Organizational Knowledge Sharing and Enterprise Social Networks: A Higher Education Context

Organizational Knowledge Sharing and Enterprise Social Networks: A Higher Education Context

Niall Corcoran (Limerick Institute of Technology, Ireland) and Aidan Duane (Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6261-0.ch005
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Knowledge is a vital strategic asset for organizations but is surprisingly not well managed in public higher education institutions, with a number of negative effects. These organizations are highly bureaucratic in nature, with consequential structural and cultural characteristics that tend to inhibit staff communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. A new wave of social-media-driven knowledge-management techniques may have a transformational effect on these institutions, potentially leading to increased intellectual capital and competitive advantage in ever-expanding, global marketplaces. Enterprise social networks and virtual communities of practice are at the heart of this new type of knowledge sharing environment and provide a significant opportunity for higher education institutions to significantly change the way that staff interact and communicate with each other, generating a number of individual and organizational benefits.
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The importance of knowledge as a strategic asset to any organisation is increasingly recognised in tandem with a growing awareness that economies and societies have become more information and knowledge intensive. Although, the concept was proselytised by a number of early authors such as Hayek (1945), Machlup (1962), and Drucker (1959), who used the term “knowledge worker”, the main source for the contemporary vision of a post-industrial, knowledge society is arguably the work of Bell (1973). This vision is characterised by the replacement of manufacturing as the main source of employment with the service sector, in which information and knowledge play a far greater role, and encompasses an ever growing diversity of jobs that require the application and use of knowledge. According to Hislop (2013), much of the subsequent research into knowledge and its different aspects, and the development of knowledge management (KM) as a discipline, can be traced back to this vision. This view of the importance of knowledge to contemporary economies and societies is typified by Stewart (1997, p. 9), who wrote that knowledge has become the “primary ingredient of what we make, do, buy and sell. As a result, managing it - finding and growing intellectual capital, storing it, selling it, sharing it - has become the most important economic task of individuals, business and nations.” According to Al-Hawamdeh (2002), this recognition of knowledge as the driver of productivity and economic growth, has led to a new focus on the roles of information, technology and learning in economic performance, and has given rise to concepts such as ‘the knowledge-based economy’ and ‘knowledge-intensive firms’ that are popular in the modern theories of business and industry. Starbuck (1992) classifies a firm as knowledge-intensive when it attributes more importance to knowledge than other inputs such as capital and labour. Goffee and Jones (2015) assert that the need for organisations to develop their human capital, or knowledge assets, has long been recognised by knowledge intensive businesses, and that there is a long-term correlation between organisational performance and investment in human capital.

Intellectual capital is the sum of everything that everybody in an organisation knows that gives it a competitive advantage, and, according to Rao (2010), the intellectual capital of an organisation can only be maximised through the application of KM practices. Edvinsson (2002) maintains that the nature of competitive advantage is changing and is no longer based on market position, size and power, but on the incorporation of knowledge into all of an organisation’s activities. Nunes, Annansingh, Eaglestone, and Wakefield (2006) state that KM processes such as knowledge acquisition, storing, retrieving and sharing, should be seen as crucial and core by knowledge intensive organisations. The importance of knowledge sharing to organisational success is also highlighted by Liebowitz (2001), who argues that organisations can attain competitive advantages through encouraging and promoting knowledge sharing.

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