Before we look at the benefits of knowledge management, let’s first ask the question: what is knowledge management? Well, knowledge management is a discipline that is fairly new – it’s only been around since the early 1990s. For that reason, it is still evolving and growing as a field.
But, a very simple explanation of knowledge management (sometimes abbreviated as KM) is that it revolves around the idea that knowledge contained within an institution – whether that is a corporation, a non-profit organization or an academic institution – is an important resource that is crucial to that organization’s success and should be treated as such. Furthermore, important knowledge contained within the organization can better help the organization achieve its goals if it is shared and used within the organization in a streamlined and logical manner.
Take this example: imagine a pharmaceutical company that is getting inconsistent results when making new drug applications to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The applications aren’t always getting approved, and sometimes aren’t getting approved in the way the company envisioned. (For example, maybe the company wants a drug to get approved to be taken in several different dosages, but it only gets approved for one type of dosage.) But clearly the company has the knowledge to make successful applications; in fact, many of their applications are very successful. The trick to increasing their success rate, and hence their profits, is to use knowledge management to improve and standardize their application process. In a nutshell: after implementing a knowledge management initiative, an FDA approval for one new drug, which the company expected to take three years, came within just nine months. In addition, many employees in the company expressed appreciation — and increased satisfaction in their jobs – because of the improved ability to share knowledge throughout the company.
That’s just one example of the benefits of knowledge management. So, what happens when a knowledge management initiative is undertaken? Within a company or organization, a knowledge management initiative might involve:
- Recruiting individuals from outside the company to provide their expertise, knowledge and insight, which can then be shared within the organization and used by the organization to improve or better focus its own processes.(In the pharmaceutical example, the company assembled a group of former federal regulators, who provided a crucial piece of information – the fact that regulators really are only trying to answer three basic questions during the approval process – that allowed the pharmaceutical company to streamline and focus its new drug applications process.)
- Creating a diagram that shows who in the organization has what knowledge, and when that knowledge might be beneficial to the goals of the company or group. If one person within an organization needs a piece of information to complete a task, yet has no idea who in the organization possesses that piece of information, that can be a recipe for stress and failure. However, if there is a diagram that shows who knows what within the organization, and members of the organization know the procedure for obtaining knowledge from others and sharing knowledge with others, then it is far easier to achieve success.
- Creating processes that allow for knowledge to be shared at the appropriate times and situations. If there is a process in place for sharing information, that process can become second nature to members of the organization and that can help to ingrain the process of knowledge sharing within the organization.
- Creating knowledge repositories for the organization. This serves a similar purpose to an FAQ on a Web site. If there are certain questions that come up over and over again, it is much more efficient to have the answers contained in an FAQ than to have a person who knows the answer re-write and re-explain that answer in a personal email each time someone asks the question. Organizations can create different types of knowledge repositories, depending on their needs.
- Facilitating knowledge transfer amongst members of the organization. Knowledge management recognizes that as more knowledge is shared within an organization, that knowledge is then transferred to new members, and that benefits the organization as a whole.
So, in summary, what are the benefits of knowledge management? Well, the answer depends on the specific challenges the organization is facing, along with its goals. But, in general, knowledge management can help an organization put its knowledge to good use more efficiently, often leading to decreased time spent and increased profits or better outcomes. It can also decrease frustration amongst members of the organization and increase their satisfaction levels, as well as improving the strength of the organization as a whole.
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