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Knowledge Management > Book Reviews > Knowledge Management: A State Of The Art Guide >

Knowledge Management: A State Of The Art Guide

by Paul Gamble and John Blackwell

2001 Kogan Page Limited, UK/USA

226 pages; US$24.95

 

Review by Madanmohan Rao

Outline

 

This KM book - perfect for an MBA program -- provides a useful conceptual introduction to KM strategy, based on research carried out at leading U.S. and European companies. The material is divided into 10 chapters, covering KM models, processes, planning, learning, technology infrastructure and measurement.

 

Paul Gamble is professor at University of Surrey in the UK, and is a co-author of "Up Close and Personal? Customer Relationship Marketing at Work." John Blackwell is a senior manager at IBM, specializing in KM consulting.

 

"KM has come to the fore over the last 8-10 years, progressively brought into centre-stage, driven by the networked economy through increased competition, mergers and acquisitions, and the all-invasive Internet," the authors begin.

 

The authors draw up numerous taxonomies of knowledge, such as tacit/explicit, embodied/embedded/represented, individual/institutional, static/dynamic, declarative/procedural, routine/non-routine. KM can also extend outside organizational domains to suppliers and distributors, via alliance knowledge; cultural alignment and trust are key pre-requisites for such transfers.

 

Contextually, the authors posit that KM is more organic and humanistic as compared to the various business strategy paradigms of the last few decades, such as portfolio management, sensitivity training, core competencies, TQM, and BPR.

 

The human factor was underestimated in BPR, whose focus on process efficiencies often ignored opportunities for knowledge exchange among employees and with customers. One of the major shortcomings of TQM and QC philosophy was its narrow focus on problem solving, and not other corporate issues.

 

It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, re-invention costs for the Fortune 500 companies could amount to a staggering US$31 billion; KM hopes to reduce some of this duplicated cost.

 

The global KM market is expected to be worth US$8.8 billion in 2004, doubling in size from the year 2001; much of this market is in Europe and the U.S. Content management also has a lot to share with KM; the content management market alone is expected to exceed US$10 billion by 2004.

 

The authors have done a good job of blending numerous perspectives on KM into whole comprehensive narrative, drawing on prior findings from consultancy firms like McKinsey and KPMG.

 

McKinsey classifies KM buying behaviours into five kinds: conservative adopters (with basic KM functionality for cost savings), fast followers (deep KM functionality in a few critical processes), solution buyers (who prefer all-in-one solutions), self-sufficient integrators (market leaders), and business design innovators (driven by visionary leaders).

 

KPMG identifies five stages in the maturity of KM culture and adoption in a company: knowledge chaotic (no structured KM approach), knowledge aware (basic cataloguing available), knowledge enabled (standardized processes implemented), knowledge managed (integrated KM culture, CKO), and knowledge centric (daily assessment and improvement of knowledge environment).

 

A key foundation of KM is nurturing and harnessing communities of practice, where knowledge is put into action. Useful tools here include organizational network analysis (ONA), based on employee answers to a wide range of questions about the conversations they normally indulge in at the workplace and outside. The output is the cross-functional sociogram, which can help identify key knowledge flows in an organization.

 

Expertise directories and glossaries, knowledge coordinators, network events, online collaboration spaces, and storytelling of illustrative anecdotes are important roles and processes here, according to the authors.

 

Some obstacles that may arise here include differing learning styles among employees, a 'hoarding mentality,' and work-related cultural differences (particularly for global organizations) related to power, individualism, gender, and ability to cope with ambiguity.

 

On the technology front, content management is a major factor in the more efficient management of knowledge. Version control, document cross-referencing, library systems, security, bandwidth, interactivity and reusability are key considerations here.

 

At the end of the day, measures for evaluating KM programmes will have to be applied, but the issues surrounding such intangible assets are not easily resolved. Assessing intellectual capital can cover not just financial returns but also customer satisfaction, employee profiles, business processes, and performance trends (i.e. human, structural and customer capital).

 

Many of these perspective and principles are based on the numerous examples cited throughout the book.

 

"The main objective of KM is to arrange, orchestrate, and organize an environment in which people are invited and facilitated to apply, develop, share, combine and consolidate knowledge," the authors conclude.

 

Analysis

 

The book offers a good literature review on KM; it includes a modest two-page list of references and a very useful ten-page questionnaire for assessing KM aptitude in an organization, covering issues like staff awareness, KM commitment, IT infrastructure, business culture, and KM measurement.

 

The book is based on research carried out in 1999 and 2000 by a University of Surrey project. The material is peppered with informative sidebars containing actual quotes from strategists and managers at 28 U.S. and European companies like HP, Andersen, Swiss Re, Barclays Bank, Cap Gemini, Siemens, AstraZeneca, Reckitt&Coleman, BP Amoco, KPMG, Buckman Labs, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Rolls-Royce, Nokia, Cable&Wireless, NatWest, Procter&Gamble, Ericsson and PowerGen.

 

In its positioning as a "state of the art" book, it covers and integrates several of the key theories and approaches, and also offers market research summaries and statistics. Numerous tables and charts compare and contrast existing KM frameworks.

 

One chapter covers the KM matrix, a useful table with knowledge types on one axis (embedded, embodied, represented) and knowledge processes on the other (sense, organize, socialize, internalize). Accordingly, there are numerous KM activities (and enabling technologies) that arise, such as datamining, knowledge surveys, knowledge taxonomisation, groupware, e-learning, and workflow analysis.

 

Useful insights are also provided into current KM initiatives at a wide range of companies in the U.S. and Europe (though more on Asian companies would have been greatly appreciated).

 

For instance, Buckman Labs provides financial rewards and accelerated promotion for employees who excel at knowledge sharing; its global communities of best practice include methods of escalating problem resolution by translating queries and answers into multiple languages.

 

Benetton's dynamic production lines keep modifying designs based on knowledge gained from customers. 3M encourages continuous learning while also maintaining a balance between creativity and conservatism. BP heavily uses email and videoconferencing to facilitate internal knowledge flows.

 

Xerox provides physical support for convenient "coffee-pot" environments. Siemens makes its best-practice solutions from the Web-based ShareNet system available on Palm Pilots for mobile workers.

 

Chevron identifies and institutionalizes best practices at four levels: good idea, good practice, local best practice, and industry best practice. Procter & Gamble is planning on using the knowledge between partner companies to provide a seamless supply chain to its customers.

 

Ericsson has professional journalists who handle KM content functions like interviews, newsletters, and Web publishing. Swiss Re has professional knowledge managers whose role is to review documents and contact authors periodically to determine their validity.

 

In sum, the book does a great job of bringing the committed reader up-to-steam on current progress and thinking in the KM field. More material on actual KM architectures and a framework for assessing vendor solutions would have been a welcome addition.

 

Readership

 

The primary audience for the book is managers embarking on KM practices, and MBA students.

 

CKOs and experienced KM professionals may already be familiar with most of the material. Readers looking for more in-depth KM case studies are better off with other titles like Nancy Dixon's "Common Knowledge How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know"), and those looking for detailed KM process maps can turn to other guidebooks like Melissie Clemmons Rumizen's "The Complete Idiot's Guide to KM."

 

Verdict

 

This book makes for a superb textbook on KM for advanced MBA students and early-stage KM professionals and consultants. The writing style is generally crisp, and the sidebars provide a useful blend of quotes directly from the studied companies. Overall, a well-rounded introduction to successful KM.

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