What is Knowledge Management ?

Knowledge Management, broadly defined, refers to a set of practices, procedures and systems that facilitate the transfer and sharing of information, data, knowledge, technical know-how, throughout the organization. Some of the conventional methods of knowledge management are interaction with peers, apprenticeships, manuals and guidebooks, formal training programs etc.

Though knowledge and information were being shared within companies and institutions for a long time, of late knowledge management has evolved as a distinct discipline. Knowledge Management therefore concerns itself with intellectual capital, developing and maintaining systems such as intranets, internet etc to facilitate the free and easy access to information, etc. There have been many scientific and technological innovations that have greatly facilitated the sharing of knowledge. These include the internet, e-learning, web-conferencing etc.

Knowledge Management draws from many disciplines such as the psychology, decision support systems, Information technology, technical writing, organizational science etc. Some companies have a knowledge management position, known as the chief knowledge officer in the Human resources department who concerns himself with the activities related to dissemination of information. In many others, the functions exist, albeit, informally.

There are different ways of looking at knowledge management. Some companies view Knowledge management in a techno centric manner. They place emphasis on knowledge about technology. Others though, place emphasis on employees and helping employees share information among one another. Still others prefer to institutionalize the creation, sharing and storage of information through definite and fixed processes.

Experts say that knowledge can be accessed or captured in three stages during any knowledge related activity. The three stages are before, during and after the activity. Before starting any new project or activity, the people involved are likely to refer to previous reports and analysis. This can be aided by effective knowledge systems which can capture previous reports and information and maintain for easy access. Similarly, knowledge can be captured after the activity or project is finished and is ready for implementation. The knowledge thus acquired is safely maintained for future reference.

In the business world there are a numbers of factors that drive and enable the practice of knowledge management in organizations. 

- Faster product cycles 
- Enable learning for the organization as a whole 
- Ensure that the intellectual capital and assets are well managed. New recruits need to be trained and should have access to knowledge. 
- Perception that knowledge management can help companies maintain their market share, improve productivity etc. 
- Need for employees to have access to information in the increasingly complex business environment. This has a direct relation to employee efficiency and productivity.