Knowledge manager or not?

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Knowledge manager function or not?

File:Knowledge manager-1.jpg

Introduction

Paul Defourny asked (on 25 Aug. 2007) the community about examples of private organisations that would have a function of 'knowledge manager' as one could see in "several great institutions". The discussion quickly evolved from that point to question: the importance of such a function, the rationale behind having a (group of) knowledge manager(s) in house, what this function could entail and the general status of Knowledge Management as compared to regular management.

Keywords

Knowledge manager, management, quality management, KM strategy

Detailed Description

In the controversial discussion held in August 2007 on the KM4DEV mailing list, more light was shed on the relevance and scope of such a function: KM is the foundation of performance, it feeds and permeates other business practices from quality management, project cycle management to software development etc. In this respect, an organisation needs to manage its knowledge assets and integrate diverse technical and human resources as well as facilitate processes that encompass collection, codification, creation, maintenance and dissemination of knowledge. This as it were would seem to be scope of a knowledge manager or a knowledge management team

The controversial point here is that there is a risk of leaving KM in the hands of the knowledge manager only, when everybody in the organisation needs to support and practice KM. Maybe the role of the knowledge manager is just to facilitate the learning and practicing KM of all other employees. This point relates to the difficult balance to strike between mainstreaming KM and singling it out:

  • On the one hand, one may be focusing on organisation-wide KM (with the risk of diluting KM and leading it to decay?)
  • On the other hand, one may adopt a more explicit KM function such as knowledge manager to help organise KM in the organisation and keep it on the agenda (with the risk that other employees rely on that function only to take care of KM in the organisation).

Is the position of knowledge manager just a step towards mainstreamed KM in the organisation? Is it a question of scale of the organisation?

Some other related points were raised but not further addressed:

  • What is the best strategy to make KM a day-to-day practice (clear, practical and relevant) for all staff in an organisation?
  • What about KM in systems such as CRM (customer relationship management)?

As for the original question (are there examples of Knowledge Managers in the private sector?), without a clear cut answer, Boris Jaeger pointed out to the "Economist Intelligence Unit's Foresight Report 2020, where KM is among the top future business issues, or various initiatives by governments. Still there is a need for Knowledge Managers. Just search special job search engines like www.jinfo.com".

The question seems worth another later round...

KM4Dev Discussions

  • I noticed that several great Institutions do have function(s) named “knowledge manager” while I do not know any private organization that has it. [Paul Defourny]
  • KM had its peak as "label" and has been merged into the Process World as Support process the last years. KM was important as own department to consolidate methods, tools and promote the knowledge view on an organization. I won't say that it lost importance but at least visibility with the label "KM" as the core business for instance of professional service firms or most NGOs is knowledge management. It makes it harder to spot areas where the KM ideas keep on growing. KM is still too much technology driven. It is a good sign that KM disappeared as such because it is not very practical. KM in practice is in project cycle management, software development etc. but CRM is left out of KM [Mark Siebert]
  • KM is gaining importance. Still there is a need for Knowledge Managers. Just search special job search engines like www.jinfo.com. KM is increasingly integrated in quality management and business process management. Knowledge is the foundation of performance - even in non-knowledge-intensive business. Therefore KM should be viewed as a underlying discipline/function [Boris Jaeger]
  • Does the Knowledge manager position disappear as KM is mainstreamed? There seems to be a logical progression from ad hoc KM to one function (K manager) to the organisation at large [Ewen Le Borgne]
  • The essence is that we all do KM in our job. Building KM in every-day strategy and related to business processes makes it useful, easier to explain and more relevant [Sebastian Rottmair]
  • Importance of Knowledge as an asset: it should have a manager as an asset manager [Paul Defourny]
  • We need both Knowledge manager and KM applied in all business processes. Difficult balance because KM is intangible. Important to keep KM distinct. KM and QM are related but different and we need need to keep KM in business to keep it visible and distinct [Paul Whiffen]
  • We are far from mainstreamed KM, hence the need to manage Knowledge. Management of Knowledge is very specific and needs to be addressed by someone special while everyone else works on business as usual [Julie Ferguson]
  • Isn't the role of the Knowledge manager to facilitate learning only maybe? [Ewen Le Borgne]
  • Knowledge manager position depends on the organisation size, as a kind of luxury, to prevent decay of KM once embedded. QM is back on the map now with quantifiable deliverables in the mandate, we haven't reached this stage with KM yet [Paul Defourny]
  • We need that function to support achieving org goals. The main role of the knowledge manager is the integration of diverse technical and human resources and facilitation of processes that encompass collection, codification, creation, maintenance and dissemination of knowledge (knowledge assets/objects) [Zbigniew Mikolajuk]
  • There is too much information in too many places requiring distillation or interpretation in various ways so that it becomes “knowledge” for any one person to play that role. Every employee to play the role of Knowledge manager and the latter facilitates this [J. Tarrant]
  • It can be a central or decentralised function  But the role is to coordinate [Zbigniew Mikolajuk]
  • There is a need for basic knowledge creation/sharing/stewardship behaviors and practice in all of us. To have impact, it has to be a practice that is spread across the organization. In other words from thinking about a knowledge manager as the central responsible party or even catalyst of KM, what would it look like if we were skilled at collectively managing knowledge? One organization can't "make development" happen. It is an interplay between various actors. What are organizations doing to develop these core competencies? What are we doing to mesh our competencies with those we are ostensibly serving? [Nancy White]
  • Manage knowledge collectively, be aware of your temporary supporting role in learning, and above all: look for oportunities to make yourself obsolete [George De Goijer]
  • The trick indeed seems to be to get away from the idea that some named people are THE "knowledge managers" and to encourage lots of people to realize they actually have significant roles and responsibilities in these areas that can be enhanced by taking on some changes [P. Ballantyne]


The following members of the KM4Dev community contributed to the discussion thread on the Knowledge Manager: Paul Defourny launched the discussion, and the following people answered his question (in order of response): Mark Siebert, Boris Jaeger, Ewen Le Borgne, Sebastien Rottmair, Paul Whiffen, Julie Ferguson, Satish Vangal, Lucie Lamoureux, Zbigniew Mikolajuk, Jim Tarrant, Tony Pryor, Nancy White, Peter Ballantyne and George de Gooijer.

Examples in Application

  • I am CKM (Corporate Knowledge Manager) for a medium sized engineering and construction company. [...] As I introduce KM into my organisation, I am also deploying other Knowledge Managers / Knowledge Workers about the place. Eg, we have knowledge workers on projects (and by the way it really helps introduce KM if your org consciously applies Project Management) plus also knowledge workers in the 5 main Departments in my organisation. That way, I keep KM distinct with a clear identity as my core team (myself and 2 full time assistants) plus a range of knowledge workers with strong dotted lines to me making sure it happens in the actual Business delivery. If KM doesn’t become something real and hard like this but stays with a “fluffy” mandate then it won’t last long! [Paul Whiffen]
  • I have heard that some libraries employ subject matter experts that can guide inquiries to library and other resources available at the institution. That’s probably the closest one might come – aside, of course from the Faculty itself whom one would expect to play the primary role of “knowledge manager” vis-à-vis students (and peers). [Jim Tarrant]
  • As an example, Steve Glovinsky was telling me some nice stories recently on the 'solution exchange' in India - http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/ where development practitioners are 'discovering' they are actually experts and knowledgeable through the medium of communities ... There's certainly moderation and facilitation but the approach seems to be to mobilize and document collective knowledge. [Peter Ballantyne]

Related FAQs

Further Information

Links & Web Based Articles

Books

  • Davenport Thomas H., Prusak Laurence, "Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know", 2000, p. 175.
  • White Don, "Knowledge Mapping and Management", 2002, p. 114.
  • Karagiannis Dimitris, Reimer Ulrich, "Knowledge Engineering and Management: The Commonkads Methodology", 1999, p.22.

(The old references seem to indicate that at least in the corporate KM world, the notion of Knowledge Manager is not much relevant any more).

Some enthusiastic participants to the discussion on Knowledge Manager

  • Paul Defourny
  • Zbigniew Mikolajuk
  • Jim Tarrant
  • Ewen Le Borgne

Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ

Ewen Le Borgne

Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions

October 23, 2007

FAQ KM4Dev Source Materials

[Raw text of email discussions on which the FAQ is based]