Integration and Structuring for Enhanced Knowledge Management*
Knowledge management has been the subject of extensive discussion in recent years, much of it referring to the corporate culture and the sharing of information and experience. While there are a number of well-recognized short-to-medium benefits to be accrued from instituting knowledge management within an organization, such discussions rarely follow through to what the ultimate goal of knowledge management might be, and to what it is that knowledge offers-above and beyond the obvious-to an organization. For the present purposes I use the word knowledge to imply information-from whatever source-brought together and organized according to its meaning, because of its relevance to a given business objective.
In this paper it is suggested that the most rewarding aims of knowledge management are implicit and rarely discussed, that they relate to the structure of knowledge itself, and that what is usually undertaken falls short of what might be possible. Essentially, it is proposed that in the healthcare or pharmaceutical company, its ultimate justification must be that of promoting commercial advantage. The principal ways in which this can occur are via the facilitation of innovation and competitive intelligence.
A PROBLEM FACING KNOWLEDGE MANAGERS
At the core of knowledge management in healthcare and pharmaceuticais, as in any informationintensive industry, is the paradox of acquiring just-in-time data versus the need to extract intelligent and usable insights from carefully considered information, organized and evaluated into business-oriented knowledge. This paradoxical situation grows steadily more difficult. As the volume of information grows, storage space for hardcopy documents and budgetary limitations on journal subscriptions and electronic sources impose restrictions on what the organization can hold for itself, and professional staff do not have the time to read the primary literature. Increasingly, secondary services are relied upon, in the form of online abstracts and news services, and free information sources on the Internet. The information service may even be outsourced.
Time constraints are a constant problem, since it is usually the latest information that is sought, while the organization’s employees are not always in a position to best utilize the information resources to which they already have access. The crux of the problem is the time and effort necessary for extracting and contcxtualizing factual information into actionable knowledge, but a more general and perhaps less tangible issue is the generation of business-oriented meaning from new information input.
New informauon is often expensive to generate or to acquire, so it is desirable to learn from that which is already available. It is also desirable to reevaluate and reapply existing information wherever it is appropriate. This includes learning from past mistakes, and the transferring of general principles to new but analogous situations. For organizational learning much of the factual detail does not matter too much, in a sense, for it is the underlying common transferable principles that are more rewarding to understand and to internalize. A situation can easily arise in which the detail is retained, unexamined, while the general principles remain undiscovered. Such considerations point to a need within commercial organizations for the integration of relevant knowledge according to its perceived meaning.
INFORMATION OVERLOAD AND KNOWLEDGE DEFICIENCY AS INITIAL DRIVERS FOR KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
Among the initial drivers for implementing knowledge management initiatives, information overload in its various forms is perhaps the most pressing. A wish to minimize its impact leads to organizational demands for improved filtering and retrieval of information, with consequences such as user profiling and the installation of search engines.
Overload derives from several factors including: the growth of information in terms of absolute volume, increasing accessibility of information, and the relatively new communications media (principally e-mail and voicemail) and the Internet. Perception of overload is also a factor; information overload and its putative association with stress is now widely recognized. Overload in absolute volume terms may not be the problem, however, and Bawden et al. (1) have reviewed some alternative factors that may pertain. Instead, the problem may be with the deluge of meaningless, unstructured information, rather than structured, focused knowledge imbued with relevance and meaning, which can be put to productive use. As Davenport (2) said, “if information is really useful, our appetite for it is insatiable.”
Within a given, localized business context a large volume of information may not be a problem, since meaningfulness, understanding, and the retention of knowledge in the mind follow relatively more easily once structure and purpose are present. In this sense Johannessen et al. (3), in a study of how knowledge management can aid corporate innovation for commercial advantage, have defined knowledge as systematizing and structuring information for a specific purpose. The problem is that in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, while much information appears probably irrelevant its status is uncertain so it is retained ‘just in case.’ There is thus a paradox of information overload but knowledge deficiency.
Any worthwhile kind of knowledge management exercise must tackle the issues of meaning and understanding as acquired by the recipient of new information, and must also address problems relating to the aggregation of disparate items of information into structured and purposeful knowledge. It must try to understand how knowledge actually gets put together in people’s minds in such a way that they can do something interesting and intelligent with it, so that it becomes learned, embedded, and available for future use. The essence of this exercise is the conversion of unsystematic information into personal knowledge, via processes of perception, understanding, meaning, structuring, context, and purpose. Such processes are resistant to off-the-shelf automation and to corporate cultural reengineering.
Throughout the knowledge management development program there may be some avoidance of the question of structuring information into purposeful knowledge, and an assumption may prevail that knowledge will somehow emerge in the desired form. Some sort of answer is always arrived at, even if it is suboptimal. In order to be useful, information has to engage with the human mind, and given the characteristics of the average workplace and the average worker, inevitably this is minimized to the immediately and unavoidably essential. It takes too much time, to no immediate effect, except perhaps in small, discrete islands of project-related activity, in tightly defined and manageable key topics of interest, to do otherwise. So it is avoided until the last minute. Arguably, this is not the best way to manage knowledge.
Recognition of the importance of the structuring of information content is beginning to emerge as a major theme in knowledge management. Koenig (4), for example, refers to the ‘third stage’ of knowledge management (the first two stages being those driven by information technology and cultural considerations, respectively) as an awareness of the importance of conlent and, in particular, of the importance of retrievability and hence of the arrangement, description, and structure of content. Similarly, Snowden (5) talks about three generations of knowledge management. The first generation focused on timely information provision for decision support, the second on the interrelations between explicit and tacit knowledge, and the third considers context, narrative, and content management, with reference to knowledge communities and the creation and utilization of knowledge.
When knowledge management is initiated, there is sometimes a tendency to put issues relating to internal and tacit knowledge at the foreground, at the expense of externally-generated explicit knowledge which has been the traditional realm of the library and information services function. Ojala (6) claims that it is unusual to take an integrated approach to both internal and external knowledge; both sources are valuable and need to be catered to in a commercial environment. However, the problem goes deeper than mere access. To have optimal utility, information-from whatever source-must be evaluated by an individual and enmeshed in his or her menial scheme of things, with meaning extracted and directed toward an objective, normally in this case a business objective. In this way, scattered fragments of information become contexlualizcd, understood, and converted into usable knowledge, ready for appropriate communication and decision-making. Knowledge has to be assimilated into the mind before any chance of recognizing significance or obtaining creative insights can occur.
This kind of evaluative and synthesizing activity inevitably means intellectually labor-intensive human involvement. Certainly, up until now, information technology has not been able to help directly very much with this; machines can access information, filter it, and manipulate it, but they cannot understand it for us or tell us what it means or what to do with it. We have to do that, and while many would not want it any other way, this does create something of a cognitive bottleneck at the point of human interpretation. There are still difficult linguistic and conceptual problems to be overcome in the machine “understanding” of texts, the aggregation of information by content and meaning, the modeling of trends and the graphical representation of correlations, idea summarization, and the visualization of knowledge. However, improvements are being made in this area all of the time; significant developments are occurring with respect to search engines employing pattern-matching technologies, and with personalized intelligent agents or avatars. All the indications are, though, that it will be some time before these technologies can achieve practical application in the workplace.
KNOWLEDGE STRUCTURING AS IT RELATES TO EFFORT AND RELEVANCE
One crucial difficulty in knowledge structuring is the problem of relevance. All information is irrelevant until deemed otherwise. Some of the potentially relevant information can be predicted in a general sense for an organization or a department, but much of it cannot. Always there is a problem of knowing how much information needs to be systematized, and to what depth. A point exists beyond which the collection and assimilation of large amounts of information is of doubtful value, the appropriate cut-off point necessarily being determined by specific circumstances. One needs to be sure that efforts directed at knowledge structuring are not negated by a preoccupation with the irrelevant.
In the typical, ill-considered request to the commercial organization’s library or information services department “everything” about a topic is needed “now.” While this “everything” must be all-inclusive and exhaustive, it must exclude all that is irrelevant. This exclusion is usually achieved via an appropriate search strategy posed to an online database to which one has access, or by means of an Internet search. Up until the moment of the request, there will be little support, financial or otherwise, for the collection of what-inevitably-is seen as irrelevant and therefore worthless information, and this not unreasonable tough-minded attitude militates for the exploitation of remotely-located resources rather than in-house resources.
This is, of course, a profoundly difficult but familiar situation, namely, the dilemma between the need for deep understanding and the need for just-in-time information, the former implying expensive, intellectually demanding, and time-consuming human involvement, the latter having more budgetary appeal and apparently less commitment in terms of human resources.
The need for focus, context, and structuring of knowledge should not be overlooked in discussions of knowledge management simply because of their intrinsic difficulty. If a means of structuring the information that is already available-whether generated internally or accessed from external sources-cannot be found, in a complex working environment, especially a multinational one, much time is likely to be wasted, because there will be little understanding of how things that are already known dovetail together, and of how general principles can be transferred from one situation to another. Duplication of effort and resources is likely to occur.
One cannot rely on electronic systems, on the fact that something has been filed away, in order to learn, or as a substitute for understanding. Similarly, the outsourcing to an agency of external information monitoring may be misguided; one has to mentally engage with information input in order to understand it and derive some benefit from it. Knowledge has to be integrated via a human mind.
If this argument is accepted, the most intractable issues that gradually emerge in a knowledge management program are cognitive ones, namely the requirements to understand, to structure, and to target information so that it can be used to commercial advantage. Information has to be separated from the original formats in which it is presented, from specific texts and situations (7), and reworked and slotted into usable and continuously updated structures which have direct relevance to the business. These structures may be (and typically are) purely mental ones, but in order to be more securely captured and shared they should have a physical correlate too; in other words, they should be recorded as items of intelligence or business insight.
KNOWLEDGE INTEGRATION: WHAT IT IMPLIES
A realistic encapsulation of what knowledge integration might imply is extraordinarily difficult to achieve; one cannot, for instance, easily illustrate it graphically. This is partly because in the commercial environment, given the time and personnel available, it can only be achieved in a true sense in highly focused and organizationspecific subject areas. These would be the areas where a major decision has to be made, whether, for example, to pursue a joint venture, to acquire a new compound, to weigh up the threats posed by a particular competitor company or product, or to create a new therapeutic category for the company’s portfolio. Thorough integration according to the logical, semantic, or bibliometric underpinnings of subject structure is not something that can be done reasonably across the whole intellectual field of the company’s activities.
In its ideal form knowledge integration would imply the creation of a review, synthesizing the important findings from explicit sources (the published literature, and internally generated documents) and from the tacit knowledge of the individuals concerned (factors such as insights resulting from similar previous experiences or from the possession of particular skills, personal knowledge of the subject matter involved, “unofficial” information pathways, even gossip and hearsay). The purpose of creating this review would be to extract important relevant information from its original sources and to integrate it in a way useful to the current situation. From this might arise awareness of anomalies, observations that do not quite add up, and gaps in knowledge-the lacunae that Belkin (8) termed anomalous slates of knowledge-which may suggest areas for future research, or may point to other suggestive or interesting kinds of conclusions, depending on the circumstances.
Such reviews-perhaps of series of compounds with similar pharmacological properties, of component parts of a project, or of the activities of competitor companies-would contain information organized according to subject content. To facilitate the detection of anomalies they would employ a spatial array of some kind, in its simplest form a tabular or matrix presentation, to show gaps in knowledge or the occurrence of unusual features. The aim should be visualization in a form so that it is easy to detect what is missing from the picture, or what is anomalous. The outcomes of such evaluations should be shared with everyone who can add to or benefit from them. Ideally, the conclusions should be recorded in such a way that others can learn from them, and so that they form part of the audit trail of the “corporate memory.”
INFORMATION AND INNOVATION
Intuitively there would appear to be some relation between the provision of information and the enhancement of innovation, although what that relation might be is far from obvious. The way that information is structured and presented may be crucial to the stimulation of creativity. Paradoxically, a surfeit of information can even inhibit original thought.
A major review by Bawden (9) identified several factors as informational aids to creativity, including the:
* Importance of the means of representation of information in order to facilitate the detection of analogies, patterns, and exceptions,
* Role of interdisciplinary information and review articles,
* Creation of an information-rich environment, including peripheral material,
* Direct involvement of information users as opposed to intermediaries, and
* Serendipitous use of literature.
Knowledge management can help with all of these; in fact, innovation and knowledge management should be closely integrated processes.
Often it is at the edges of understanding and at the fringes of awareness that creativity grows. According to Sherwood (10), the best place to look for opportunities for innovation is at the boundaries of managerial responsibilities, of organizations, and of the mind. Indeed, it is a commonplace observation that a great deal of scientific and technological innovation occurs at the boundaries between disciplines, or by individuals who have switched specialties, so that crossfertilization of concepts or techniques occurs between subject domains. The deliberate bringing together of otherwise disparate ideas can stimulate creativity.
Unhelpful barriers can arise between specialties that actually share much in common. For reasons of nomenclature and classification, convention, or the way that professions and corporate functions are organized, similar or overlapping knowledge domains are sometimes not perceived to be mutually relevant. Knowledge is generated or used in different contexts, by different professional groups, and so invisible boundaries develop for no reason other than differences in cultural perspective, habit, detailed subject content, purpose and application, terminology, and poor communication channels between specialties or departments. This is where the interdisciplinary focus or the change of specialty can be valuable, along with the open, information-sharing culture fostered by good knowledge management practices.
Mednick (11) observed that the deliberate bringing together of otherwise disparate ideas may help with creativity, and more recently, Hargadon (12) and Hargadon and Sutton (13) have described the role of the knowledge broker in this context. The knowledge broker is someone who can transfer underlying core concepts from one situation to another, so that old ideas can suggest powerful solutions to new problems once analogies are detected across seemingly dissimilar contexts. Such individuals are well placed to recognize interrelationships between technologies and to perceive general solutions to specific problems; this is particularly valuable in busy commercial situations where creative thinking may suffer because of pace of activity and shortage of time. This kind of knowledge brokering or knowledge facilitation is an obvious role for the knowledge management function, but its quality is highly dependent upon the psychological characteristics of those employed in that function.
Mascitelli (14) proposed that breakthrough innovations-as opposed to mundane or incremental ones-can result from the harnessing of the tacit knowledge held by individuals and project teams, deriving from experience, experimentation, perception, and learning by doing. Generally this happens on an ad hoc basis; who knows how many potential breakthroughs are missed? A systematic knowledge management program may be seen as a means of enhancing the reliability of this sort of intraorganizational communication. Mascitelli refers to the “missing links” in breakthrough innovations, those apparent nonsequiturs that bring together disparate technologies, unmet customer needs, and product opportunities. These ill-understood leaps of thought provide the greatest potential for the discontinuous changes that lead to sustainable competitive advantage, and they may more readily occur to those with generalist interests rather than narrow specialties. The knowledge management function can help to bring people together to help foster such occurrences.
The creation of new ideas often entails the identification of common features that link or integrate otherwise separate entities or activities (15). Finding a common structure underlying apparently very dissimilar problems, phrased in different terminology across different fields of activity, may provide the creative stimulus to problem solving or to a commercial opportunity. Having structured and contextualized knowledge will help with this and with the recognition and application of unanticipated relevance.
The focus of this view of information ulilizalion and creative behavior is largely, therefore, that of the recognition of unforeseen anomalies and analogies. An individual’s cognitive development leading to this recognition may derive from routine experience and mundane information gathering, perhaps over a period of many years; hence the value of experience and crossfertilization between specialties. Hence also the importance of not relying too much on the mere electronic manipulation of data but, rather, of encouraging mental engagement with data.
Locating relevant information can sometimes stimulate the generation of new ideas, and that in itself is helpful. However, understanding the significance of seemingly irrelevant information provides the diversity required for thinking “outside the box.” The paradoxical relevance of “irrelevant information,” of course, has to be recognized before this can occur, and this recognition in itself may constitute the crucial creative step. Knowledge managers can help to provide this kind of informational stimulus for a potentially receptive audience.
HOW SIGNIFICANCE RELATES TO THE STRUCTURE OF KNOWLEDGE
How knowledge is organized directly affects not only its usefulness but, arguably, what it is and what it actually means. The structure of knowledge is to a surprising degree open-ended. Concepts coalesce for practical, ideological, theoretical, or circumstantial reasons and after that they become habitually associated with each other. The existing structures of knowledge are often based on habit and convention, on dominant theories and implicit paradigms, on needs and purpose, on the peculiarities of natural languages, and on familiar modes of perception. Of course, facts themselves cannot be altered, but it is a mistake to regard the structure of knowledge as something which is necessarily fixed and permanent; it is there to be developed and moved forward. Achieving this change in the structure of knowledge is the function of the innovator. Often this change results from a perceptual shift, from a subjective reassessment of significance.
One of the imponderables in interpreting received information is knowing what the significant parts are. Normally, in “the literature” one is given strong pointers as to what is crucial by the title, an abstract or keywords, and so on, and by the fact that an article appears in a particular journal or has been indexed in a certain way. There is much, however, that is less obvious and does not routinely get indexed, but a time may come when some unconsidered aspect of it develops a significance which up until then could not have been predicted, and indeed, was apparently invisible. This significance may arise because of new circumstances or related publications appearing subsequently which, for whatever reason, succeed in achieving prominence.
The interpretation of information is very likely to be influenced by current interests, which change frequently. Normally, one reads texts or participates in verbal exchanges in the context of an immediate concern of some kind; as a result of this concern, points are noticed, selected, and interpreted accordingly. Other points pass by unseen or misunderstood. Salience is variable and unpredictable. The difficulty in a commercial setting where innovation is desired is how one can know, in any reliable way, among the documents used, the databases accessed, and the conversations engaged in, what should be significant to oneself, to one’s colleagues (perhaps in another department or in another country), today, tomorrow, next year, or in 10 years’ time. This kind of “future-proofing” of significance is a major problem within knowledge management. One is being asked to predict the unknown, to recognize something apparently trivial and scarcely noticeable today as the precursor of something important tomorrow.
A major difficulty, therefore, in designing information services for innovation and competitive intelligence is that, although broad subject areas can be catered to, to a great extent one does not know what one is looking for-although one will recognize it when it is found. It is almost impossible to design search profiles to capture il, because it is not a specific that can be named in advance. If it could, its discovery would not be innovative. It is a pattern rather than a specific keyword that is being sought; some kind of shift or anomaly, a metaphor or analogy, that does not yet have a name. Only a human mind can recognize its potential import.
Any text, indeed any informational input, contains many potential hooks or triggers just waiting to be activated by the right circumstances, by someone’s sensitive awareness of what could be important. Relevance is always contextual, reflecting the interests of the individual or the organization; relevance does not occur in the abstract or in isolation.
How knowledge is put together depends in part upon the subjective attributes of ideas as they present to the prepared and fertile mind. Arguably, the more information that has been assimilated, the greater the likelihood that a fortuitous observation will be utilized, and because of the ever-present possibility of remote analogical association this may occur even if the information is not obviously pertinent to the immediate work situation. This would be the rationale behind Bawden’s inclusion of an informationrich environment as supportive of innovation. In order to foster the fortuitous locating of relevant information, one needs, from the point of view of the library services aspect of knowledge management, to provide an informationally-rich environment, and ideally one stocked with materials not necessarily obviously relevant to the core business. Cost justification for this will, unsurprisingly, be difficult. This will be especially so because, while this information-enrichment approach may work spectacularly on occasion, most of the time it will yield nothing. Innovative observations of this sort depend primarily on the personalities and interests of the people working in the organization, and on serendipity.
Serendipity, though by nature unpredictable (16), favors the person exposed to appropriate coincident events and to a richness of information, the potential significance of which will fluctuate constantly. Williamson (17) refers to incidental or accidental acquisition or discovery of information; people happen upon useful information while engaging in other activities. Facts and ideas somehow find a way of fitting together so that they can be utilized productively, although sometimes one feels that this could equally be done with entirely different outcomes, and that it is dependent on all kinds of unpredictable and subjectively-driven variables. Indeed, random input and the artificial creation of cognitive turbulence can be and often are deliberately exploited among a variety of creativity stimulating techniques. Knowledge management can probably play only a very limited role in facilitating serendipitous discovery, but the possession of an integrated knowledge picture of what is known and what remains to be known can surely be of benefit to an innovative company.
KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT
As with innovation, so in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries knowledge management should be integral with intelligence relating to competitor companies and to the business environment in which one operates. Knowledge management and competitive intelligence should not be functionally separate, for information about the competitive environment is, in terms of its characteristics, no different from other types of information that need to be assimilated and evaluated.
In monitoring the competitive environment it is usual to look out for the so-called STEP factors (social, technological, economic, physical; there are other variants of this), those factors which signal change, variously perceived as threat or opportunity. Some of these factors are continuous and fairly predictable, but others may be more dramatic and discontinuous. What is being sought is, in essence, signals. Events of interest set up “ripples,” which may or may not be noticed and recognized for what they are. Some will be strong signals, which are well reported and important to know about, even though they do not provide any competitive advantage, since they are in the public domain and accessible to anyone.
More useful are those special types of weak signals, “indicators about indicators,” which might easily be dismissed as “merely subjective,” but which can be used in gathering intelligence about one’s competitors, or shifts in the operating environment. These signals may, in fact, point to such things as a competitor company being about to undertake a change in activity: to expand research facilities, to close a manufacturing plant, or to make an acquisition or enter into a joint venture or strategic alliance with another company. Weak signals are by definition the obscure and imperceptible ones.
An early warning system for threats and opportunities is seen as a vital part of any competitive intelligence process. What is needed is a constant scanning of the operating environment for anomalies, from which interpretations and inferences can be derived, by tracking back from symptom to source, from effect to cause. Detection of weak signals relies on the deliberate and subjective overemphasizing of some features in the informational environment, features which are habitually screened out but which are detectable by the appropriately tuned mind. Successful detection and exploitation of novel features is more likely to occur if one already possesses an integrated picture of the relevant informational environment; in other words, if one understands the existing structures with which anomalies can be compared, and against which novel items of information can be placed.
It is important to remember that there are differences between the creative individual and the creative organization; organizations can be full of creative people without being able to harness their talents effectively. Glynn (18) proposed the concept of organizational intelligence, which she related to innovation. Her theme was that intelligence is embedded in organizations and operates via individuals and via corporate systems to affect innovation at an organizational level. Knowledge management practices should fuel this intelligence, and should provide the mechanisms for sharing it as necessary throughout the organization.
The more knowledge one can absorb, theoretically the more meaningful links one can make, and the better the chance one will have of generating more knowledge. This is a general rather than an absolute truth, but it applies organizationally as well as individually. Efficient, communications mechanisms ought to be able to spread ideas faster and further within the organization, and should lead to the collision of interesting ideas which would otherwise not come into contact with each other, thus, possibly leading to the generation of further novel ideas.
Leonard-Barton (19) stated that managers need to expose their companies to bombardment by new ideas from outside in order to challenge rigidity of thought and Lo encourage innovative serendipity. Because of the risk of overload, this imposes a further strain on knowledge management requirements. Ultimately, one wants an organization where people are tuned to spotting anomalies, to identifying gaps in knowledge that represent potential opportunities for research, product development, or marketing. One wants an increased awareness and sensitivity to the potential meaning of new information, without being overwhelmed by it. Knowing what one already knows, collectively, is mandatory if this is to occur.
New ideas can only emerge in the individual mind, from some unique insight and synthesis which, until it happens, remains entirely unpredictable. The aim should be for employees to develop an awareness of, a slate of mind for spotting, the signals that indicate where commercial advantage and innovation may lie, and to contribute their observations to the collective intelligence of the organization. A major goal for knowledge managers is, therefore, to build a knowledge culture and to provide a mechanism for the synthesis of relevant knowledge, in order to encourage this desirable objective. This implies the development and enhancement of traditional knowledge management initiatives. The goal is novel and unique insights, meaningful knowledge structures that no other organization possesses.
Finding out about developments as recorded in print or on the Internet is useful and important, of course, and much lime will be spent seeking, recording, indexing, and disseminating them. Indeed, in healthcare and pharmaceuticals some of this activity is, of course, obligatory for regulatory, safety, ethical, or other reasons. Apart from that its undertaking is comforting, for it seems a reasonable thing to do, but perhaps it does not create many commercial benefits. By itself it is unlikely to lead to advantage over one’s competitors.
Competitor companies are likely to have access to the same public sources of information as oneself. That does not mean that they actually do access the same sources, or that they interpret them identically. Advantage comes from a close analysis of external information, assimilating it and putting it together in new ways, and combining it with unique features peculiar to one’s own organisation, with information derived internally, and with imperceptible external factors seemingly beyond the immediate concern. One needs to make unexpected connections to detect anomalies, and to spot analogies and apparent disconnects. Recognizing the value of knowledge integration, in this way, knowledge managers should strive to make the organization more insightful and intelligent, uniquely advantaged in its use of available information.
CONCLUSION: THE BENEFITS OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
Knowledge management can be seen to have benefits at three levels: tangible, cultural, and enhanced. The basic tangible benefits-the housekeeping benefits-are those of efficiency of access to information, reduction of overload, easier filing and retrieval, minimized time and effort wasted in duplicating activities, and improved communications between the component parts of the organization. In themselves, these benefits are self-justifying. They lead to measurable reductions in the time taken to accomplish everyday activities, and more significantly, may help to minimize the time in getting a product registered and to market.
Beyond these very tangible benefits, which are essentially those of information management, genuine knowledge management introduces cultural change as well. This takes longer to embed itself, and its effects are less easy to measure. Qualitatively, there will be a raised level of awareness throughout the organization as to the potential value of information. Employees will have a better understanding of how the component functions fit together, of their own role, and of the principal information flows that take place. Organizational learnings are more likely to be captured, shared, and utilized, rather than hoarded or forgotten, and there may be mechanisms in place at the personal performance level to reward knowledge sharing activities. With an additional effort, some learnings may be generalizable into working routines. There will be an improved coherence and synergy between the functional components of the organization, and this will also pertain geographically, across research and manufacturing sites, internationally. A possible spinoff from all of this is increased job satisfaction.
If one can progress beyond this stage, by evaluating and structuring available information into recorded and integrated knowledge, and by adding in behaviors such as a greater sensitivity to informational anomalies, potentially one becomes much better placed to monitor the competitive environment, and to exploit opportunities for innovation. The desired end result of this third phase of knowledge management is commercial advantage over one’s competitors.
Copyright Drug Information Association 2004
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