The Impetus Toward Knowledge Management
Whether it is called Knowledge Management, knowledge sharing, intellectual capital management, best practice management, the learning organization, or innovation management, there are powerful reasons to learn about knowledge and the process of communicating complex change and ideas in order to achieve rapid action in their integration into the organization.
There are also many reasons proposed for adopting a method of managing the growing volume of information gathered and accessed by various organizations. While these reasons are numerous and varied, they generally share some of the same characteristics. This is true with respect to both governmental and commercial organizations. Two disparate examples are the Directors of Information Management of the United States Army on whose website appears a lengthy presentation regarding Knowledge Management, and the Rochester, New York SGML/XML (Structured General Markup Language/Extendable Markup Language) User’s Group.
The Army’s presentation speaks to two of the basic issues addressed by KM, viz. how an organization can remain effective in the face of a diminished workforce, and how that organization can provide some form of logical continuity to its operations despite the possibility of frequent retirement and turnover.
The SGML/XML User’s Group addresses the same general problem the Army faces, speaking in terms of “Leverag[ing] Work Already Done” and “Stop[ping] Knowledge ‘Walking out of the door’ “. These are two of the most critical issues faced by all organizations today, and have been a continuing problem, the solution of which may now be possible through the use of new technology and new thinking. Much of the new technology has become available recently due to the continuing growth and development of the Worldwide Web and other forms of rapid communication and widespread dissemination of information.
Examples of tools which are commonly in use today, and which did not exist 5 – 10 years ago, are search engines, data mining software, the development of portable data format (pdf) and distillers, Internet and intranet portal sites, desktop dashboards, and knowledge organizing agents.
There are also two basic tracks, or methodologies, with which to approach the concept of Knowledge Management. The first treats knowledge as an object which can be identified and handled using information systems. These systems include artificial intelligence, reengineering, and groupware, among others. The second track looks at people and their management. To the people involved in this track, knowledge is seen as processes to be changed and improved 
The former is developing rapidly, as new technology comes on line, whether it be faster processors, wireless communications, new forms of data storage and retrieval, or new software for organizing and comprehending information and data. The latter, however, is where the real developmental difficulty lies. There are several problems inherent in teaching people new methods for acquiring and, especially, for sharing knowledge.
Nevertheless, companies like IBM and Lotus are investing a great deal of time and money in supporting the move toward Knowledge Management. In a recently published paper, these two organizations assert that “Knowledge Management will soon pervade business practices in the same way that eBusiness pervades commerce. Similar to eBusiness, this trend started out on the fringe of computing and gained incremental credibility from the successes of early adopters.
“Similar to eBusiness, Knowledge Management will play a critical role in corporate longevity and ultimately distinguish the winners from those companies that merely survive. It will enable companies to apply their intangible assets, and in the spirit of eBusiness, revolutionize the way they do business. In fact, elements of Knowledge Management are already manifest in many successful eBusiness practices such as electronic procurement where knowledge accelerates and bolsters the entire procurement process.”
The number of organizations, including Universities around the world, which are discussing, teaching, or extolling the virtues of Knowledge Management are too numerous to chronicle in so short a paper. To emphasize the point, as of this writing a search at http://www.altavista.com, typed in as “why do we need knowledge management” (without the quote marks surrounding the phrase) produces 1,274,124 pages or “hits”.
Of those, only the first 200 are available, and my experience is that the last of the pages will generally not be on point, that is their relationship to the original search phrase will only be ancillary. In this case, the 198th page is, although not responsive to the question “why do we need” it, nevertheless directly on point regarding Knowledge Management. Furthermore, it isn’t the website of some college kid who has a passing interest in the subject, it is a page from the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation.
organizations whose sites appear in the first six pages of hits are Rutgers
University, Oklahoma State University, the Xerox Corporation, Compaq, and the
Anderson School of Business at UCLA. I believe it can be safely said that
Knowledge Management has come in from the fringe of computing, and is gaining
steam with every day.
 “Using Knowledge Management for Mission Success“, [on-line presentation] 1999 U. S. Army DOIM (Directors of Information Management) Conference; available at http://doim.army.mil/dc99/presentations.htm; accessed 30 October 2000
 “Lotus and IBM Knowledge Management Strategy“, [on-line white paper], (Lotus Development Corporation, 2000); available as “Knowledge Management Strategy” at http://www-4.ibm.com/software/data/knowledge/reference.html