What is knowledge management?

The establishment of knowledge management brings measurable benefits to companies. In this article you will learn its basics. You will learn how to set up a knowledge database. You will get to know knowledge management tools. And you will learn how to use the principle of collaboration and the employees’ swarm intelligence for your knowledge management.

The definition of knowledge management

Knowledge management is the systematic collection of internal and external knowledge that is relevant to the current and future competitive situation of a company.

Knowledge management is a central component of certification according to ISO 9001:2015 and is one of the most important success factors for companies. Open access to knowledge and the transfer of knowledge between different business units is also a basic prerequisite for a company’s innovation capability and the emergence of an innovation culture.

The goals of knowledge management

Companies that build up a knowledge database and establish knowledge management can achieve measurable success after a short time. They can significantly increase their competitiveness. The goals of knowledge management are among others:

  • Faster availability of information

    Employees from different areas gain faster access to information from their own or other areas through knowledge management.

  • Faster identification of know-how in the company

    Who knows what? Who has gained which experience in which projects? Who can be contacted for certain topics? Knowledge management shortens the search for experts in the company. Typical e-mail chains (“Does anyone know who is familiar with the topic?”) are avoided.

  • Shortened familiarization with new specialist areas

    With the help of knowledge management and a knowledge database, employees can pass on practical knowledge to others – for example about the operation of technical equipment or the best way to solve problems. Within companies, so-called “knowledge communities” are often formed for this purpose. Members of these knowledge communities pass on their experience to others. Solution strategies are discussed internally and questions from others are answered.

  • Faster dissemination of external knowledge within the company

    The development of innovations in particular requires an intensive examination of trends. It is important to bring this new knowledge into the company, discuss it and draw the right conclusions from it. Modern knowledge management is the preliminary stage to a trend analysis.

Innolytics® managing director Dr. Jens-Uwe Meyer has shown the connection between the knowledge management of companies and their innovative power in his scientific work The innovation capability of companies. The willingness of employees to share knowledge and to build new knowledge together is one of the most important principles of innovation management.

The tasks of knowledge management

The tasks of knowledge management have changed in recent years: Especially in times when knowledge is changing faster, tools and methods of knowledge management have become more agile.

The first generation of knowledge management primarily consisted of shared knowledge databases. The task in knowledge management was to set up and maintain these databases. Today, knowledge management in companies has more tasks: From building up a knowledge database to knowledge transfer to the development of new knowledge. In this section the tasks of knowledge management are presented.

Task 1: Capture existing knowledge in the company through knowledge databases

  • The introduction of a knowledge database leads to an increase in the efficiency of the knowledge search. Knowledge workers spend a lot of time searching for necessary knowledge modules, for example to create a presentation.
  • Customer enquiries can be processed and answered more quickly by systematically recording and building a so-called “knowledge base”.

For this purpose, various knowledge management tools or knowledge management software are made available in the company.

Process improvement (the systematic recording, evaluation, optimization and provision of all internal company procedures and processes) is also frequently assigned to the tasks of knowledge management in business practice.

Task 2: Enable knowledge transfer across locations and departments

The task of knowledge management is to enable and actively promote the transfer of knowledge within a company or between different locations or national companies.

One of the main problems in companies is silo mentality: Information and knowledge are shared within departments, but not beyond them. Solutions developed, for example, for the continuous improvement process at one site are not transferred to other sites.

Task 3: Bringing new knowledge into the company

The age of rapid change demands that employees be introduced to new knowledge in a sustainable manner. Especially companies that have to develop continuously benefit from external knowledge.

New knowledge is created every day, for example in the field of digitalization and digital transformation. But new knowledge is also created by the introduction of technology management or by a competitor analysis. Knowledge management is therefore an important prerequisite for innovation.

Task 4: Develop new knowledge

One task of knowledge management is becoming increasingly important: the development of new knowledge within companies. Together, employees develop innovative approaches to problem solving or strategies, for example.

Here there is an overlap with the continuous improvement process, which is also a central component of the ISO 9001:2015 standard. There are large overlaps with other areas of corporate management such as

Knowledge management in modern business management can therefore no longer be viewed in isolation.

Knowledge management software

Modern knowledge management software supports companies not only in archiving knowledge, but also in discussing and transferring knowledge and creating new knowledge.

  • In addition to a blog function, companies contain modules in which employees can ask questions and discuss.

  • Users can evaluate the relevance of knowledge according to various criteria.

  • Knowledge can be structured at different levels in the form of a process. For example, questions can have the status “Question received”, “Question in process” and “Question processed”.

  • Knowledge that comes into the company from outside can be evaluated according to its relevance for the company or for a department, its transferability to the situation of the company and other criteria.

  • Modules such as idea management software and innovation management software help companies to build new knowledge, generate ideas and implement them successfully.

The possibility to systematically structure and evaluate knowledge in the form of processes creates clearly comprehensible structures within a company. Processes for the evaluation of external knowledge can be given levels such as “in discussion”, “in evaluation”, “in implementation” or “archived”. Employees actively deal with new knowledge instead of just consuming passive knowledge.

The importance of knowledge management is increasing

Companies today are much more dependent on bundling know-how in their company. Based on this know-how, they must develop unique services and products. The main drivers are trends such as digital transformation, which make it necessary to systematically question and revise existing knowledge. At the same time, the shortage of skilled workers is having a major impact in numerous industries. Knowledge of know-how carriers must be communicated to other employees faster and more targeted. Reasons for the growing importance of knowledge management.