Glossary

Knowledge Management

Discover the value knowledge management can bring to your organization, why it's important, what kind of information it can capture, and how the best tools can help.
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What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management (KM) is the process of organizing, creating, using, and sharing collective knowledge within an organization.  Successful knowledge management includes maintaining information in a place where it is easy to access. 

Only a few initiatives are able to truly transform how an organization operates, and knowledge management is one of them.

Types of knowledge management

Knowledge is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Storing, growing, and sharing that knowledge is critical to any enterprise.

When looking at it from this perspective, knowledge management's meaning includes the process that helps you acquire, organize, and share:

Learn more about the different types of knowledge management.

Knowledge management process

At the highest level, a knowledge management process is the way in which a business manages knowledge, from its creation through to its organization methodology, to how it then continues to make sure it’s shared out.


  1. Knowledge creation. Knowledge creation starts with knowledge acquisition. This knowledge may come from many sources, including employees within an organization or outside individuals that are brought in for knowledge or expertise on a specific subject. As knowledge is acquired, the next step is to understand what knowledge will be used for, how it will be applied and where it’s applicable.
  2. Knowledge organization. The knowledge must then be structured in a knowledge management system for future use. This knowledge must not only be organized, but it also needs to include security features so that knowledge can be accessed by authorized personnel when needed. This knowledge organization process is an important part of knowledge management because without it, knowledge becomes disorganized and has no structure, making it difficult or impossible to find in the future when knowledge is needed.
  3. Knowledge sharing. The knowledge organization process is completed by knowledge sharing. This knowledge sharing includes everything from knowledge training to knowledge exchange, where knowledge can be acquired or enhanced through knowledge discussions with other employees in an organization.

All of these aspects work together to make up a knowledge management process, which promotes collaboration and information sharing.


Get a deeper dive into KM processes and learn how to get the
knowledge management process started at your company.

How knowledge management helps organizations

When an organization is able to easily access, share, and update business knowledge, it can become more productive and cost-efficient. The ability to access the right knowledge at the right time, via a robust knowledge management system, informs accurate decision-making and stimulates collaboration and innovation.

Benefits of knowledge management

The more effectively and efficiently a company shares its information with its employees, the better the business will perform. The benefits of knowledge management include:

  • Faster decision-making
  • Efficient access to knowledge and information
  • Increased collaboration and idea generation
  • Enhanced communication throughout your organization
  • Improved quality of information and data
  • More security for intellectual property
  • Optimized training

Will knowledge management improve work performance?

A McKinsey Global Institute Report indicates that a robust knowledge management system can reduce information search time by as much as 35 percent and raise organization-wide productivity by 20 to 25 percent. Findings culled from the International Data Corp also corroborate the value of a knowledge management system, highlighting that Fortune 500 companies lose roughly $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge.

As your enterprise grows, so too will the need to access a reliable knowledge database in order to effectively run your business, serve your clients, and increase revenue. Without a knowledge management system in place, your employees will be forced to learn and relearn processes and information. That’s an inefficient and costly practice. Plus, you may also run the risk of losing those processes or information if a knowledge leader or legacy employee leaves your company.

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What kind of information is captured in knowledge management?

Information captured as part of knowledge management can include:

Documents

Team Data

Organizational Data

Organizational News

example of a knowledge card
Knowledge Management Captures Information

Why knowledge management fails

In a 2015 piece for the Wall Street Journal, Thomas H. Davenport, a business analytics expert, explained that there are many reasons why KM has historically failed, but the main reasons are threefold:

  1. Holding onto knowledge. Some employees may want to hoard knowledge to maintain a particular position or level of importance within a company, while others may just not have time, interest, or a place to share it. In all of these cases, information doesn't get documented, which means it can't be widely disseminated.
  2. Searching is time-consuming. When companies lack a single source of truth, information can be spread across too many different apps. If an employee doesn't know where to look or has to look in too many places for an answer, they may simply stop looking, and start relying on colleagues to get them answers quickly.
  3. Information is outdated. If knowledge management processes are primarily used for document storage instead of knowledge application, old information proliferates making looking for the right answer exceedingly difficult. In this case, again, employees simply stop relying on the knowledge base.

Knowledge management FAQs

How can knowledge management promote organizational learning?

Knowledge management can promote organizational learning by creating a knowledge-driven culture, in which curiosity and openness to new information is a central part of a company's operating structure.

How can knowledge management be implemented?

Knowledge management can be implemented by using change management methods to choose a knowledge base, set success metrics, and encourage high adoption.

Who owns knowledge management?

Who owns knowledge management depends on the structure and size of the company. In smaller companies, it may be the responsibility of everyone to maintain the knowledge base and encourage good usage, while large enterprises may decide to employ a dedicated knowledge manager.

What’s the knowledge management cycle?

The knowledge management cycle is the process by which knowledge is captured, processed, and distributed.

What is knowledge management’s impact on organizational performance? 

When implemented correctly, knowledge management’s impact on organizational performance can be enormously beneficial. For instance, in research into knowledge-driven companies, which keep KM at the core of their cultures, 94% achieved or exceeded their 2019 growth expectations.

Knowledge management tools

Here are some great examples of knowledge management systems:

Document management systems

These systems act as centralized digital filing cabinets for company documents. They make retrieving documents easy, support regulatory compliance, and enhance workflow. In addition, when a document management system is enhanced with passwords and backup procedures, document security is enhanced, but not thoroughly protected from outside access. Many typical document management systems have functionality limitations so custom upgrades can increase costs. This type of system does not automatically capture data or analyze it.

Content management systems

Content management systems are similar to document management systems, but store audio, video, and other media types in addition to documents.

Databases

A database is a computer application that allows people to capture, store, analyze, and interact with data. Databases are indexed in order to make information more accessible. Data stored in databases can be very secure because the system prohibits manipulation. However, they can be volatile and are often costly to design and set up. They also require a high level of skill to use and maintain.

Data warehouses

These enterprise-wide systems pull data from different parts of your organization and can be highly effective for reporting and analysis. They store current, as well as historic data and transform data into meaningful information. However, data warehouses are typically high-maintenance systems that require complex integration in order to provide a unified view of the data.

Intranets

These private computer networks built on searchable platforms can provide an easily accessible resource for information that enhances collaboration and social networking within your enterprise. But intranets do have some risks, including easy access by unauthorized personnel. In addition, they are costly and time-consuming to maintain.

Wikis

These web pages are easy-to-use collaborative tools that allow anyone to publish and store information in a central location. They can be good places to maintain business documents or product catalogues. However, because they can be openly edited, wikis can often include wrong information. In addition, they aren’t optimized to show what information within them is being viewed or used or where knowledge gaps exist.

Social networking

Social networking allows people to connect with each other, join groups, contribute information, and discuss issues they are interested in. Social networking can influence organizational knowledge. Knowledge management systems can apply social networking to identify, document, and transfer knowledge.

knowledge management

Knowledge management strategies that drive productivity

There are three main knowledge management strategies to drive productivity:

Make it easy to share knowledge

Create a culture in which employees share knowledge freely with each other, instead of hoarding it. This is done by implementing knowledge management tools that allow knowledge to be easily found and accessed.

Incentivize knowledge creation

Reward those who contribute the most knowledge. Implementing knowledge management tools that make it easy for contributors to gain recognition can help encourage more people to contribute knowledge.

Encourage high usage

Asking questions is fine, but if employees are only interrupting colleagues to get answers instead of checking the knowledge base, start creating gentle reminders to check the KB before asking. This not only saves them time, but it increases overall efficiency.

Together, these strategies improve information access for all employees and departments resulting in a culture of openness and curiosity.

Is your company's knowledge base making you more productive — or less? Follow this easy flowchart to find out where you fall on the spectrum, and then discover what the results mean.

Knowledge management use cases

Here are some of the most common knowledge management use cases:

Employee onboarding

New employees need a lot of information very quickly to become effective members of the organization. A knowledge management system can provide instant answers, ensuring everyone is on the same page from day one, limiting frustration and reducing training time.

Internal communications and updates

Good knowledge management can enhance collaboration by reducing chat noise. By using KM to create a dedicated place to ask and answer questions and provide updates, you're freeing up everyone's time to be more efficient.

Streamlined customer service

Since one of the main customer service metrics is ticket completion time, making sure reps have access to the information they need exactly when and where they need it makes good knowledge management a must. Stop putting customers on hold or leaving tickets open for days (or weeks) while reps track down the person with the right answer by having that person provide it for everyone, once.

Product enablement

Keeping everyone up to date on the latest and greatest changes and updates to your product requires a streamlined solution accessible to everyone. Your knowledge management system should be available company-wide to ensure everyone knows what's available and when.

Want to see examples of knowledge management programs in organizations? See how Guru's customers make KM work.
A doodle of various shapes representing bits of knowledgeA doodle of pointing arrows

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