Position Paper on Knowledge Asset Management


    Enterprises are realising how important it is to ``know what they know'' and be able to make maximum use of the knowledge. This is their corporate knowledge asset. These knowledge assets reside in many different places such as: databases, knowledge bases, filing cabinets and peoples' heads and are distributed right across the enterprise. All too often one part of an enterprise repeats work of another part simply because it is impossible to keep track of, and make use of, knowledge in other parts. Enterprises need to know:
    • what their corporate knowledge assets are;
    • how to manage and make use of these assets to get maximum return.

    Most traditional company policies and controls focus on the tangible assets of the company and leave unmanaged their important knowledge assets.

    Definition of Knowledge Management

    Knowledge assets are the knowledge regarding markets, products, technologies and organisations, that a business owns or needs to own and which enable its business processes to generate profits.

    Knowledge management involves the identification and analysis of available and required knowledge, and the subsequent planning and control of actions to develop knowledge assets so as to fulfil organisational objectives.

    Why is Knowledge Management Important

    The success of businesses in the 1990's in an increasingly competitive marketplace depends critically on the quality of knowledge which those organisations apply to their key business processes. For example the supply chain depends on knowledge of diverse areas including raw materials, planning, manufacturing and distribution. Likewise product development requires knowledge of consumer requirements, new science, new technology, marketing etc.

    The challenge of deploying the knowledge assets of an organisation to create competitive advantage becomes more crucial as:

    • The marketplace is increasingly competitive and the rate of innovation is rising, so that knowledge must evolve and be assimilated at an ever faster rate.
    • Corporations are organising their businesses to be focused on creating customer value. Staff functions are being reduced as are management structures. There is a need to replace the informal knowledge management of the staff function with formal methods in customer aligned business processes.
    • Competitive pressures are reducing the size of the workforce which holds this knowledge.
    • Knowledge takes time to experience and acquire. Employees have less and less time for this.
    • There are trends for employees to retire earlier and for increasing mobility, leading to loss of knowledge.
    • There is a need to manage increasing complexity as small operating companies a re trans-national sourcing operations.
    • A change in strategic direction may result in the loss of knowledge in a specific area. A subsequent reversal in policy may then lead to a renewed requirement for this knowledge, but the employees with that knowledge may no longer be there.

    Why is Knowledge Management Difficult

    There are many problems associated with finding out these knowledge assets and being able to use them in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Enterprises need:
    • to have an enterprise-wide vocabulary to ensure that the knowledge is correctly understood;
    • to be able to identify, model and explicitly represent their knowledge;
    • to share and re-use their knowledge among differing applications for various types of users, this implies being able to share existing knowledge sources and also future ones.

    Knowledge engineering methods and tools have come a long way towards addressing the USE of a company's knowledge assets, They provide disciplined approaches to designing and building knowledge-based applications. There are tools to support the capture, modelling, validation, verification and maintenance of the knowledge in these applications. However these tools do not extend to supporting the processes for managing corporate knowledge.

    However, we believe that the knowledge modelling techniques that exist to support the use of the knowledge, along with traditional physical assets management techniques, provide a starting point to manage fully the knowledge assets within a company.

    How to Manage Knowledge

    Karl Wiig described three "pillars" for knowledge management: survey and categorise knowledge; appraise and evaluate value of knowledge; and synthesise knowledge related activities. Recent work from the University of Amsterdam (Robert van der Speck and Robert de Hoog) increased this to four, focusing on the activities of conceptualising, reflecting, specifying and reviewing.

    Knowledge management covers the following:

    • identifying what knowledge assets a company possesses
      • Where is the knowledge asset?
      • What does it contain?
      • What is its use?
      • What form is it in?
      • How accessible is it?
    • analysing how the knowledge can add value
      • What are the opportunities for using the knowledge asset?
      • What would be the effect of its use?
      • What are the current obstacles to its use?
      • What would be its increased value to the company?
    • specifying what actions are necessary to achieve better usability & added value
      • How to plan the actions to use the knowledge asset?
      • How to enact actions?
      • How to monitor actions?
    • reviewing the use of the knowledge to ensure added value
      • Did the use of it produce the desired added value?
      • How can the knowledge asset be maintained for this use?
      • Did the use create new opportunities?

    Source: Ann Macintosh, Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute, University of Edinburgh

 Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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