What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge Management. What does it mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (on-line edition) defines knowledge as “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”, and management is defined as the “judicious use of means to accomplish an end”. A cursory search of the internet reveals over 120,000 pages which use the term and, of those who attempt to describe it, there are numerous differences.
Karl-Erik Sveiby defines it as “The art of creating value from an organization’s Intangible assets”. Knowledge Management News says that it is “. . . about connecting people to people and people to information to create competitive advantage”.
Lexis-Nexis, at its InfoPartner website, , points to the Virtual Library on Knowledge Management at @Brint.com, where KM is described as “. . . cater[ing] to the critical issues of organizational adaption (sic), survival and competence in [the] face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change. . . . Essentially, it embodies organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings”.
By using this definition of knowledge, it becomes apparent that it is not merely a collection of data or information. The gathering and organization of data, while useful, is not knowledge. Knowledge requires some intimacy, familiarity, or awareness. It is a compilation of experience and discovery, and not a compendium of dry facts.
It is useful to make a distinction between four elements of human understanding, which may be described as data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Data may be described as “1 : factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation; 2 : information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful.”
Using this definition, it is clear that data, by itself, is of little use to an organization seeking to find meaning in its activities. Data can be likened to bricks, which serve no useful purpose when merely stacked in the corner of the yard, yet provide shelter from the elements when constructed into a dwelling. It is the construction of the dwelling which can be likened to the definition of information, which is, inter alia, “. . . the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data . . . .”
Knowledge however, as we’ve seen, requires some familiarity or intimacy gained through experience or association. Using the dwelling example, we might think of knowledge of our brick house as consisting of knowing how to heat it properly, or recognizing which windows to open to adequately ventilate it. Knowledge is not merely the fact (data) that there are windows or heating elements available, nor even the recognition that opening the windows or turning on the heat will have an effect (information), but the familiarity with (knowledge of) their proper use through either trail and error, or from reading a manual or being taught by a friend or family member.
In an organizational setting, knowledge consists of the proper use of information (composed of numerous data points) for such things as manufacturing operations, sales forecasting, income reporting and analysis, human resource management, and all other activities associated with the successful operation of a business or organization.
As to wisdom, it is not my intention to discuss it, other than to say that without the wise application of the tools and strategies we are developing, all our work will be for naught. We can gather all the data available, organize it until we’re exhausted, yet until we have the wisdom to know what to do with our findings, we will merely be organizing things in different containers, oblivious to their true worth, and incapable of take advantage of what they offer us.
Knowledge management then, can be seen as the judicious use of all information and data gathered by a company as it pursues its vision and seeks to perform its mission. The success of an organization turns on its ability to properly gather data and information, organize it in a coherent fashion, and make it both available and useful to its members (employees).
difficulty, which Knowledge Management attempts to address, is in the process
of organizing and making available all the collective knowledge which will
optimize the capabilities of its resources, whether human or capital.
 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, hereinafter “Merriam Webster” [online edition] (accessed 10/28/00); available at http://www.m-w.com/
 Sveiby Knowledge Management [online consultant] (last modified April, 2000); available at http://www.sveiby.com.au/KnowledgeManagement.html
 Knowledge Management News, Hoyt Consulting [online consultant; (last modified June, 1999), http://www.kmnews.com/Editorial/km.htm
 Lexis:Nexis InfoPartner [online info and consulting] (last modified March, 2000); available at http://ip.lexis-nexis.com/
 Yogesh Malhotra, Ph.D, @Brint.com [online business reference] (last modified October, 2000); available at http://www.brint.com/km/whatis.htm
 Merriam Webster, Op. Cit
 Merriam Webster, Op. Cit