Information Technology for Knowledge Management

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In: Journal of Universal Computer Science 3:8, August 1997

Information Technology for Knowledge Management
Uwe M. Borghoff
Rank Xerox Research Centre, Grenoble Laboratory 6, chemin de Maupertuis. F-38240 Meylan, France E-mail: borghoff@grenoble.rxrc.xerox.com

Remo Pareschi
Rank Xerox Research Centre, Grenoble Laboratory 6, chemin de Maupertuis. F-38240 Meylan, France E-mail: pareschi@grenoble.rxrc.xerox.com

Abstract: Knowledge has been lately recognized as one of the most important assets of organizations. Can information technology help the growth and the sustainment of organizational knowledge? The answer is yes, if care is taken to remember that IT here is just a part of the story (corporate culture and work practices being equally relevant) and that the information technologies best suited for this purpose should be expressly designed with knowledge management in view. This special issue of the Journal of Universal Computer Science contains a selection of papers from the First Conference on Practical Applications of Knowledge Management. Each paper describes a specific type of information technology suitable for the support of different aspects of knowledge management. Key Words: knowledge management, information technology, knowledge life-cycle, knowledge work processes, corporate memories, information filtering Category: A.1, H.4.m, I.2.1, K.m

1 Knowledge Management
Managers, consultants, IT professionals and customers believe that they have finally discovered what makes organizations work: knowledge—that invisible force that propels the most successful companies to stock market values which far exceed the visible assets of their financial balance sheet. Where does this knowledge come from? The financial balance sheet, based on such tangible assets as capital and equity, does not tell us. Yet this is what stock market investors look for when they decide to raise the market value of a company—they invest in the specific knowhow of the company to produce future cash flows. At its simplest, the knowledge movement in organizational thinking is about refining rules of thumb used by investors into techniques and methodologies for the knowledge auditing of organizations. This new view of organizations should help investors to make their choices in a more informed way by basing them on a sound, systematic ground.

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More than that, it should aid managers to identify the real weaknesses and strengths of the organizations they run, and to set up the priorities in order to make them grow. Thus, the knowledge movement has proposed to put knowledge on the balance sheet in the form of intangible assets that account for organizations’ intellectual capital. Such intangibles include: employees’ competence; the internal structure of organizations, given by their patents, their own models, concepts and processes, their administrative system and IT infrastructure; their external structure, given by the relationships they have developed with customers and suppliers, their brand names, trademarks, image and reputation (Sveiby 1997). Some companies, most famous Skandia, a Swedish financial services firm, have started to develop knowledge auditing methodologies and to publish an intellectual balance sheet. But there is more than this. With respect to earlier, more scientific approaches to knowledge, from western epistemology to artificial intelligence, the knowledge movement has brought the new awareness that organizational knowledge is something inherently fluid and elusive, so inextricably linked with humans that people very often take it away once they leave the place; something that defeats being captured by rules and formulas and that comes in many different shapes and forms, one form dynamically transmuting into another. In particular, we have learned to distinguish between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). Explicit knowledge is formal knowledge that can be packaged as...
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