posted 12 Jun 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 9
Madanmohan Rao reviews Knowledge Management: A State Of The Art Guide
TITLE: Knowledge Management: A State Of The Art Guide
AUTHORS: Paul Gamble and John Blackwell
PUBLISHERS: Kogan Page (2001)
This book – perfect for an MBA programme – provides a useful conceptual introduction to KM strategy, based on research carried out at leading US and European companies.
“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 material is divided into ten chapters, covering KM models, processes, planning, learning, technology infrastructure and measurement. The authors have done a good job of blending numerous perspectives on KM into a comprehensive narrative, drawing on prior findings from consultancy firms like McKinsey and KPMG.
The authors argue that a key foundation of KM is nurturing and harnessing communities of practice, where knowledge is put into action. Useful tools here include organisational network analysis, 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 organisation.
Emphasis is also placed on the value of expertise directories and glossaries, knowledge co-ordinators, network events, online collaboration spaces, and storytelling of illustrative anecdotes. Similarly, the authors discuss many of the obstacles that often hamper knowledge management initiatives, including differing learning styles among employees, a ‘hoarding mentality,’ and work-related cultural differences (particularly for global organisations) related to power, individualism, gender, and ability to cope with ambiguity.
“The main objective of KM is to arrange, orchestrate and organise an environment in which people are invited and facilitated to apply, develop, share, combine and consolidate knowledge,” the authors conclude.
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 organisation, 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 for a University of Surrey project. The material is peppered with informative sidebars containing actual quotes from strategists and managers at US and European companies such as AstraZeneca, Barclays Bank, BP Amoco, Buckman Labs, HP, KPMG, Nokia, Rolls-Royce, Siemens and Swiss Re.
In its positioning as a ‘state of the art’ book, it covers and integrates several of the key theories and approaches that dominate KM thinking, 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, organise, socialise, internalise). Accordingly, there are numerous KM activities (and enabling technologies) that arise, such as data-mining, 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 US and Europe (though more on Asian companies would have been greatly appreciated).
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, however.
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 Knowledge Management.
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.
Madanmohan Rao is a writer and consultant based in Bangalore, India. He is the author of The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook (McGraw-Hill). He can be contacted at: email@example.com