Secure Knowledge Management: Influencing the Development of Human Knowledge Sharing Networks

Secure Knowledge Management: Influencing the Development of Human Knowledge Sharing Networks

Sohail Tamaddon (Accenture/Avanade, Melbourne, Australia), Atif Ahmad (The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia) and Rachelle Bosua (The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJCWT.2015040101
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Human knowledge-sharing networks generate Intellectual Property and Trade Secrets that provide private enterprise with competitive advantages. Although considerable research has focused on increasing the knowledge-sharing outcomes of such networks, there has been comparatively less emphasis on examining the possibility of competitive erosion through knowledge leakage. This paper considers how to mitigate knowledge leakage by influencing the development of human knowledge sharing networks. The authors review the literatures of human knowledge sharing networks as well as information security management in organizations. Based on the literature reviews we identify 12 key factors that influence network development and a security paradigm and associated mechanisms that mitigate knowledge leakage. The authors then identify a range of knowledge protection strategies by applying the security paradigm to the human network development factors. The paper concludes with a discussion on controllability, the extent to which organizations can use each factor to mitigate knowledge leakage.
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1. Introduction

Effective knowledge sharing is critical to the growth of industrialized nations. Equally, the leakage of knowledge through industrial espionage can suffocate innovation and reduce incentives for investment in high-risk and high-reward knowledge-intensive ventures. In a recent report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, the scale of leakage of American Intellectual Property was estimated at a staggering 300 billion dollars per year – roughly equivalent to the total exports of the US to Asia (National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013).

Knowledge management (KM) emphasizes the importance of sharing and disseminating knowledge to benefit organizations and gain competitive advantage (Grant 1996, 1997; Barney, 1991; 1996). Sharing knowledge is generally enabled through the network of human relationships between individuals that is used for communication, seeking advice, problem solving and driving innovation; better known as 'human knowledge-sharing networks' (in this paper we frequently use the term ‘knowledge-sharing networks’ to refer to ‘human knowledge-sharing networks’). These networks play a key role in knowledge-intensive environments, where workers exchange valuable tacit and explicit knowledge that can be harnessed towards driving innovation (Barney, 2001). A key aim of knowledge sharing is therefore to develop and extend human knowledge-sharing networks to facilitate the flow of knowledge through these networks.

The majority of KM literature focuses on strategies and mechanisms designed to increase the sharing rather than the security aspect of knowledge-sharing networks (Manhart & Thalmann, 2015). Examples of the former include knowledge brokers and Communities of Practice (CoPs)1 (Bosua & Venkitachalam, 2013; Brown & Duguid, 1998). From a security point of view, knowledge sharing without constraints, conflicts with the need to preserve the value of knowledge, especially since human relationships in knowledge sharing is essential as humans are known to be rich sources of knowledge and often difficult to control whilst they are big sources of knowledge leakage in organizations. For this reason, knowledge-sharing networks play an important role in knowledge leakage.

Unsecured knowledge sharing amongst humans can result in knowledge leakage that can cause significant impact to organizations such as loss of competitive advantage, loss of revenue, reputational damage, and additional costs arising from breaches of confidentiality agreements (Ahmad et al., 2014a). A case in point is the significance of knowledge security in research and development divisions of pharmaceutical companies. For example, recent litigation against two scientists from US firm Eli Lilley alleges $55 million of losses were incurred when proprietary secrets related to cancer and diabetes drugs were leaked to Chinese firm Jiangsu Henrui Medicine (see BioSpectrum, 2013). The Eli Lilley case demonstrates the vulnerabilities associated with humans in the context of knowledge-sharing networks.

A deeper analysis of the existing knowledge leakage literature indicates that there is no research that focus on knowledge leakage with respect to human knowledge-sharing networks. While there are recent literature reviews on the knowledge leakage problem (Ahmad et al., 2014, Manhart & Thalmann, 2015), none of these studies identifies the knowledge leakage problem from a human knowledge-sharing networking perspective.

Given the limited focus in the literature on knowledge leakage through these networks, and considering the significant impacts of knowledge leakage through the development of knowledge-sharing networks in organizations, this study addresses the following research question:

How can knowledge leakage be mitigated by influencing the development of human knowledge-sharing networks?

To answer this question we pose two further sub-questions. First, we identify the factors that influence the development of knowledge-sharing networks in general.

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