You’re at your desk at work, trying to remember how to log on to a shared company account. Where did you put that sticky note with the info? (Who knows!) It’s gone now, and you’re about to spend too much time asking your coworkers only to find they don’t remember it either.
We’ve all been there.
With ever-changing policies, processes and regulations, remembering the details of a job is a challenge in its own right.
For a business, it’s imperative to archive the collective knowledge of your workforce. This cuts down on time wasted by employees looking for information and following old protocols.
Professionals have been studying the subject of knowledge management as we know it today for 30 years. As organizations ballooned and global corporations became more commonplace, keeping employees informed became a challenge.
Experts began exploring the methods and channels through which employees traded information at work. These methods tended to be unorganized and informal. This meant there were few quality checks or updates unless managers addressed the matter formally.
They found that companies needed a way to collect and process information on a shared platform.
This collection of methods and tools for information collection and curation became the field of knowledge management.
Knowledge management definition
Knowledge management (KM) is the process of capturing, storing, sharing, and managing knowledge and information for an organization.
Today, knowledge management refers to all the tools and processes used by a company to organize both internal and external information concerning their product, brand and procedures.
What are knowledge management systems?
Knowledge management systems (KMS) consist of all the software tools that assist in collecting and managing knowledge in a business. While there are products marketed as standalone knowledge management solutions, there are multiple systems involved in the process.
If this list seems broad to you, you’re definitely not wrong thinking so. The nature of knowledge management systems is such that any software solution capable of transmitting information can be considered part of the KMS stack.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Many other software types also fall under the umbrella of knowledge management systems because of this broad definition.
Defining knowledge management systems can be difficult. While most experts agree that the term can include many types of tools, they disagree on where exactly to draw the lines. It's not uncommon to see knowledge management considered a type of groupware and vice versa.
However, the broad consensus is that any tool that assists in the gathering, discussion, storage or distribution of knowledge can be considered a knowledge management system that enhances the larger KM process.
Any tool that helps bring up necessary information can be considered part of a business’ knowledge management system. For this reason, it’s easier to think of a KMS as a stack rather than a singular product.
What are the benefits of knowledge management?
Knowledge management is something we all know is probably beneficial for a business, but it’s helpful to spell out all the reasons why. Effective KM is useful on a daily basis for everyone within a business for several reasons.
Streamlines decision-making — One of the main benefits of KM is the subsequent effects it has on decision-making. Since all the relevant information attached to tasks, workload, and workflow are already in one place, well-informed decisions can be made quickly and with confidence. Say goodbye to analysis paralysis and hello to quick decisions.
Bolsters innovation and ideation — KM systems gather all the informal information siloed within teams and makes it widely available across an organization. This level of visibility into processes can spur ideation around how to make them more efficient within and across teams.
Reduces time spent on routine tasks via standardization — Every role in a business has at least a few routine tasks to tackle on a daily basis. The nature of routine tasks allow for an innate methodology to partially automate or standardize them. KMs allow for these standardized processes to be housed in a place where everyone can easily access them, freeing up more time for responsibilities that require more attention and brain power.
Prevents redundant creation of process documentation — There’s nothing more frustrating than doing work that’s already been done, especially if that work was done with the intention of helping others. Having designated repositories for process documentation means employees have a place to check first before they type something up that already exists.
Mitigates mistakes — Mistakes are an important part of life, but it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with, especially in the workplace. Most mistakes at work take place because someone didn’t know proper procedure or didn’t have full context for a problem. Well-implemented knowledge management erases those gaps in awareness by making all relevant information widely available and updatable.
Implementing effective knowledge management
Just owning the tools above isn’t going to guarantee a company effective knowledge management. Organizations have to take extra measures to ensure tools are utilized properly and often for a thriving, constructive KMS.
Many employees may think the workflow involved in KM are too time-consuming. One of the key aspects of creating a potent KMS is to instill a culture where knowledge sharing is prioritized. Managers should aim to fit knowledge collection tasks into existing workflows to ensure that sharing knowledge and documenting it fits easily into their day to day.
Once these measures are in place, employees will change the way they approach knowledge management and see the benefits of these tools.
Trying to be more efficient with your time? Check out our guide on time management.