Many scholars acknowledge that the knowledge management field is an emerging field that has not developed to its full potential. Nonaka &Takeuchi (1995) says that knowledge management is the creation, dissemination, use of knowledge through processes that have been put in place by stakeholders in the field (p. 67). Ruggles (1997) on the other hand asserts that knowledge management includes the processes of identification, creation, distribution of knowledge (P. 89). He adds further that the processes of knowledge management help in the adoption of experiences and insights in the field of knowledge. According to Sveiby, knowledge management is the exploitation and development of knowledge assets of an organization to ensure the organization achieves its objectives. Despres & Chauvel (2001) on the other hand define knowledge management from the functional point of view. They says that knowledge management has a primary purpose of enabling organizations to create disseminate while ensuring the designing and development of tools processes and systems of knowledge management for better organizational performance (p. 97). The World Bank defines knowledge management as the systematic sharing that enables users of the information to build on earlier experience to eliminate the cost of reworking and/or relearning.
According to Firestone et al (2003), the most basic idea behind knowledge management is the need to use knowledge as an asset for both organizational and individual improvement. Just like other resources like capital and labor, knowledge is also a resource that should be managed for the good of its dependants (p. 107). Knowledge management, therefore, goes through a cycle that involves the generation, codification, and transfer. In this case, knowledge is assumed to be an activity as well as an object.
The field of knowledge management is increasingly going through rapid changes. Many organizations in the 21st century consider knowledge as an important resource that when well managed, provides a competitive advantage in the market. Many organizations have dedicated huge resources to internal knowledge management activities. This they acknowledge is an important business strategy that touches on various departments and areas critical to a business or organizational survival such as human resources and information technology. The processes of knowledge management mainly deal with organizational objectives such as better performance, innovation, as well as a competitive advantage. Sometimes, knowledge management may overlap with organizational learning that includes continuous training of the employees of the organization.
Overview of the Knowledge Management Tools
The establishment of Knowledge management as a discipline was done in 1991. From the last decade of the 20th century to the 21st century, knowledge management has grown exponentially. Knowledge management however can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s when the term “Explicit Knowledge” was in use. Ghani (2009) says that the development of knowledge management through the last three decades as a result of many factors that include intellectual as well as pragmatics that existed for the need of innovation on secure performances by organizations (p. 2). According to Sveiby (2003), knowledge management has over the years encompassed the phenomena such as corporate libraries, professional training, mentorship programs, apprenticeships, and discussion forums (p. 45). He further says that the evolution of knowledge management took a different turn in the ’90s with the introduction of computers where specific adaptations changed the entire field transforming out into a discipline.
While it’s not correct to assert that knowledge management is in its infancy, it’s correct to say that knowledge management is yet to develop to its full potential. The debate according to Egbu et al (2002) currently it can be argued that the importance of knowledge is increasing and would soon overtake capital and labor as the most important economic resource for both advanced and developing economies (p. 2). Egbu et al (2002), further say that knowledge management is fast emerging as an integral part of management science and a major force in organizational change and wealth creation.
Ghani (2009) says that three distinct practices have brought much of the changes experienced in the field of knowledge management today. They include human factors or human capital movements, quality factors and information technology. This paper will mostly deal with the information technology bit. Information technology has led to the adaptation of technologies such as knowledge databases, knowledge repositories, intranets, group-supported cooperative works and group decision support systems. The reinvention of the internet and its applications like the World Wide Web has helped the evolution of the knowledge management concept. It has enhanced more participation of people and the corporate sector.
According to Ghani (2009), the information management evolution bit of knowledge management that took place in the 1980s is a precursor to the current information technology applications that is present in the knowledge management sector today (p. 3). The IT tools of knowledge management that are available today according to Ghani (2009) are a body of thought and cases that concentrate on how information is managed without the technologies that make it possible. Knowledge management through IT nowadays helps in valuation, availability of techniques of operation and governance. Knowledge management nowadays, therefore, focuses on the value attached to the satisfaction of the user as well as the efficiency of the technology that enables it to happen.
According to Ghani(2009), Information technology has developed knowledge-intensive systems with marked success in the knowledge management processes (p. 4). It currently focuses more on communication and collaboration in its approach to knowledge management. The tools that have been created emphasize assimilation of knowledge, learning and understanding of information by users who in turn will transform it to knowledge.
One of the major weaknesses of these knowledge management tools is the failure to impart knowledge to the user. It’s upon the user to interpret the huge amounts of information for instance on the internet to useful knowledge. It’s therefore that information technology develops tools that help in the collection, organization, cataloging, and knowledge sharing. Such tools as described above will help in the facilitation of information contextualization, facilitation of social interactions and networking and presentation of customized human-computer interfaces (Ruggles, 1997, p. 105).
Knowledge management can be undertaken by tools that can be divided into two parts; information technology tools and web-based knowledge management tools. It’s important that before a specific knowledge management tool is discussed an overview is done on the wide variety of tools that are available for knowledge management. These include gaining access to knowledge, tools for semantic mapping, tools for knowledge extraction, tools for expertise localization, and tools for collaboration work. (Scarbrough, H. et al. (1999), p. 23).
Tools that help in the aces of knowledge provide access to explicit knowledge. This knowledge can be shared and transferred through systems such as enterprise Information systems.
Semantic mapping tools on the other hand help in supporting the presentation of information, analysis and making of decisions.
On the other hand, tools for knowledge extraction help users in accessing and making use of structured queries and replies from knowledge databases. They help in the interpretation of relationships among different elements and documents.
Tools for expertise location help in the speedy location of holders of knowledge in an enterprise to help in the enhancement of collaboration and knowledge exchange.
Finally, tools for collaboration of work help people grouped into teams worldwide to share space for the easier management of projects, editing and publishing of works, and conduction of live discussions as well as interactions and besides keeping the repository of materials that are used in every step of the process.
Tools commonly used in knowledge management include the intranet, AI technologies, communication and collaboration and systems groups, documents and management systems, content management systems, learning systems and knowledge, mapping tools.
Document management system
A document management system is one of the tools used in knowledge management. It comprises a set of computer systems or programs normally used by individuals and large organizations to store electronic information in form of electronic documents, images as well as paper documents. The system also has the capability to keep track or the history of all documents created by the users or manager. Firestone et al (2003) add that a DMS helps in publishing, indexing, and retrieval of documents (p. 74). He adds that the system and other similar knowledge management systems only aid in the management of explicit knowledge.
The importance of these systems is underscored by the volume of documents that many organizations have to deal with. Various departments have large quantities of information that need to be shared for purposes of organizational running and education. In such cases, a document management system can be used along with other KM tools such as intranets to make organizational administration easier. It’s important to note that DMS’s are part of content management systems that have a direct relationship with digital asset management, document imaging and workflow systems. Document management systems are so important that any organization that does not adopt them as a knowledge management tool risks red tape that helps little to improve efficiency (Ruggles, 1997, p. 55).
Components of Document Management System
A number of components are incorporated into the DMS to make it function as a knowledge management system. They include metadata, integration, capture, indexing, storage, retrieval, distribution, security, workflow, collaboration, versioning, searching, publishing, and reproduction.
Every document in a DMS has its metadata stored. It may include the date and time of storage of the document, user identity, keywords and the capacity of the document. Some DMS systems automatically extract data from stored documents while others may prompt users to enter the metadata manually (Ruggles, 1997, p. 60). One of the qualities that DMS systems perform and that organizations find useful is the optical character recognition that it performs on scanned images. The extraction of text from electronic documents helps organizations save time and costs on retyping or storing information in form of scanned documents. Additionally, text extracted through OCR is used by organizations in providing search capability and in the location of documents within the systems. In other cases, the extracted text can be used on its own.
A good number of DMS have been designed to integrate document management into other applications. This helps users of the system in retrieving existing documents directly from the repository of the system. Integration also helps in making and saving changes to documents in the repository in new versions while maintaining the application (Firestone et al, 2003, p. 49). Office suites like Microsoft Office and e-mail like outlook contain the integration. It’s important to note that opens standards like LDAP and SOAP are used in DMS integration to make it easier for integration of other software as well as meeting internal control standards.
The process of accepting and processing images from scanners and multifunction printers mainly makes up the capture function of the DMS. OCR that is used in metadata is used here as well. The technique is used in the conversion of digital images into readable texts in machines. Additionally, optical mark recognition is used alongside optical character recognition to extract values in checkboxes. Davenport & Prusak (2005) say that capture may as well DMS accepting electronic documents and files accepted by computer programs (p. 56).
The function involves tracking stored documents in the DMS through the metadata that the system extracts or that which the user enters manually. Sometimes, the system extracts indexes from the contents of documents that it uses for indexing purposes. Indexing helps create an index topology that helps in the retrieval of documents. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that indexing helps in document retrieval in DMS.
The DMS has a storage component that helps in the storage of all electronic files as well as printed files. Stored documents are easily managed and disposed of by the user as may be required. Storage can be done within the hard drives that are part of the DMS or through extended memory sticks.
Retrieval of documents and files from the DMS is enabled by indexing. It varies from simple retrieval to somewhat complex retrieval. Retrieval can be done through typing keywords or through specification by the user of the type of document, one wants.
This process allows users of the DMS program and determine who gets what documents. The in-built workflow modules of DMS enable administrators to dictate the flow of documents through various departments for work-related purposes. The modules allow administrators to create rules that help in governing workflow schedules within an organization.
In electronic document management systems collaboration is ensured through the access of documents by unauthorized users. Collaboration may also involve access to a number of documents by multiple users who may view and mark up during the time of collaboration. The modifications done by each user as well as the final version will be viewable at the end of a collaboration period.
DMS systems have a distribution component that helps in sharing documents and files. The distribution is however subject to copyright laws as they apply. The DMS system allows for the distribution of documents and files in forms that cannot be altered easily. Distribution allows for sharing and possible downloads in cases where users are permitted by the law.
One of the most important components that DMS has is security. Given the sensitivity of the information that may be contained in the system, it’s only imperative that security be ensured. The security systems are very particular and only give access to authorized people and only to specific types of documents. One of the most basic security elements of DMS is the conversion of documents to PDF to avoid alteration or unintended use
DMS systems allow users to check documents in and out. Different versions of documents stored in the DMS system can be retrieved for purposes of reference or modification. The component allows users to update documents that require updates from time to time.
The searching function of the DMS system is closely related to the retrieval function. They both use the indexing component in the system to locate files. Searching uses various attributes and sometimes content to locate documents stored in the database.
DMS systems aid in the publishing of documents that are stored in their databases. These processes involve proofreading, peer-reviewing, authorization, printing and approval. These processes enabled by the DMS system ensure documents that are published are accurate and the knowledge they transmit is up to date.
The document management system described above is used mainly in the management of explicit knowledge. It allows users to create, scan, store, retrieve, share, email and print documents and files that have been stored in it. DMS systems have been proven to be good in the management of organizations through ensuring flexible retrieval, flexible indexing, improved and faster search of documents and files, better document distribution, better security, easier recovery of files, digital archiving and improved regulatory compliance (Scarbrough, H. et al. 1999, p. 45).
The central storage of documents by DMS helps in easier retrieval. This is through the creation of electronic images of documents. Users now have an easy time retrieving from their desktops while accessing them at the same time. At the same time, DMS has simplified indexing since the system can index the documents in different ways at the same time. Additionally, search is more organized with the use of DMS because all one needs is a phrase or name of documents that are stored in the database.
There is a better and more controlled document distribution with the use of a DMS that has been made possible through easy electronic sharing of documents with people who have access to the system or network.
Ghani (2009) says that there is no decisive definition or agreement on what a knowledge management tool is. this is a result of the development of many tools that don’t qualify per se as knowledge management tools but are used to serve the same purpose as those too that are specifically meant for knowledge management. However many scholars agree that knowledge must be managed like an asset and to do that there need to be tools that help make management easier. Experts further contend that the role of information technology in knowledge management will increase in the near future. IT therefore should focus on enhancing the communication and collaboration functions of IT tools in knowledge management.
In the market nowadays, there are many applications that serve as KM tools but in reality, don’t perform optimally as they should. It’s therefore important for organizations and individuals to carefully consider and analyze the knowledge management tools that they install in their systems.
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Ghani, R.S. (2009) Knowledge Management: Tools and Techniques. DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, Vol. 29, No. 6, pp. 33-38
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