Technology, since the days of the Industrial Revolution, has been used by large corporations, such as factories and the railways, to great advantage. Starting around the end of the 19th century, technology began to be used directly by the consumer, but remained essentially a means of satisfying a personal need, such as lighting or listening to music. In the past decade, as technologies such as e-mail, Web, Weblogs (blogs), Wikis, and instant messaging have become pervasive, the way technology is used by individuals has changed—it has increasingly been put to use to meet social needs, such as interaction, sharing, and networking. This new paradigm of technology use, and the technologies that have enabled it, may be termed social computing. By its very nature, social computing facilitates the sharing and leveraging of knowledge residing within a community of people. In this article, we discuss how social computing can act as the primary mechanism that enables the management of knowledge within an organization.
Background: The Discipline Of Knowledge Management
There are several ingredients that go into organizational success, and leveraging assets well is one of these. As intangible assets represent a rising proportion of total assets, they have come to represent an important area of management focus. The discipline of knowledge management (KM) thus encompasses the organizational activities directed toward the assimilation, dissemination, harvest, and reuse of knowledge. In simpler terms, KM is the answer to the question, “How can the organization update and use its knowledge more effectively?” (Kochikar, 2000).
Some of the world’s most successful organizations, be they corporate, academic, or government, invest considerably in KM, and substantial benefits have been reported across industries (Berkman, 2001; Frappaolo, 2006; Kochikar & Suresh, 2005).
Knowledge Management Review magazine’s survey of 400 global corporations revealed that the following are key objectives of KM programs (KM Review, 2002):
Increasing organizational communication
Gaining competitive advantage
Increasing collaboration among employees
Improving customer relationships
Learning from mistakes and successes
Capturing and retaining tacit knowledge
Using the framework of Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998), these objectives can be classified as improving financial capital (b, e); improving social capital (a, c, d); and improving intellectual capital (f, g, h).
Each organization must fashion a KM strategy that takes cognizance of its unique competencies, aspirations, and business context. Mechanisms for organizational KM typically take the form of setting up strongly engineered governance mechanisms, focusing on four key aspects: people, processes, technology, and content (see, e.g., Kochikar, Mahesh, and Mahind, 2002).
As an exemplar, Infosys Technologies (NASDAQ: INFY) has had a KM program since 1999, which aims to empower every employee with the knowledge of every other employee. Key elements of the KM architecture include the Knowledge Currency Unit scheme, a comprehensive mechanism for reward, recognition, and measurement of KM benefits; KShop, the corporate knowledge portal built in-house; and the knowledge hierarchy, a four-level taxonomy of over 2000 subject areas that constitute knowledge in the Infosys context (Kochikar et al., 2002).
For more on KM and its organizational uses, see work by Davenport and Prusak (1998), Drucker, Garvin, andLeonard (1998), Nonaka and Ichijo (2006), and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Prediction Markets: Speculative markets that can aggregate the opinions of a large number of users regarding the outcome of a particular event (Wikipedia, 2006 AU25: The in-text citation "Wikipedia, 2006" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).
Intellectual Capital (IC): The “stock” of knowledge that exists in an organization, that can be used for generating value for stakeholders ( Bontis, Crossan, & Hulland 2002 ).
Social Capital: The resources available through and derived from the network of relationships possessed by an individual or social unit within an organization ( Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998 ).
Collaborative Filtering: A technique for producing recommendations that are likely to meet an individual’s taste, by looking at the preferences of “like-minded” other people.
Metcalfe’s law: The utility of a network rises in proportion to the square of the number of its users. This means that as more users get connected into a network, the marginal utility perceived by new users increases dramatically ( Metcalfe, 1996 ).
Intangible Assets: Organizational assets that do not have any physical manifestation, or whose physical measures have no bearing on their value. The following is a typical list of intangible assets - fragmented knowledge residing with individuals, or encapsulated in artifacts such as documentation and software code, codified and classified knowledge residing in repositories, unique systems, processes, methodologies, and frameworks that the organization follows, “formalized” intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, and brands, and relationships and alliances that the organization may have shaped ( Kochikar, 2002 ).
Knowledge Currency Units (KCU): A mechanism defined at Infosys Technologies to convert all knowledge-sharing activities to a common denominator, in order to enable their measurement in quantitative terms.
Knowledge Management (KM): The gamut of organizational processes, responsibilities, and systems directed toward the assimilation, dissemination, harvest, and reuse of knowledge ( Kochikar, 2000 ).