Today, in the 21st century, the capacity to create, transfer and manage knowledge is perceived as critical in contemporary knowledge economy (Ray, 2008). Arguably, a prominent corollary of knowledge management as documented in modern management theory is that it is one of the fundamental foundations for the creation and maintenance of a sustainable competitive advantage in a post-industrial economy, implying that the creation and diffusion of knowledge in an organizational setting have become increasingly important factors in attaining and sustaining organizational competitiveness (Gavrilova & Andreeva, 2012).
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Following the conceptualizations of Dalkir (2005), the question of how to guarantee that firms extract as much value as possible from their knowledge sources is therefore topical from both conceptual and practical standpoints, and that organizational knowledge is not anticipated to replace employee knowledge but to complement it by making it stronger, more consistent, and more widely applied. The present paper reviews and analysis some two knowledge management case studies by Cox (2007) and Yilmaz (2007), with the view to answering some pertinent questions related to knowledge management and organizational knowledge.
Defining Knowledge Management
Knowledge management (KM) is defined in the literature “as a process of organizing and distributing an organization’s collective wisdom so the right information gets to the right people at the right time” (Ray, 2008 p. 156). Dalkir (2005) argues that from a business standpoint, KM is a business activity with two principal features, namely “treating the knowledge component of business activities as an explicit concern reflected in strategy, policy, and practice at all levels of the organization; and, making a direct connection between an organization’s intellectual assets – both explicit (recorded) and tacit (personal know-how) – and positive business results” (p. 4).
Owing to the fact that organizations only sustain competitiveness when valuing their customers input and employee interaction, organizational employees are often obliged to utilize innovation not only to devise problems, define them, and develop new knowledge from them, but also to assist the organization maintain its position in the competitive environment (Ray, 2008). More and more, KM aspires to enhance the capacity of firms to compete through productive management of all intangible resources, such as databases, experiences and know-how (Yilmaz, 2007).
Yilmaz (2007) article purposes to use a market leader in the building materials sector in Turkey to, among other things, develop a better understanding of the KM methods that can be undertaken to determine the significant processes in that KM has the capacity to provide important benefits. Cox (2007) article is a commentary on discursive transformations that occur in stories told about Xerox’s photocopier technicians, and argues that substantial changes occur in how knowledge is understood between these accounts to the extent that “what begins as elusive, oral, improvised and social becomes increasingly presented as encodable in a structured database, countable, auditable, [and] individualistic” (p. 3). The substantial issues discussed in this paper are as follows:
Organizational Objectives Solved
The project objectives solved in Yilmaz (2007) include (1) determination of points that are weak in relation to IT-support in the main processes, (2) support of decision-making processes with IT, and (3) determining of utilization of alternatives of existing IT systems. Similarly, the organizational objectives solved in Cox (2007) case study include (1) practices relating to the customer, and fixing the customer, and (2) to be part of an essentially local community, which is critical to a sense of belonging in an alienating context.
Obstacles & Remedies
There were several obstacles faced during the implementation of KM in both cases. In the Cox (2007) case study, for example, the foremost challenge to Xerox organization involved how such knowledge could be managed. This challenge was overcome by eliciting or harvesting the knowledge and then encoding it in a document or on a computer system. Expert computer systems, intranets and other IT systems became some of the classic KM solutions to commodify knowledge into a quantifiable thing.
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The second challenge illustrated by Cox (2007) involved the possibility that the knowledge elicitation process could become troublesome and unsuccessful as knowledge is, at times, too complex and unstable. This challenge, according to the author, is solved by requiring careful interpretation by the reader and having the knowledge that elicitation procedures address just a component of the problem of knowledge sharing. This challenge was also solved by creating a database (Cox, 2007).
In Yilmaz (2007) case study, one of the foremost challenges involved categorizing KM requirements into technical and organizational requirements. It is documented in the literature that “in these requirement analyses, determining of the processes in which KM will be practiced first can provide important benefits in relation to the success of this practice and to economic use of resources” (Yilmaz, 2007 p. 81). Another challenge reported by this author entailed the comprehensive analyses of critical processes, which were supposed to be analyzed from a knowledge oriented standpoint. This obstacle was solved by formulating suggestions that can only bear technical or organizational ramifications.
Problem of Knowledge & Issues with Eureka System
Cox (2007) documents that Xerox’s Eureka system is a well known KM ICT solution enabling technicians to share copier fixes, and that Eureka evolved across a multiplicity of implementations and platforms, though in essence it is a structured database of problems and solutions whereby the repairmen themselves upload the fixes and employ an expert validation process to gain access. The problems of knowledge as illustrated by Cox (2007) relates to issues of management as well as the capability of the knowledge elicitation process to become troublesome and unsuccessful.
Often to the fact that much of this knowledge remains embedded in communities of practice as small circles of colleagues and work groups commonly share critical steps in a new practice and fresh solutions to solve challenges through conservations and stories, the Eureka system clearly brought Xerox a multiplicity of benefits in terms of KM, including “global sharing of fixes, measurable outcomes, the potential for the data for the field technician to feed into sales or design, or the same database to be used for other communities within Xerox or sold to other organizations” (Cox, 2007 p. 7).The problem of KM can be reinforced in an organization if there are no mutually agreed upon methodologies to harvest or commodify the knowledge into measurable, quantifiable, generalized formats.
Available literature demonstrates that organizational knowledge, which exists in the form of routines (rules, operating procedures, norms, values, beliefs and frameworks that determine how the firm is designed and operated) resulting from an accumulation of past experience that guide future behavior , has a definitional problem as well as a logistical one (Evans & Easterby-Smith, n.d.). Organizational knowledge is mission critical in terms of assisting employees to share and gain a better understanding of the knowledge that is most important to the organization, especially in applying the collective capacities of the total workforce to achieve specific organizational objectives (Haag & Cummings, 2008).
In this discourse, organizational knowledge can be addressed as a definitional problem in terms of attempting to develop and implement coherent and well-structured definitional paradigms that attempt to share knowledge among communities of practice, and also as a logistical problem in terms of knowing the logistics or locations (training rooms, field offices, etc) where knowledge can be acquired or shared (Freeze & Kulkami, 2007).
Attitudes & Structure
Employee attitudes within the organization impact the successful implementation of KM system as the internalized attitudes to a large extent influence how these employee process information after they have collected it and also how they share the information. Various sets of attitudes influence how employees lean and share the available knowledge (Yang, 2008). The structure is the backbone or framework of the organization; hence it impacts the successful implementation of KM system as organizational structure is not only positively correlated with knowledge management, by the level and extent of the KM system would be intrinsically facilitated if the typical characteristics of the organizational structure in question are less centralized, less formalized, more complicated and exceedingly integrated (Mahmoudsalahi, Moradkhannejad, & Safari, 2012). -Attitudinal issues, in my view, are best dealt with by (1) commodifying the knowledge into a quantifiable thing, (2) developing effective and efficient means to share and reproduce knowledge, and (3) continued involvement in organizational knowledge generation.
The present paper has addressed various issues related to the case studies by both Cox (2007) and Yilmaz (2007), and also to other concerns involving organizational knowledge and KM. It can therefore be concluded that although there are various issues and problems of KM as discussed in this paper, many organizations have taken advantage of this concept in the process of maintaining competitive advantage and achieving strategic alignment.
Cox, A. (2007). Reproducing knowledge: Xerox and the story of knowledge management. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 5(1), 3-12.
Dalkir, K. (2005). Knowledge management in theory and practice. Oxford: Elsevier’s Science & Technology.
Evans, N., & Easterby-Smith, M. (n.d.). Three types of organizational knowledge: Implications from the tacit-explicit and knowledge creation debates. Web.
Freeze, R.D., & Kulkami, U. (2007). Knowledge management capability: Defining knowledge assets. Journal of Knowledge Management, 11(6), 94-109.
Gavrilova, T., & Andreeva, T. (2012). Knowledge elicitation techniques in a knowledge management context. Journal of Knowledge Management, 16(4), 523-537.
Haag, S., & Cummings, M. (2008). Management information systems for the information age. Boston, MA: McGraw-Irwin.
Mahmoudsalahi, M., Moradkhannejad, R., & Safari, K. (2012). How knowledge management is affected by organizational structure. Learning Organization, 19(6), 518-528.
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Ray, L.L. (2008). Requirements for knowledge management: Business driving information technology. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(3), 156-168.
Yang, J.T. (2008). Individual attitudes and organizational knowledge sharing. Tourism Management, 29(3), 345-353.
Yilmaz, Y. (2007). Pre-analysis process from knowledge management: A case study in a building materials company. VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 37(1), 74-82.