4.1 Introduction

4.1 Introduction

         The business environment in the 21st century is perhaps the most turbulent in history. It is dominated by three powerful influences: globalization, structural change in organizations and knowledge. The traditional factors of production have become secondary. Knowledge and knowledge workers emerge as the key organizational assets. Knowledge-based organizations become the key component of today’s knowledge economy which holds distinct characteristics from the traditional industrial economy (Chen, et. al., 2006). In order to remain competitive, many organizations are embracing knowledge management simultaneously and continuously (Salo, 2009). These aspects makes Knowledge Management (KM) an increasingly important for organizations (Valkokari  & Helander,  2007).
         The term ‘knowledge management’ got recognition in the 1980s (Wiig, 2000). It emerged from concrete concerns in the organizations regarding the increasing role of knowledge in  organizational sustainability  like “how it is generated and created, how it is represented and structured, and how it is accessed and utilized” (Todd & Southon, 2000, p.142).

         Although knowledge management is perceived by different researcher differently, as Alavi and Leidner (1999, p.1) define, knowledge management is  considered as “a systematic and organizationally specified process for acquiring, organizing, and communicating both tacit and explicit knowledge of employees so that other employees may make use of it to be more effective and productive in their work”. This definition considers KM as a process; it does not include other organizational elements, such as employees, management, leadership and other stakeholders.
          As we know tacit knowledge is embedded and embodied in every individual of the organization (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Broadbent (1997) considered KM as a form of managements’ expertise which draws out individuals’ tacit knowledge and makes it explicit and accessible for all employees to improve organizational performance. The explicit knowledge may be represented in the forms of program activities, documents, library, project proposals, organizational plans and meetings (Rusanow, 2007).

          Above description shows that KM is a multifaceted theme. Before going into further detail we need to understand three important aspects of KM:

  • Contextual – Knowledge management has the tacit dimensions and every organization has the uniqueness. Knowledge management becomes less confusing when we understand that the multiple definitions are relative to the context, in which they are used, most notably the disciplinary influences of the people implementing knowledge management and the organizations in which it is implemented (Wick, 2000, p. 515). Therefore, context of the organization and the community are very important to articulate knowledge management practices (Lehr & Rice, 2002; Desouza & Awawu, 2005, p.767).
  • Holistic – It means managing knowledge comprehensively. Holistic knowledge management is to integrate it with familiar aspects of the business: strategy, process, culture, behavior (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). Therefore, holistic knowledge management includes many aspect like tacit and explicit knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995), codification and personalization (Hansen et al., 1999; Zack, 2002),  integration between people and technology (Davenport, 1998; Rusanow, 2007), knowledge acquisition, audit, utilization and diffusion (Rusanow, 2007; Zack, 1999), analytical/theoretical and practical knowledge management (Lehr & Rice, 2002). Bell (2003, p.99) suggests that the emphasis should be on holistic policies that focus on integration rather than fragmentation and recognize that the sum is greater than the parts. In order to remain competitive, Salo (2009) suggests, Knowledge management should be long-term and holistic.
  • Problem-solving – the most fundamental purpose of knowledge management is for problem-solving. Successful knowledge management strategy and initiative in the organization emerge with specific organizational problems, which the organization is trying to solve (Gordon, 2005).  That is why Bickerstaff, as quoted in Gordon (2005, p.18), suggests that knowledge management has to be perceived as a business problem solver, not as an abstract concept. Of this, it is important to maximize the significance of knowledge management as a problem-solving tool in the organization and the community, then, in turn, it can impact on a just and balance policy and decision making design.

         Knowledge management is an evolving field. Michael JD Sutton (2007) comments, “… KM qualifies as an emerging field of study. Those involved in the emerging field of KM are still vexed today by the lack of a single, comprehensive definition, an authoritative body of knowledge, proven theories, and a generalized conceptual framework. Academics and practitioners have not been able to stabilize the phenomenon of KM enough to make sense of what it is and what it comprises.” Similarly, many KM gurus stress that KM is a people-and-process issue and should not be viewed as an expansion of technology function. Yet, they acknowledge the significant contribution of technology.

         From above discussion we can conclude that explaining knowledge management is thorny task. Therefore,   in this chapter we will try to explore multifaceted aspects of Knowledge Management due to which it has become popular among both academic as well as business community. We will also examine the similarities & differences among various researchers.  This will help us to understand knowledge management in a broader context.