posted 2 Sep 2002 in Volume 6 Issue 1
Country focus: Finland
Simon Lelic talks to Tuija Helokunnas and Jussi Okkonen about the evolution of KM in Finland
By 1995, knowledge management had already established itself as a distinct management discipline in Finland. According to Tuija Helokunnas, a professor specialising in software-based business networks and products focusing on collaboration at Tampere University of Technology, the subject’s earliest pioneers included the likes of Ilkka Tuomi, Harri Happonen, Pirjo Ståhle, Mauri Grönroos and Seija Kulkki.
Following a surge of interest, KM received even more widespread interest towards the end of the decade. Partly this was attributable to the publication of Knowledge Management by Ståhle and Grönroos, a book described by Helokunnas as a milestone in Finnish KM literature. Published in the vernacular and offering an overview of the field together with practical ideas for the application of KM-based theory, the book quickly established itself as the pre-eminent textbook in its area.
More recently, says Jussi Okkonen, a research fellow and PhD student at Tampere University who is currently working towards the completion of his thesis on the use of performance measurement in knowledge intensive organisations, the uptake of KM has been driven primarily by business consultants. However, an increasing number of KM-based research projects reflects a growing interest in the academic sphere, in turn further enhancing the credibility of the discipline.
Although Okkonen feels there is still a great deal of potential yet to be realised, knowledge management has clearly come a long way in a relatively short space of time. The ICT industry continues to act as the main proponent of KM deployment, but more traditional sectors are also awakening to the importance of managing knowledge-based assets to operational efficiency and overall profitability. As Okkonen says, KM is definitely spreading.
Several cultural traits particular to Finland have no doubt hastened this process. Storytelling, for instance, has a strong tradition in the country, exhibited in Kalevala, a work that first appeared in 1835. Often described as the Finnish national epic, Kalevala is a collection of epic folk poems that represented the culmination of a centuries-old custom of oral storytelling in the country and a huge boost to the Finns’ confidence in the power of the Finnish language.
And as Helokunnas says, while Finns are perhaps considered to be relatively introverted in official circumstances and loathe of small talk, the Finnish education system is based on uniformity and, above all, openness, a trait of obvious pertinence to KM. Similarly, a growing number of Finnish firms, particularly in the ICT sector, are adopting flexible working practices, focused on facilitating collaboration and increased knowledge sharing among staff members.
The media, too, has demonstrated a high level of interest in knowledge management, says Okkonen. Research in the area of tacit knowledge receives frequent coverage, and there is an impressive understanding of the nuances of the field as a whole. As Okkonen points out, KM is treated as a process rather than as just another IT system. He adds, however, that there is a need for increased cohesion between the messages put out in the media and those espoused by industry consultants, who continue to treat knowledge management as primarily a technology-based discipline.
No doubt this will improve as understanding continues to build. In addition, Helokunnas expects an increasing emphasis on the relationship between KM and business intelligence to evolve, together with a more in-depth understanding as to the importance of knowledge management as a component of organisational performance management. And even if the Nokia-dominated ICT sector suffers the effects of adverse economic conditions, Helokunnas is confident that the future will remain bright for KM in Finland, so receptive have the more traditional industries already proven themselves to be.
Tuija Helokunnas can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jussi Okkonen can be contacted at: email@example.com