1. 0 Introduction Knowledge management can be considered to be an essential strategic function in any organisation today. As the world becomes more globalised, and traditional structures of intermediation are removed whilst new ones are created, it is clear that knowledge, and consequently a learning organisation is one that is more likely to find unique sources of competitive advantage, and be able to develop sustainable competitive strategies in the long term.
A number of different processes and sub-processes have been identified with knowledge management, such as knowledge generation, knowledge codification, and knowledge transfer or realisation (Grover and Davenport, 2001). Nonaka (1994) suggests that knowledge itself is created through the conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge, through the processes of socialisation, internalisation, externalisation, and combination. Technology has often been used to facilitate and support the processes involved in knowledge management.
Knowledge management is essential for sustaining the growth of an organisation and ensuring its success. From the perspective of investors, the worth or value of an organisation is as a result of its ability to strategically retain and generate knowledge that facilitates the organisation’s business activity. The sharing of practices throughout the organisational hierarchy, and adoption of effective techniques formulated by individuals having great expertise in the relevant field can help to improve the efficiency of the business activity.
Yet the intertwining of knowledge management processes and information and communication technologies (ICT) may blind knowledge managers to the shortcomings of the use of ICT in knowledge management processes. This essay therefore seeks to present a critical evaluation of the benefits and limitations of ICT in knowledge management processes.
2. 0 Benefits of Using ICT Knowledge management is essential for sustaining the growth of an organisation.
From the perspective of investors, the worth or value of an organisation is as a result of its ability to strategically retain and generate knowledge that facilitates the organisation’s business activity. The sharing of practices throughout the organisational hierarchy, and adoption of effective techniques formulated by individuals having great expertise in the relevant field can help to improve the efficiency of the business activity. Wenger et al (2010) explain that one of the main advantages of technology is that it has allowed communities to interact in new ways.
In fact, new technology that was developed to facilitate interaction between communities was often the result of a need that was felt by these communities, for a tool to facilitate interaction within the community. The technology tools help communities to bridge problems such as time and space, participation and reification, etc. Examples of such tools include the Internet itself, wikis, etc. In terms of knowledge management processes, these communication tools are important because they facilitate communication between two or more people, and consequently tacit knowledge sharing within the community.
Kelly (2009) explains that the technological dimensions are part and parcel of effective knowledge management. Some of the technologies which are essential for modern knowledge management processes include business intelligence, CRM (Customer relationship management software), collaboration, distributed learning, knowledge mapping, etc. Databases can be used as knowledge repositories, as well as for storing structured and unstructured knowledge; they may also be used to identify the people (tacit knowledge holders) within the organisation.
Each of these different set of technological tools facilitate different knowledge management processes. For example, business intelligence software allows the firm to create knowledge about its competitors, and the broader economic environment. Collaboration and distributed learning technologies allows individuals within the organisation to communicate and share knowledge, allowing for geographical and structural barriers to be overcome. This is especially important in today’s globalised world. Technology simplifies the flow of knowledge and accelerates its dissemination and assimilation.
Knowledge discovery technologies allow the firm to find new knowledge, either within the organisation itself, or outside; knowledge mapping technologies facilitate the tracking of knowledge sources effectively, etc. Overall, it can be said that the different aspects of knowledge creation, transfer and storage is facilitated through technological infrastructure. Introducing technology in knowledge management will reduce redundancy in the activities of an organisation. It can enhance productivity and can be used for skill development. Promoting client value can also simplified by using technology for knowledge management.
Improved and efficient use of knowledge management offers competitive benefits in the market. It leverages an organisation and makes it better prepared to face uncertainties both on a local and global scale. The sharing of practices, techniques and information with partners around the globe, made easy by technology can help streamline business processes which otherwise may be inefficient and wasteful i. e. aligning the organisational objectives with the available resources to successfully conduct the business activity can be greatly enhanced with the use of technology in knowledge management. Zack, 1999)
3. 0 Limitations of Using ICT Boland et al (2004) opine that much of the effort to design information technology to support some of the higher level knowledge management functions such as cognition and decision making at the managerial level have severe shortcomings. They highlight some of the problems inherent with using ICT such functions, explaining that as the collection of representations grows, as in hypertext, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate through the collection. Help is required, and this help is the price that has to be paid for richer communication.
Then there is multiplicity, where each of the actors have their own interpretations of the same situation; these multiple interpretations are required in order to support individual reflective thought as well as group dialog. Clearly, technology is not sufficiently advanced yet to support these high level rich communication that is required for knowledge management. Roberts (2010) is rather critical of the ability of ICT to contribute to knowledge transfer, especially tacit knowledge transfer. She states that technology has been proven to be very useful for the transfer of codified knowledge, i. . explicit knowledge, but is still relatively less useful for the transfer of tacit knowledge.
Furthermore, the impact of ICT on the production processes even in the knowledge based economy of today, which is highly dependent on technology, is unevenly distributed. This is because technology is yet to be able to replace, much less enhance certain forms of human interaction. Roberts (ibid) further explains that knowledge is a very complex construct, resulting in technology being inadequate to fully facilitate knowledge transfer (esp. acit knowledge). For example, she highlights that tacit knowledge transfer requires antecedents such as trust, mutual understanding, and many other factors that can be established only through face to face interaction (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998). Hislop (2002) explains that the sharing of knowledge between communities is very complex and not straightforward. Different organisations may experience different problems with the sharing of knowledge, because of different factors.
Any application of technology for the purposes of knowledge sharing therefore should take into account the potential difficulties involved in knowledge sharing across communities. Knowledge sharing within communities is made more complex also when there is a lack of the sense of collective identity as well as a significant common knowledge base. Divergent identities means that there may be perceived or actual differences in interest between two or more communities, creating a potential for conflict. Walsham (2001) provides many examples of where ICT is inadequate for knowledge management.
For example, he shows that the knowledge management processes are particularly complex when working across different cultures. The workers in different cultures based their specialist expertise on different foundations (such as experience, or theoretical knowledge) resulting in different methods of knowledge transmission through the product cycle. These different workers from different cultures would then give different degrees of importance to technology, and the different emphases on face to face contact.
Walsham (ibid) further suggests that the role of technology in knowledge management processes is limited to facilitating communication, such as through the creation of safe enclaves for online communication. He also stresses that the use of technology should be context-dependant. In fact, Newell et al (in Prichard, 2000) rightly point out that technology has been considered to be essential in knowledge management, but is actually based on ‘nebulous concepts’. However, the increasing pervasiveness of technology in organisations, and the different ways in which it can be put to use creates its own problems.
They explain that the routine use and reliance on IT cuts across different managerial specialisms, and increases the levels of uncertainty about the relationship between the use of the technology and the pursuit of the organisational goals. This means that many organisations perhaps adopt technology for the sake of adopting technology. However, this should not be the case, as IT is just a tool like any other, to be used to achieve a particular purpose. The relative sophistication of the tool tends to blind managers as to the fact that it is a tool, and using the tool becomes the goal.
This is detrimental to the organisation’s long term prospects. Hislop (2010) explains that it is the fundamental nature of knowledge that makes it extremely difficult for technology to play a central role in the knowledge sharing processes. This is because very specific conditions are required for ICT-based knowledge sharing to take place successfully. From the practical perspective, the tacit and explicit division of types of knowledge has worked well; viewing knowledge through a different lens does not do away with the problems that arise when technology is to be used in the knowledge management processes.
McKinlay (2002) also points out that there may be other dangers associated with the over reliance on technology for knowledge management. For example, he explains that team work is used for knowledge sharing, because it was able to result in the extraction of tacit knowledge hidden in the routines of team work; this extraction of tacit knowledge could then allow for its conversion into codified knowledge.
If team work were to be abolished totally, then the team working routines which facilitated the extraction of the tacit knowledge would not take place; consequently, the extraction of tacit knowledge would also not take place. Furthermore, he points out that the use of technology often results in formal working practises. However, there are ‘relatively frubby and pedestrian forms of knowledge’ that are very important for knowledge creation, in the form of radical product and process innovation.
From this it can be seen that the over emphasis on the use of technology in knowledge management can actually be counter productive, and result in less effective knowledge management. Jackson (1999) explains that one of the major problems with the use of technology in knowledge management processes is that both technological and business changes are taking place at a very rapid pace. This means that human beings have very little time to get to grip with the change, and assess the impact of these changes.
There is also consequently even less time for reflection on the type of systems and competencies needed, and to create new configurations of work based on these new technologies. In addition to this there is also the issue of cost effectiveness, which underlies all effort in the business environment. If any task is not cost effective, it should not be undertaken. However, the pace of progress of technology cannot be predicted, and this undermines the cost efficiency of any effort relating to the assessment and effective implementation of technology in knowledge management processes.
Overall, it can be said that it is clear that the blind use of technology in knowledge management processes has a number of disadvantages which should not be ignored by any good knowledge manager. 3. 0 Conclusion Clearly, the role of ICT in knowledge management is one that is evolving. This is because not only is knowledge management itself evolving, but technology itself is developing at a rapid pace. ICTs have been shown to bring a number of benefits to the various knowledge management processes, and can be considered to be essential for these processes.
However, it was also shown that ICTs are not sufficiently developed to be able to replace face to face interaction in knowledge management processes. In fact, it is shown that ICT is still highly inadequate in replacing the antecedents required for higher level knowledge management processes that are provided by face to face communications. Hence it can be said that knowledge managers must use ICT in a considered manner. Neither can they ignore the benefits of ICT to some knowledge management processes, nor can they ignore the limitations of ICT for the other knowledge management processes.