Business Processes and Knowledge Management

Business Processes and Knowledge Management

John S. Edwards (Aston Business School, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch440
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Background

Types of Knowledge: Tacit and Explicit

Nonaka and Takeuchi’s book (1995) popularized the concepts of tacit and explicit knowledge, as well as KM more generally. They based their thinking on that of Michael Polanyi (1966), expressed most memorably in his phrase “we know more than we can tell.”

It is important to realize that tacit and explicit knowledge are not mutually exclusive concepts. Rather, any piece of knowledge has both tacit and explicit elements, as shown in Figure 1. The size of the inner circle represents the proportion of tacit knowledge: the tacit core at the heart of the knowledge that we “cannot tell.” Figure 1(a) shows a case where the knowledge is almost entirely tacit, as in riding a bicycle. Figure 1(b) shows mainly explicit knowledge, where the tacit core is very small, for example how to process a claim for travel expenses in an organization. Figure 1(c) shows an intermediate case, such as making a piece of furniture, where substantial amounts of both tacit and explicit knowledge are involved.

Figure 1.

The relationship between tacit and explicit knowledge

KM Strategies

Hansen, Nohria and Tierney (1999) identified that there are two fundamental KM strategies, codification and personalization. Codification concentrates more on explicit knowledge (typically relying very heavily on information technology), personalization more on tacit knowledge (stressing interactions between people). They advocate that an emphasis on one fundamental KM strategy but also including an element of the other, in an 80-20 proportion, is likely to be the most successful.

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Routes To Implementing Km

Managers have to translate the goals of any strategic initiative into practical, implementable reality. Even with a clear KM strategy, many organizations find it difficult to implement knowledge management systems successfully. Identifying who should be involved in knowledge management, what knowledge is being managed, and why is it being managed can be problematic. The routes organizations have attempted to follow can be put into five generic categories.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Explicit Knowledge: Knowledge that has been (or can be) codified and shared with others.

Knowledge Management: Supporting and achieving the creation, sharing, retention, refinement, and use of knowledge (generally in an organizational context).

Business Process: A structured, measured set of activities designed to produce a specified output for a particular customer or market ( Davenport, 1993 , p.5).

Knowledge Management System: A combination of people, processes and technology whose purpose is to perform knowledge management in an organization.

Business Process Reengineering: The fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service and speed ( Hammer & Champy, 1993 , p. 32).

Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge that is difficult or impossible to express, except by demonstrating its application.

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