Tacit Knowledge Sharing for System Integration: A Case of Netherlands Railways in Industry 4.0

Tacit Knowledge Sharing for System Integration: A Case of Netherlands Railways in Industry 4.0

Yawar Abbas (University of Twente, The Netherlands), Alberto Martinetti (University of Twente, The Netherlands), Mohammad Rajabalinejad (University of Twente, The Netherlands), Lex Frunt (The Netherlands Railways, The Netherlands) and Leo A. M. van Dongen (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3904-0.ch004


Sharing of tacit knowledge is a key topic of research within the knowledge management community. Considering its embodied nature, organizations have always struggled with embedding it into their processes. Proper execution of complex processes such as system integration asks for an adequate sharing of tacit knowledge. Acknowledging the importance of lessons learned for system integration and their presence in tacit and explicit form, a case study was conducted within the Netherlands Railways. It was determined that non-sensitivity to the tacit dimension of lessons learned has resulted in their lack of utilization. Consequently, LEAF framework was developed, where LEAF stands for learnability, embraceability, applicability, and findability. The framework suggests that addressing these four features collectively can eventually lead to an adequate knowledge-sharing strategy for lessons learned. Lastly, the chapter presents an example from the Netherlands Railways to emphasize the key role technological solutions of Industry 4.0 can play in facilitating tacit knowledge sharing.
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The value of organizational knowledge has grown significantly over the past seven decades. Technological developments after the second world war and research conducted within the management sciences have brought the topic of knowledge management to the center stage. More recently, knowledge is being viewed as an organizational asset and as a source of competitive advantage (Kakabadse et al., 2001). Technology has played a key role in this transition and revolutionized the way in which organizations manage their knowledge. Meanwhile, these developments have also pointed out the limitations of human capability in articulating one’s knowledge to explicit form. A deeper understanding of human capabilities and a closer look at human interactions with the technical systems are required to address these limitations adequately. Currently, the knowledge management community, by and large, acknowledges the conceptual distinction of knowledge into two main types namely tacit and explicit knowledge (Nonaka & von Krogh, 2009). The idea of the former knowledge type is mainly attributed to Polyani when he famously stated “We know more than we can tell” (Polanyi, 1966), while the latter can be readily articulated, codified, stored and accessed (Hélie & Sun, 2010). Research within the management sciences has shown that not only is explicit knowledge an important resource for firms (Conner & Prahalad, 1996) but also that tacit knowledge is a source of competitive advantage for firms (Winter, 1987). This chapter builds upon the concept of tacit knowledge sharing and presents ways in which it can be enhanced within an organizational setting.

Knowledge sharing is a major field of research within the knowledge management community, with challenges on multiple fronts. It requires the transfer of knowledge from one entity to another (Argote & Ingram, 2000). Naturally, the transfer of explicit knowledge is easier and more straightforward. Moreover, technology has greatly assisted in optimizing explicit knowledge transfer. A common example, in this regard, is the use of various Information Technology (IT) based knowledge management systems by the organizations. On the other hand, tacit knowledge whose primary source is experience (Bratianu & Orzea, 2010), is rooted in a mix of “action, procedures, routines, commitment, ideals, values and emotions” (Nonaka, 1994), and generally difficult to share. Research has shown that the sharing of tacit knowledge is stimulated by intrinsic motivators (Chena et al., 2011) and facilitated by engaging environments (Muniz et al., 2013). Tacit knowledge management requires a shift towards practice-based approach and more sensitivity to workforce abilities and skills (Ribeiro, 2013). Furthermore, it also requires awareness of the nature of the system under consideration, as different knowledge management approaches are required for complex systems as well for complicated systems (Snowden, 2002). The difference between the complex and complicated system here is the intertwining and separation of the cause and effect relationships of the system respectively (Snowden, 2002). This chapter focuses on tacit knowledge sharing and looks primarily into the railway transportation system of the Netherlands.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Explicit Knowledge: A knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, stored and accessed ( Hélie & Sun, 2010 ).

Knowledge Assets for System Engineering: Assets such as system elements or their representations (e.g., reusable code libraries, reference architectures) architecture or design elements (e.g., architecture or design patterns), processes, criteria, or other technical information (e.g., training materials) related to domain knowledge, and lessons learned (ISO 15288:2015).

Integration Process: The process of synthesizing a set of system elements into a realized system (product or service) that satisfies system requirements, architecture, and design (ISO 15288:2015).

System Integration Project: Projects aimed at the implementing the integration process of the system lifecycle for the railway system as specified in RAMS standard ( CEN, 2017 ).

Knowledge Management: The process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization (Girard, 2015).

Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge which is difficult to articulate in explicit form and is fundamentally acquired through experience.

Core Capability: It is an “interrelated, interdependent knowledge system” ( Leonard-Barton, 1992 ).

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