd its supply chain”.

Schafer (2000) described how a successful Knowledge Management program is like a three
legged stool, with the 3 legs being People, Content and Technology, and emphasised the
importance of the blending of these three components into a

cohesive unit.

Paul Quintas, Professor of Knowledge Management, stated in a recent interview (2001) that
process was more important and that it is “
about creating an environment in which people can
carry out these various functions and, in particular, cr
eate new knowledge and share
knowledge” (p1
). This is consistent with the idea of value being gained from spreading
knowledge around, as opposed to protecting knowledge as described by Nesbit (2001a).

Amidon (2002), in her forth coming book suggests that
the “new economic world order…will
be based on knowledge, innovation and international collaboration”. Further Amidon suggests
that “…it is the learning process

the pace and effectiveness with which knowledge is

and how swiftly ideas (old and

new) are applied”.

The literature is has emphasised the need for knowledge management to be taken seriously by
organisations, and has identified information and communications technology as a way to
collect, store and distribute information or knowledge.

Many of the authors emphasise the
future of organisations will depend upon how well information and knowledge is managed

while acknowledging that in the future the knowledge organisation will be the successful one.

However the literature does not acknow
ledge any opinion of practitioners who are in the work
environment now and undertaking knowledge management activities.

Research Question

The research question was determined as “
ractitioners understanding of knowledge

is it just a buzz wor
d?” Subquestions included issues of technology, decision
making, human intelligence

and knowledge
, knowledge vs information and distribution.


None of the literature indicated that practitioners had been surveyed in such a way that they
able to give an opinion on the subject of Knowledge management. Most of the literature
is professional opinion and research into technologies, methodologies for knowledge
management and trend research.

From the literature a series of statements about know
ledge management
, knowledge
definitions and
knowledge management
strategy were chosen and placed into a
5 point Likert scale questionnaire.

The three myths of
Malhotra (2000) and the four
assumptions of Stewart et al (2000) were included to seek

responses and check practitioner

The scale provided for agreement with a statement to be at 5 and disagreement at 1.
Respondents were asked to spend only 10 minutes maximum on answering the survey in
order to attain a current knowledge response

to the statements provided.

Additional questions to determine the respondent profile were also added.

The two cases are to be written up as
individual responses identifying areas of similarity and


With two respondents this is on
ly a pilot to identify whether the methodology and questions
are suitable for this type of research as there is a gap in the literature with regards to the views
of practitioners. We decided that the two respondents would not be identified but be referred
to as A and B where A is involved in Information Technology and B is involved in
Information Management.

Subject B showed a higher degree of confidence towards the wide range of statements about
knowledge management and was willing to be more positive or

negative about issues. Subject
A was generally conservative confining most of the responses to the mid range.

Turning now to the specific areas of interest.


There was general agreement about the use of technology to capture
, classify

and tr



although it was not strongly suggested that it was important
indicated that it was necessary for people and technology to work together.
ability to transfer knowledge

was neither
or denied
indicating there is room for
further development in this area. There was agreement that technology cou
ld not store human
intelligence but that retrieval of information is important.

Disagreement came in the area of technology being able to deliver the rig
ht information to the
right people at the right time with B suggesting it can and A suggesting it cannot. This may be
related to their technical backgrounds.

Interestingly the situation was reversed when
identifying whether knowledge management was about p
rocess or technology with A
indicating it was about process and B about technology.

Technology therefore was seen as an important part of knowledge management but not the
main part although further work is required to test this.

Decision Making:

Again th
ere was general agreement about the usefulness of knowledge management in the
decision making process

with respondents strongly agreeing about the value it can add to
organizations and to particular products and services and provide a basis for competitive

advantage although respondents are less sure that knowledge is dynamic as suggested in the
literature. Both strongly suggested that information should be available to decision makers but
less strong about helping managers doing the right thing and quite w
eakly suggesting that
knowledge had any part to play in financial performance and positive business results. This
latter observation is at odds with the literature.

The two key areas of difference were knowledge management

s role in strategic plans with A

suggested it was
and B it was not that important with the literature suggesting that knowledge
is vital for strategic planning.

Where knowledge needs to be reinvented regularly A suggested
it was no
t important where B said it was and the literature sugges
ting that reinvention is vital
to success.

The literature suggests that knowledge and its management is vital to organisational success
especially in undertaking both short term and long term decisions and this information needs
to be in the hands of the
decision makers.

Human Intelligence:

This was an area where there appeared to be the greatest difference between the two
respondents in the following areas.

Creation of new knowledge was rated high by A and low
by B and intellectual capital rated high by
B and low by A.

With regard to risk associated
with knowledge management A rated it low and B rated it high.

However both
that knowledge
was worth managing
and that it is a basic resource as suggested in
the literature.


ere was considerable agreement with the need for good


and wide distribution
of knowledge and information with the major difference being whether or not to distribute the
information to customers and suppliers with A suggesting it was not de
able and B
suggesting it was however sharing information inside and outside the organization was
moderately supported.

The Literature suggests strongly that to share information is very
important and in the ecommerce situation is necessary for success.

nformation and knowledge:

ain general agreement on the

need to capture
, store and distribute
information and
knowledge to as many p
eople as possible for their use is consistent with the literature.

Information was more important to A and B was interested

in knowledge. Inte
enough when asked if k
nowledge management was about storing information both indicated
it was not about this.

Of interest was the
big difference about capturing information where A rated capturing
information from inside and o
ut side the organization as high and B suggesting it was low and
the literature strongly suggesting that information on the internal and external environments is
a high priority.


Innovation: When asked if innovation was a bi product of knowledge m
anagement A
suggested it was and B it was not.
Asked if knowledge management was an attitude that
boosts productivity, innovation and the bottom line both were in the middle with B being
slightly more positive about its usefulness in this regard. The liter
ature is strong on the value
knowledge management can provide for innovation.

Skill set: Both respondents suggested that knowledge management does not require an
unusual combination of skills which is the opposite to
o the literature which suggests that ne
combinations of skills, skill hybridization and contextual, tacit and technical skills will be

People, context and technology: There was agreement that the combination was in important
but this only came out in the statements that had those co
mment in it. Other wise there were
some difference of opinion. The literature rates this as important.

Turning now to the Myths (
Malhotra, 2000)
and Assumptions (
Stewart et al, 2000).

Myth 1 Knowledge Management systems can deliver the right information
to the right person
at the right time. Both respondents disagreed with Malhotra, (2000) possibly suggesting that
technology may have advanced since this work was published.

Myth 2 Knowledge management technologies can store human intelligence. Both agreed

this myth.

Myth 3 Knowledge management technologies can distribute human intelligence. Both agreed
with this myth.

Assumption 1 Knowledge is worth managing. Both strongly agreed with this assumption.

Assumption 2 Organisations benefit from mana
ging knowledge. Both agreed with this

Assumption 3 Knowledge can be managed. Both agreed with this assumption.

Assumption 4 T
here is little risk associated with the management of knowledge. A agreed and
B disagreed with this a
ssumption. This
perhaps relates

to each persons experience in
managing different types of information and knowledge.


and Recommendations

The results are inconclusive as this is a pilot study
however it does show that there is potential
agreement with much o
f the work already written however there is also potential
disagreement with some writing. Further the two respondents did not agree between
themselves about many aspects proposed as important in the literature.

What does appear to be clear is that the re
spondents identified knowledge management as
important in business and organisational growth. They did not agree with on every statement
and this could be because of their respective education and positions within their

Knowledge management

is also about seeking ways or systems to deliver and match
particular (and general) information to particular people. It is about enabling them to use this
information in a positive


Knowledge management still seems to be about technology, more than

knowledge and more
than systems.

There appears to be an opportunity to develop the idea of knowledge
management further and its promotion to a wider audience.

This pilot study is to be further developed and modified as it has proven to be a useful
ment in identifying consistencies and inconsistencies with the literature and it needs to
be conducted on a wider scale.

Recommendations for further research

The literature suggests there is a

need for people to continue to
learn and also learn new ski
to access and process that knowledge and work needs to be completed to find out what those
skills might be.

There is a need to experiment about new

ways in which information, knowledge and human
can join together
to create new knowledge and new


Further work needs to be carried out on the understanding people have about how important
information and knowledge is for the planning function of business and organizations and its
link to strategic planning and directions.

Further work
could also be carried out on the different perceptions about Knowledge
Management that those in technical roles have in comparison to those who are not in technical


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