5.6.4 Role of IT in Knowledge Sharing

5.6.4 Role of IT in Knowledge Sharing

          Information Technology has made it easier to acquire, store, or disseminate knowledge than ever before. Many organizations are employing IT to facilitate sharing and integration of knowledge through common storage so as to achieve economic reuse of knowledge. IT has also been proved helpful locating knowledge resources and expediting communication process so as to achieve complex knowledge transfer. However, IT's contribution to knowledge sharing depends on its fit to the social context of the communities. Therefore, it has always been argued that technology must not be seen as the superior solution and should not be used to structure organizational practice.

           Using IT to share tacit knowledge is difficult since knowledge represents the shared understanding that is deeply rooted in the social practice of the community. The focus for the successful sharing of tacit knowledge is based on social interaction, problem solving, mentoring, and teaching. However, the management of tacit knowledge has traditionally been a pitfall of IT driven KM. The current situation still sees the subject divided between those who take a technologically-centric view and those who take a people-oriented approach (Bali et. al., 2009).

          The limitations of IT in this context have been well recognized. However,   the potential of IT for tacit knowledge sharing can be summarized as bellow:

  • As an expert finder: To locate the sources of the tacit knowledge through tools like corporate yellow pages.
  • As providing limited support in the socialization of tacit knowledge: If IT systems support varied, formal and informal forms of communication then they can help tacit knowledge sharing by supporting teams, projects, communities, etc. Functions like being able to attach notes to documents, or video conferencing can support work environments over long distances to some degree. It is very important to realize that if one replaces existing socialization functions with IT, this can backfire and become outright detrimental to the organization's efforts.
  • As providing limited support in the externalization of tacit knowledge: To achieve externalization of tacit knowledge organizations may use groupware applications that support codification process like discussion forums, etc. However, not only is this aspect limited, but externalization itself is only rarely feasible.

           Another direct role of IT systems is as an embedded knowledge repository where procedures, guidelines, etc. are stored and retrieved. If implemented properly, with the IT system complementing rather than disrupting existing processes and culture, then it can support practices and routines, and eventually become an embedded knowledge artifact in its own place.

          It has been observed that IT oriented approaches often place undue focus on externalization (Swan et. al., 2002). Due to the context specific nature of tacit knowledge, and due to the fact that much of it cannot be codified, externalization is often avoided. However, in some cases IT can be of some limited use as a forum for externalization of tacit knowledge. For example, groupware systems that support brainstorming can help in the codification process. Similarly, online discussion and forums can also be sources of externalization, although the richness of this knowledge is questionable (Botha et. al., 2008).

          There is another aspect which has to be noticed that sharing knowledge in today’s complex work places is far from being a smooth and self-propelled process. The most important determinant of successful knowledge sharing is the level of fit between the tasks being undertaken and the IT-enabled knowledge sharing mechanism being employed to carry out these tasks. Therefore, IT infrastructure must provide a supportive environment for the seamless flow of knowledge through enabling knowledge processes including capturing knowledge, defining, storing, categorizing, indexing, etc.   

          However, there is also the danger that IT may limit the participation of some members of the community, particularly those who are suffering with technology phobia. It may make it more difficult for such individuals to become accepted members of the community by limiting socialization channels. The challenge is to extend the reach of communication without sacrificing reciprocity in regards to knowledge sharing or socialization.